KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The foster care system, which is built on regular in-person supervision and frequent movements of children from one home to another, is facing new challenges amidst the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.
Joel Bell, the southwest Michigan branch director for Bethany Christian Services in Kalamazoo, said while everyone in the West Michigan community is dealing with COVID-19, foster children and host families are getting hit particularly hard.
"The children we see in foster care are majority of the time children who have already experienced some form of trauma and are now prevented from contact with their family," Bell said. "In-person visits are suspended. Normal schedules are being changed, and for foster kids, that's something hard to adjust to."
Bell said city-wide he's already seen a surge in kids coming into the foster care system and a lack of parents and families available for them.
The number of U.S. children in foster care decreased by roughly 4,000 cases to around 437,000 between the fiscal years of 2017 and 2018, according to the Children's Bureau, an office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Bell said due to COVID-19, he expected the numbers to grow again for the fiscal year 2020. Bell said one of his biggest worries was an increase in physical abuse cases and neglect for children with high needs.
“The solutions to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as isolation and social distancing can often make it more difficult for people to notice the signs of abusive neglect," Bell said.
Data showed more than 94,000 children were removed from their homes in 2018 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.
We think about the families and parents of children who are in foster care and try to help all parties involved, - Joel Bell, branch director for Bethany Christian Services.
"Many of these parents have been working hard to reconnect with their kids but now are at risk of possibly losing their job, and not to mention, the courts have also slowed down," Bell said.
You can visit Bethany Christian Services to learn more about the foster care system.