Mitchell Chapman: Make foster kids visible in Foster Care month

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PITTSFIELD — May is National Foster Care Month, and this year the nation's foster youth have to deal with the added uncertainty COVID-19 has thrown into their lives.

During normal times, foster children are among the nation's most vulnerable, as they often have to deal with life-altering trauma that follows them for their entire lives with little to no consistent support networks, and the coronavirus has only exasperated their situations. Across the nation, the virus has delayed or cancelled vital court dates for foster children, delayed placement in new homes, in-person visits between children and their birth families have been cancelled or switched to entirely online, and many foster homes have been hesitant to take in new kids, leaving many in a situation where they have nowhere to go.

An investigation by WHDH Channel 7 News in Boston found that last month, the coronavirus halted adoptions in Massachusetts. Furthermore, vital face-to-face interactions between prospective adopted parents and children organized by Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) were cancelled, which has greatly hampered their ability to find safe, permanent homes.

"These interactions aren't things you can replicate through email or just writing descriptions in an email; it makes such a huge difference when you can have those actual face to face interactions," Jeremy Smith from MARE told Channel 7 News. And he's absolutely correct. When it comes to adoption, meeting the child you're thinking about adopting can be the deciding factor. I remember, growing up, my parents telling me how meeting me and my sister played such a huge role in our adoptions. A video call is not a one-to-one replacement to meeting in person for the first time the kid you're thinking about adopting.

Outside of adoption, the virus has complicated important legal battles pertaining to foster kids across the nation, especially as family courts have either closed or moved to digital formats, which have left kids in limbo as they have to wait even longer to find out if they're going to remain in foster care or be reunited with their families.

"They're saying the only thing that's enough of an emergency to leave court open for is to remove children from their families," Anya Mukarji-Connolly, supervising attorney of the Brooklyn Defender Service's Family Defense Practice told the Marshall Project. "But returning children home and to their loved ones is also an emergency, yet many of those hearings have now been adjourned for months."

The Marshall Project also notes that, on the opposite end, more abused kids who should be in foster care might remain in unsafe living conditions because key figures in a child's life that would report abuse, like teachers and pediatricians, are less likely to notice it due to the fact that their interactions with those kids are now limited by the virus. Additionally, while monthly in-person checks on the safety of foster children by child welfare agencies are still federally-mandated, the Trump administration has allowed them to be waived in "extraordinary circumstances," which might result in more foster children remaining in unsafe foster homes.

Foster kids have it worse than usual, and it's no shock that their woes have been pushed to the side as many Americans struggle to make ends meet. A nation where many can barely help themselves is in no position to adequately take care of its most vulnerable. But we need not make these children invisible, and during National Foster Care Month, making these kids and the challenges they face known is the best thing we can do for them, because nothing will improve in a post COVID-19 world if we sweep them to the side, hidden in the dark.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and freelance writer.

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