Foster care facilities scramble to come up with emergency response plans amid virus outbreak.
The lives of children in foster care are all too often disrupted time and again as they change placements, sometimes being housed in different states over the course of several years. Many have also reported their time spent in state institutions was frightening as they experienced physical and sexual abuse by employees.
One Chicago girl who was placed at institutions in Arkansas, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee said she was “sedated, subjected to bruising restraints and sexually assaulted by a facility employee,” according to government records.
“I basically felt like I was abandoned, like nobody wants to deal with me,” said the girl, now 17.
Illinois officials also sent a 16-year-old boy to an Indiana center where police had been called to investigate dozens of battery allegations, including attacks that left children with a need for treatment in an emergency room.
“When I first got there, I got jumped every day by kids and staff,” said the boy, now 18.
Oregon officials placed a 9-year-old girl in an institution in Montana and didn’t visit her again for nearly six months, she said. They eventually found her unbathed in an oversized hospital shirt, records show. “It’s not right they send us so far from home,” the girl, now 10, said.
Now, the plight of foster care children is expected to only be compounded by COVID-19. New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, for one, is requesting emergency response updates from its facilities, which house nearly 8,000 foster children.
A letter from Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell, sent to each nonprofit foster care agency, read, “We are requesting access to your emergency plan so that we can ensure that all of the children and families we serve continue to receive the necessary services.”
Experts wonder, too, as suspected COVID-19 cases spread, if parents accused of neglect or abuse will still be allowed to continue visits with their children in foster care, and court-monitored rehabilitation programs. This is the only way they can prove fitness. However, mandated social distancing makes these visits nearly impossible.
Good Shepherd Services’ Executive Director Michelle Yanche said, “We have facilities which cannot close. The greatest risk is an inability to properly staff those because of program quarantines, or a mass of staff being quarantined at home and unable to come in.”
“Before Sandy, many agencies had plans, after Sandy everyone made plans. But it’s spotty [with regards to] how often people updated them – after 9/11 lots of agencies put plans in place and then sorta let them get dusty,” said Mary Jane Dessables, director of information, research and accountability the Council of Family and Children Caring Agencies (COFCCA). “And everyone always writes a plan based on the last emergency, not on the next one.”
“Having emergency plans in place is a long-standing requirement but as we read them, none contained this type of emergency. We covered hurricanes, earthquakes, power outages, fires but no pestilence!” explained MercyFirst’s CEO Jerry McCaffery. “We have since developed [steps] and will incorporate them and perhaps more as we get through all this.”