CINCINNATI, Ohio — As Ohio continues to cope with the coronavirus, the foster care system is one of many forced to adjust to the new normal.
What You Need To Know
- Foster care and adoption services continued through the pandemic, but with added stressors for the already stressed system
- Family visits are restricted, placement guidelines are stricter, and training new foster families has moved online
- Cases are down, but foster services expect those to rise when school starts again
Krystal Muldrow had to make those adjustments on the fly as she took on her first placement this spring.
“The day the stay-at-home order was put in place was the day I got the girls,” she said.
Muldrow trained for 10 weeks with Lighthouse Youth Services to get her foster license and after waiting six months for the chance to open her doors, the pandemic wasn't going to change that.
“It was something I wanted to do for a long time," she said.
As a teacher in Cincinnati, Muldrow said she already knew the girls who were coming into her care, but she said she wasn't necessarily prepared to become their only in-person contact.
“They were really kind of, like, isolated from their family," she said. "At least when you’re in foster care you have the normalcy of school. You can see your regular friends, your teachers, and all of that was kind of ripped away."
Lighthouse Foster Care Services Director Mindy Arlotta said the stay-at-home order meant strict regulations for foster services.
Children could not have any in-person contact outside of their foster families and their caseworkers. Even visits with their biological families were virtual.
“These are kids have had a lot of disruption in their life and that can be very stressful,” she said. "Kids who haven’t seen their families for a while and families on edge about not being able to see their children”
As the pandemic continued, visiting restrictions loosened but Arlotta said Lighthouse still has stricter screening guidelines for foster placements, and all training for new families has moved online.
Fortunately though, she said that doesn't seem to be stopping Cincinnati from stepping up to help children in need.
“We have an influx in people who want to be foster parents which is excellent,” Arlotta said
According to Arlotta, child abuse and neglect cases have declined in the Cincinnati area since the pandemic began, but she said that may change in the fall.
“School staff are one of our biggest reporters of child abuse and neglect," she said. "So when kids aren’t in school there aren’t eyes on and they’re not seeing kids as often to be able to make reports of child abuse and neglect and then, really, when reports are made during this time they’ve been significant reports.”
For now, Arlotta is asking friends and neighbors to keep looking out for children in need, calling for help if they believe something is wrong.
"Reporting is not easy, they’re not getting out of the home,” Arlotta said.
She's also asking families like Muldrow's to keep their doors and hearts open.
"There are days where it’s rough," Muldrow said. "For them also where it’s rough, but it’s definitely been worth it.”