MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In a system where face-to-face is imperative, the coronavirus has caused the foster care system to get creative. Katie Jalazo, a social worker at Children’s Home Society of W.Va, said the pandemic turned her job upside down.

“Basically everything we do requires face-to-face visitation just to ensure the safety of our children and families and all of our kids and families needs are being met,” explained Jalazo, “With COVID, everything has essentially gone virtual, though in July, they have implemented some face-to-face, and we are now permitted to go back inside our families homes.”

I have worked in foster care for almost 20 years, and you could have said ‘foster care crisis’ at any point because there are never enough foster families for kids in the system.

Rachel Kinder, Director of FrameWorks

Mission West Virginia’s program, FrameWorks, helps to connect families with children in the foster care system, so they work with foster care agencies across the state. Rachel Kinder, Director of FrameWorks, said that though foster agencies are now permitting more face-to-face interaction, they are also taking extra precautions to ensure safety.

“The agencies use PPE so [that] they are keeping their workers and families and kids safe,” said Kinder, “They are doing things like, when it’s appropriate, they will do a zoom visit. And then, when they do in person visits, they make sure to observe masking and distancing. I know some people have gotten creative with front porch visits or visits outside at a park, things like that. They’ve been really creative about different ways to lay eyes on the kids but still keep everyone safe.

But it’s not just social workers who are feeling challenged by COVID. The entire system had to adapt to pandemic-related changes this year.

Social Worker Katie Jalazo at her desk

“I would say the biggest challenge with COVID is just ensuring that the family have everything they need,” said Jalazo, “That all children are able to participate in therapy and receive any services that they need, whether that’s outpatient services, individual therapy, family therapy, any type of therapy, or services through school, just to ensure that overall functioning isn’t impacted by all the changes.”

One thing foster care agencies have done to adapt is holding foster parent trainings online. The trainings had previously been 30 hours worth of in-person training. Now, the training is available on Zoom from the comfort of your own home. 

“We have a lot of families that maybe couldn’t accommodate in person training because of their schedules–their work schedules, their personal lives, child care,” explained Kinder, “but moving it online has actually opened the training up to some families that were just waiting for a schedule that worked for them.”

Moving trainings online might have encouraged some to consider foster parenting, but Kinder stresses that there’s always a need for foster parents.

“It definitely ebbs and flows as more kids enter care or as we have more foster parents or fewer foster parents, but when people call, I always say [that] there’s always a need,” said Kinder, “In your county, in your state–there’s always a need. There’s never a time where there is not a need for foster parents. And one of the reasons is that when there aren’t enough foster families, kids go into group homes or temporary shelters, so the more foster parents that we have to keep kids in a home setting, the better.”

Children’s Home Society of West Virginia in Morgantown advertises the need for foster parents.

And you don’t have to be 100% ready to take on being a foster parent to complete the training if you have a little extra time right now. 

“One time we had a family call 14 years later [and say] they were ready to become foster parents, so we don’t care that they’re not ready to take that first step. We can talk to them, answer questions. We can call them back whenever they’re ready. There really is no reason not to get some information if people have thought about it.”

Anyone who is interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent can call Mission West Virginia at 304-562-0723, or click this link to go to an online request form.