Foster parents face special challenges during health crisis

When Decatur-area resident Raquel Wilson and her husband decided to bring foster children into their home to care for along with their two biological children, officials from the foster care system never promised it would be easy, Wilson said. Still, she never imagined the challenges a pandemic would bring.

“They don’t sugar coat it,” Wilson said of the preparation to bring foster children into her home. “We knew that in addition to providing everyday care for the children we would have to arrange meetings with case workers, social workers and the children’s biological family. We knew many of the children in foster care had lived through some rough home situations and might need special care, but even the challenges we already had multiplied when we had to deal with the need to safeguard everyone’s health during a situation unlike anything any of us had ever lived through.”

Approximately 820 DeKalb County children are currently in foster homes, though 70 percent are placed outside the county, according to Wellroot, the Decatur-based, faith-centered nonprofit through which Wilson arranged foster parenting. Wellroot’s mission is to restore families where children have been forced by circumstances to be separated from their parents. Some foster children are kinship placements through which children live with extended family and others, as in Wilson’s case, are traditional placements with families with which the children have no prior relationship.

Wellroot’s goal is to restore children to their biological parents whenever it’s possible to do so with assurance that the children are being returned to a safe, healthy environment. While the children are in foster care, an effort is made to do what Wilson calls “partnership parenting,” which keeps biological parents involved in rearing the children and may include periodic visits with them.

Wilson said her decision to become a foster parent was prompted by a desire to help others. “I realized that I’ve been fortunate while many around me are struggling,” she recalled. “I wanted to do more than write a check or volunteer part time. I looked into foster parenting and realized that in Georgia more than 14,000 children are in foster care. I found that number staggering. I knew that was where I could help.”

After discussing the situation with her husband, Wilson said the couple agreed to take the training required to become foster parents. “The same day we were accepted into the program we got a call telling us they had children for us. The children arrived that evening.” The Wilsons have been foster parents to six children at various times since they entered the program three years ago. They currently have one preschool foster child.

Wilson owns a business that she had been operating primarily from a coworking facility, though she had been working some from home. “Now it all has to be done from home. At the coworking office, which is closed because of the health crisis, I wasn’t distracted by caring for the children while I worked; they were at school or in daycare. Now we’re all together all the time.”

The daycare center where Wilson’s 10-month-old foster child had spent most days has closed until the health crisis is over.  Like many parents of school-age children, Wilson was suddenly thrust into a dual role—parent and teacher after schools closed and lessons continued online. The meetings with others involved in the foster child’s life had to become virtual meetings. The child Wilson is currently fostering requires physical therapy and that too must be done online.

Wilson describes herself as a high-energy person who normally is up early every day and is not fazed by a busy schedule. Still, she said, the current situation has changed nearly every aspect of her home and work life.

“I am more fortunate than many foster parents in several respects,” Wilson commented. “My background includes 10 years in social work, though not in child welfare. Also, as the head of my company, I am more in control of my schedule than most working people.

“No matter how difficult this is for adults, the disruption of routine and the uncertainly as to when and how this will end is truly difficult for children, particularly children who already have endured a good deal of instability in their lives. My goal is for our family—whether temporary or permanent—to come out of this physically and emotionally healthy.”

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