Foster family recruitment, development and support: During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

A Three-Part Conversation with Denise Goodman, PhD

In this three-part series, Denise Goodman, a national expert in foster family recruitment, development and support, shared with CHAMPS her perspective on how child welfare agencies can ensure children and youth in foster care continue to have stable, quality foster homes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part 2: Foster Family Training, Certification and Placement (See below for links to Parts 1 & 3) 

What are your thoughts on how agencies can approach training foster families during the pandemic?

The first thing to keep in mind is that preservice training, in particular, is an essential part of the assessment process for foster parents. One-on-one interaction with the prospective family is critical to helping understand their strengths and limitations. For example, how do they feel about birth and foster parents working together? There needs to be live and organic response from them so the trainer can help them understand the content. We need to maintain that person-to-person interaction.

So, while using something like Foster Parent College is fine for in-service hours or for select topics of pre-service, I think a better replacement for preservice training is having the agency’s trainers use Zoom or Go To Meeting. This way the trainer and participant can see each other, ask questions, and express concerns in real time. Adult learning theory states that learners need to have the option to stop and ask questions when something comes their mind.

What about agencies that have never used online training before?

There are many agencies that had never done online training, so you’re not alone. But it’s also good to know that some agencies were already getting creative with online training prior to Covid-19. If your agency has less experience with online training, I recommend connecting with those who have who have been doing it. They will have some lessons learned and provide peer support.

Private agencies and rural agencies may be a good place to look. Private agencies are often nimbler, and even if they weren’t doing it before, they may have moved training online more quickly. Rural agencies have had to address challenges, such as only having three prospective foster family applicants over several months, that have pushed them to consider online training. For example, Oklahoma has been doing online training for a while now. Their approach is that, after 3 sessions, a worker checks in with the foster parent to see how they are doing and answer questions.

What are barriers that agencies are facing in certifying foster and kinship families?

Fingerprinting is difficult, which makes emergency kinship placements particularly hard. The Children’s Bureau issued a letter recently [here] that talks about some of the backup ways to do background checks until it is reasonably safe to do in person printing. For the time being, some agencies are doing police checks until able to access fingerprinting. If states are not using it already, now is time to look into mobile fingerprinting units. You can put the fingerprinting unit on the hood of your car, stand back for person to put their fingers on the device, and wipe down after. They are ideal for this situation and will help with emergency certification in the future.

Given social distancing protocols, it’s also difficult for licensing staff and social workers to complete home studies. But I’ve seen agencies trying to do as much as possible by video. Interviews could be conducted via Zoom or Facetime. For the safety inspection, the family can take video around to show window screens, temperature on the hot water heater, smoke detectors, etc. Families can also scan documents on their computer or photograph them on their smartphone and email to the licensing specialist. Think of what you can do, not what you can’t do. Waive any unnecessary restrictions.

For all foster families, it can be a scary proposition to bring someone new into your family right now. What can agencies do to help support families and ensure homes are available?

Families have valid concerns about taking on new placements. There are concerns of infection, hospitalization and even death. Relatives are often older and have greater risk with COVID-19. Some residential treatment facilities are also denying admissions, so kids are not getting the treatment they need.

There is bigger policy issue of prioritizing COVID-19 testing for social workers, foster and kinship families, and kids. But there are still things we can do to help.

I think it is important to be upfront and acknowledge that there are things that we wish we could do to comfort families, like testing every kid, but we can’t. But we can show that we’re doing our best to protect them and support them. For example,

• When a hotline call comes in, we can ask health questions. When workers go out, they can talk to the family again and assess their health and exposure as much as possible.
• We can work with county health departments to provide some safety supplies for within their home (cleaning supplies, gloves, etc.).
• If your state does an initial communicable disease exam, nurses could check for symptoms in children.
• We can connect foster parents to each other. Those who have concerns about new placements can speak with others who have accepted placements and get pointers.

See here for a recent webinar by Denise on supporting caregivers in challenging times.

See here for Part 1

See here for Part 3

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