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A guardian and child in Central Texas sit together at a table

Supporting children and families in Central Texas during COVID-19

Nichole Aston

Celebrating Mother’s Day this week, I found joy in the extra time I have with my two sons being home during the pandemic. Seeing them safe and healthy, adjusting well to online classes and this unexpected time at home, isn’t something I take for granted.

But for some children and teens, home is not a safe place. Job losses, social isolation, stress, and lack of childcare – all factors that are exacerbated by the current crisis – can lead to abuse, violence, and neglect. Children living in unsafe homes may have less oversight from trusted adults during stay-at-home orders. Those living in a shelter may have less contact with their biological parents, while foster youth who have aged out may be lacking a support system and struggling to buy food or pay rent.

It’s fitting that May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge those making a difference in the lives of children. During COVID-19, there are countless organizations that are truly heroes on the front lines. I want to mention a few of my personal heroes who have been working overtime to continue business as usual with trauma-informed caregiving, therapy and counseling, life-skills training, and building trust and self-resiliency so children can have visits with biological family, or meet a new foster family. During this time, this support is arguably more important than ever.

Supporting children in foster care during COVID-19

These are a few of the direct-care heroes who have been doing steadfast work to help with protective and safety measures, adapting to homeschooling, and learning new technologies to leverage for therapy, education, and virtual check-ins with families. SAFE Alliance, Helping Hand Home, The Settlement Home for Children, and LifeWorks are Austin-based nonprofits that provide residential care for abused and neglected children, teens, and youth and are shining examples of organizations that are rising to the challenge to meet their needs.

Business as usual during COVID-19 is not easy, so leadership and staff leaned into rapid, data-driven decision making to make pivots in the way they operate. The critical work of 24/7 shelter and residential services had to be maintained, while technology could be leveraged to build out critical virtual services. New practices were developed to ensure health and safety, different staffing models were created, and organizations quickly learned new technologies like Skype, Zoom, and Google Duo for virtual therapy appointments, check-ins with biological families, and education.

Good things are happening

None of us have gone unaffected by COVID-19, and it’s important that we understand and respond to the impact on vulnerable children and families. The dedicated direct-care staff at each of these organizations is leading the charge, and good things are happening:

  • Therapy and family connections are occurring more frequently with technology. Some organizations even reported more consistent family interactions due to the flexibility connecting virtually, getting around the complications of work schedules and transportation.
  • Not only has education stayed on track, but social and emotional learning has improved. Our partners shared that their children have greater perspective on the world, demonstrating empathy for what others are experiencing during this time.
  • Foster youth were successfully moved into supportive housing while following social distancing practices, and several victims were moved into new and creative shelter situations.
  • Board members and volunteers have supported front line staff with meals, cleaning supplies, masks, gift cards, and notes of encouragement. It takes a village!
  • To make up for the loss in leveraging volunteers due to stay at home orders, front line staff have baked birthday cakes and arranged recreational activities.
  • Adapting to new technology for therapy, education, and virtual check-ins has been so positive that organizations are planning to continue those services long term.

There are numerous other child advocacy organizations, courts, and Child Protective Services to thank that are working hard on behalf of children and families. All have adapted to virtual services in some form. While honoring these direct-care staff and advocates, we acknowledge that the demand for their services will increase as our society evolves into a new normal and we start to see the effects of the pandemic on children and families. Child welfare organizations and agencies must preserve and build capacity to meet the anticipated needs in the future.

This pandemic has certainly brought out the best in humanity in so many ways, and it’s heartwarming to know there are people and organizations that will go above and beyond to help those most in need. I am in awe of them and proud to be able to share their amazing work.

If you have a request for funding that is related to COVID-19, please know that we are committed to fighting this pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout. Our immediate available funding has gone to accelerating the development of therapies, increasing the supply of PPE in Texas, stabilizing small business, and assisting our portfolio of current partners.