LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After the coronavirus halted all in-person training for foster care parents, the KY Cabinet for Health and Family Services moved training online.
Before they could revamp their system, though, there was a period of more than a month when CHFS could not train new parents, according to KY CHFS Training Team Supervisor for the Southern Bluegrass Region Andrew Holt. Since parents couldn't complete their training, they couldn't be approved, and therefore, could not take in any children.
To solve this problem, CHFS moved all 17 required hours of new parent training online, through Zoom.
"Even though COVID-19 has had horrific impact on society, it's allowing us to learn new ways to offer services to our clients," Holt said.
Training for existing foster parents also had to be moved online. LEX 18 spoke to one foster parent trainer, who did not want to reveal her last name, about the challenges this also posed.
Trainer Kelli said the lack of in-person training or gatherings meant that existing parents lost some support from the foster parent community.
"Being a foster parent is hard and you need support," Kelli said. "You need support of other people who have been in your shoes. You need support of other foster parents."
However, Kelli said parents could supplement with several other forms of support available to them. For example, recruitment and certification workers are assigned to assist parents. They also have access to mentors during the first six months of fostering.
"I don't think that support was completely lost," Kelli said. "I think we just lost one area of support for a little while."
Home visits are also being conducted through Zoom. According to Holt, home visits include a financial review, answering any questions the parents may have and conversations to get to know the foster parents.
"Doing it face-to-face is a little bit more comfortable for our foster and adoptive parents because that one-on-one intimacy, not dealing with a screen," Holt said. "When everything goes back, we'll do the home visits face-to-face, but as of right now we're able to do it through Zoom."
These online home visits also include safety checks.
"We can ask them to open up a drawer," Holt said. "We can ask them to open up a closet, show us a garage, which is what we do as far as a safety check goes in general."
However, this method does raise questions about the integrity of these inspections.
"There's always that concern of whether someone is hiding something or not, so as soon as the social distancing is lifted we're going to be out there within so many days to lay eyes on the home," Holt said.
Foster parent recruitment is also being conducted strictly online. Several recruitment-oriented speaking engagements and events have been canceled due to COVID-19, but Holt said they have been able to make up for the loss with online formats, such as social media.
So far, Holt said moving online has worked out well. It has solved one problem, but an even bigger problem still remains: there are not nearly enough foster parents in our region.
According to Holt, there are 9,990 foster children and only 5,546 foster homes. CHFS has a particular need for more foster parents who would take in siblings, minority parents, and parents who would foster a child with medical issues.
Foster parent trainer Kelli said some people are worried about fostering a child because they would not want to let the child go. Kelli said that, in fact, 75% of all kids that come into foster care in Kentucky are returned to their birth parents. However, she said that is not a good reason to avoid fostering.
"If you're thinking that you would get too attached to these kids, you're probably the type of person that these kids need," Kelli said. "What that means is that you're willing to invest yourself, even at the risk of a broken heart for you, to give these kids the type of home that they deserve."
Kelli addressed another concern some prospective parents also have: whether fostering will negatively affect their birth children or previously adopted children.
In response, Kelli explains the following to parents, "In my experience it's a very positive thing for kids because it helps them to see beyond themselves. I feel like my kids are some of the most caring kids out there and I think this is one of the reasons why."
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, click here.