State officials say the number of children entering foster care is down significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they say more Minnesotans are inquiring about becoming foster parents.
Kim Young, foster care specialist with MN Adopt, which works closely with the state to help find permanent homes for those in foster care, said average monthly inquiries about becoming a foster parent doubled in March and April — and that rate continues.
It appears to align with the start of the stay-at-home order and the COVID-19 outbreak in Minnesota.
“It is making people think about how can I help right now and a lot of people have the time to seek information,” Young said.
Jerry Hayes and his wife live in Mounds View with seven children ranging in age from 3 to 20 years old. Some were adopted out of foster care. His family hasn’t closed the door on fostering more children.
Hayes said the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have an impact on that decision. But he thinks now is a good time for anyone considering becoming a foster parent to give it a shot.
“It’s such a rich family experience that I feel blessed to be part of and I can’t think of a family dynamic that could be any stronger,” Hayes said.
Young said the interest in fostering is especially encouraging given the hard economic times many people are suffering. Monthly stipends given to foster parents are meant to help offset the costs of the basics: food, clothing, transportation and daily needs.
Often, kids come with very little as far as clothing and personal care items. Some kids come with nothing at all. Young said on average, 10,000 children are in foster care in Minnesota and 900 children are waiting for permanent homes.
Because of COVID-19, it's more challenging to do the work needed to place children because in-person visits are limited.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services obtained federal and state waivers so that all 87 counties could adjust to more virtual practices in the way that makes the most sense based on population and internet availability.
Young said many counties are conducting virtual in-home visits and safety checklists whenever possible.
At the same time, the Human Services Department reports there has been about a 33 percent reduction in the average number of children entering care each week since the executive order closing schools compared to the first 11 weeks of 2020.
“We usually see a decline in reports when school is not in session because most of our reports come from mandated reporters,” said Assistant Commissioner Nikki Farago.
At this point, state officials do not know if the need will grow when children return to school and doctor’s offices. They also do not know how many more children are in danger due to COVID-related stress in the home.
Kari Fletcher from Mankato, Minn., said the pandemic appears to remind children of hardship they experienced in homes before the world knew of COVID-19. Fletcher has adopted four of her eight children from foster care. She’s also a parent support specialist for the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
“Some of the other things we are seeing are just some of the news stories about there might not be enough chicken or toilet paper, some of those kids with early life neglect or insecurity around food are being triggered in some of those areas now,” Fletcher said.
The state says there is a particular need for homes willing to care for teenagers, who make up more than one-quarter of the youth in foster care.
In 2018, parental drug abuse was the most frequently identified primary reason for children to be placed in foster care in Minnesota.