Impacts of the pandemic on Washoe County’s foster care system
Kaleb Roedel: Approximately how many children are in foster care at the moment? And how does that compare to pre-COVID?
Laura Caprioli: So at any given time, it really varies, but around 800 is a safe number in Washoe County, picked up and taken care of every day and every week. Homestays, we currently have about 300. And so you can see the gap between those two numbers and how much we really need our community members here in Washoe County to come forward and consider the possibility to become an adoptive parent.
Roedel: And why do you feel the number of foster parents and homes has decreased during the pandemic?
Caprioli: We have a lot of families who have expressed concern about how to handle this. We have school closures. The bus system has been affected. Employment has been affected. And then we also have those who worry about what it means to foster in times of a pandemic. How will they be protected? We really try to support, educate and wrap ourselves around our families.
Roedel: Have you seen a trend of older youth being forced out of the system due to public health and the economic crisis, especially during the first wave of the pandemic?
Caprioli: This is something that, even before the pandemic, we struggled to adapt to and provide services to. You know, housing is such a hot topic here, because the rents have gone up so much, the lack of housing. And so we have these young people who have very little connection to a primary caregiver or parent or mentor, who come out of the foster care system, who are faced with looking for a job, looking for a job and looking for accommodation. It’s almost an impossible challenge. So our young people have access to services and support as they get older. But again, that’s something they have to take on board, which isn’t always easy to keep working with a system that you’ve lived in – and a lot of these young people, all of their lives. And so finding accommodation, finding stability, keeping a job, these are all issues of concern that our young hosts continue to face at the end of their lives.
Roedel: Has the pandemic caused delays in placements and adoptions?
Caprioli: The justice system has been absolutely affected. Much of our justice system has gone virtual, and it took them a while to switch to that system. And so, there have been delays there, absolutely. And so, placing children during the pandemic created barriers, but not ones that we couldn’t overcome. We have used our current resources, our current host families, in abundance; we asked them to increase our licenses to take more foster children. We’ve really done an amazing job of looking at the parents or what we call fictional parentage options. And so, through this process, we learned a lot. And we’ve also stretched our resources significantly. And so, the lack of foster homes is currently something that we’re trying to address in our community, just to make sure that we give those who were foster parents the break and respite they deserve.
Roedel: So, were courtroom finalizations for adoptions done over Zoom or phone instead of normally done in person?
Caprioli: Yes, they actually were – they were made by Zoom, which is amazing that the court had that option for them. I think five years ago this would have been unheard of. Being in the courtroom is such a memorable experience, and it’s an experience where you can invite your loved ones and have people really celebrate all the trials and tribulations of going through the protection system. from childhood to adoption. While it’s quite an accomplishment to be able to continue doing these things via Zoom, I think some of our families are very excited to get back to some normality in terms of celebrating what they’ve accomplished and finalization of adoptions.