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Foster care system affected by COVID-19 court suspensions

Court systems have had to postpone foster care hearings because of the pandemic.
Published: Jun. 23, 2020 at 8:34 PM EDT
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There are currently more than 17,000 children in foster care in our state, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center.

That number has been increasing every year since 2014.

In addition, court systems have postponed foster care hearings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Geoffrey Marett is the director of the Craven County Department of Social Services. He said they’ve been affected by the suspensions.

”We’ve seen an impact with children achieving permanency through the court system and that’s because of Chief Justice Beasley’s order that occurred back in the middle of March that suspended the court system,” said Marett.

Marett said the number of children in foster care has been consistent.

“We had 108 in March, 109 in April, and we’re currently at 104 right now,” Marett said.

However, their court hearings have been backed up; which Foster Care coordinator Kimberly Hale said is the same situation for the Methodist Home for Children.

Hale said, ”Some of our adoptions have been postponed and held up because of the closures of the court system.”

Both adoptions and foster child services have had to adjust interactions to make sure everything is safe. Marett said, they’ve started screening children for COVID-19. Hale added, they’re also social distancing visitations, sanitizing, and allowing social workers to work from home.

Hale said, “It’s limited, the contacts between the children and their parents as well as between the children and their social workers.”

Marett said they’re doing the best they can to play catch-up, as hearings are already getting started.

“We just had our first full court hearing this past Friday. So, we’re getting back to some sense of normalcy,” said Marett.

According to social work experts, there is a dire need for foster parents.

“We’re preparing for a possible influx. Our children are in homes and we’re waiting for that. So, we definitely need those foster homes and those foster-to-adopt homes. So, if there’s anyone out there who’s ready to work with our children, we’re here and waiting.”

Methodist Home for Children has been approved to train some foster parents online.

Agencies are looking for foster parents who want to parent teenagers and/or sibling groups. You can learn more about fostering and adoptions here or email fosterandadopt@mhfc.org.

Marett said children who age out of the system from ages 18 to 21 still qualify for resources if they are struggling to find a job due to the current state of unemployment rates and they can come back into the system if they’ve left once before to transition to adulthood and were not fully prepared for the changes.

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