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Foster parents learning as they go with new stay-at-home orders

Foster Parents Nick and Katelin Rock

Foster parents Nick and Katelin Rock at their home on April 6, 2020.

In the best of times Nick and Katelin Rock found meeting the needs of their 5-year-old foster child a challenge.

It got tougher when school closed and the stay-at-home order disrupted supportive services the Rocks leaned on.

The boy, whose identity wasn’t shared with LNP | LancasterOnline, received special services in kindergarten and weekly sessions with a mental health counselor and speech and occupational therapists.

Katelin Rock described “a revolving door” of caseworkers at home. That, too, was disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Rocks, both professionals, shifted to working mostly from home.

“Since the stay-at-home order, we’re with our child 24-7,” Katelin Rock said. “Because many of these kids have serious behavioral, social, emotional and academic needs, it does burn you out.”

Coping under trying circumstances

The Rocks, of Lancaster County, are not alone. Foster parents everywhere must cope in trying circumstances.

The stress on the system may only intensify, said Mark Unger of Bethany Christian Services, the agency working with the Rocks.

Social isolation tests parents and may increase neglect and abuse, Unger said. At the same time, fewer chances for children to see people outside the home could result in missed warning signs.

These uncertain times may have major impacts. Fewer families may choose to foster a child. Loss of work could block parents from regaining custody or make ineligible a family wanting to foster a child.

‘Learning as they go’

Protecting the welfare of children, even during the pandemic, remains a priority, said Crystal Natan, head of Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency. Caseworkers who investigate abuse are visiting homes when circumstances require it.

“We are obligated,” Natan said. “If there’s a report of abuse or neglect, we have to make a face-to-face visit.”

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Crystal Natan, Executive Director of Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency.

For more routine interactions, caseworkers and therapists use video conferencing.

“Everyone is learning as they go,” Natan said. “There is that heightened awareness that some of these children may be at more risk, and we have to keep eyes and ears open.”

An increase in reports of abuse hasn’t happened yet, she said.

Focus on each day

The Rocks and their foster child now video conference with service providers, but it’s not the same. The chats require a parent to be engaged in ways that aren’t usually necessary. Furthermore, the foster child’s visitations with a family member were replaced by calls or video chats.

“He’s handling it very well, or as well as a 5-year-old can wrap their head around,” Katelin Rock said. “We’ve used a lot of general terms about what’s happening. We call it a sickness and we have to stay home to stay safe.”

Nick Rock said they’ve put pressure on themselves to be the best parents possible, “knowing we have a child in our home who has experienced a difficult past.”

“That has probably been the biggest challenge,” he said. “I think we both experienced moments when we felt guilty because sometime our attention is divided.”

Katelin Rock said her strategy for staying strong is to focus on each day and try not to think about how long this new normal will last.

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