DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Child welfare advocates say the coronavirus pandemic is causing added strain on foster children and making it harder to get them the additional help they need.
For children living in the foster system, experts say they often require extra attention to get through school and the struggles of daily life. Since 1977, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) has served as an agency that pairs foster children with advocates in the community and the courtroom to protect them as they wait for a safe and permeant home.
But the effects of the pandemic are making access to these resources much harder. Texas native Becki Hensel was a foster mom and has adopted four children.
She says volunteers with CASA have helped to protect her kids throughout the adoption process.
“As emotionally as involved as we got with our children because you attach to them… There is a chance that they could go home — which is really where they ultimately belong. But to know that there is somebody who is truly there for the kids is such a comfort at the end of the day,” said Hensel.
The Dallas mother says changes from COVID-19 have added extra stress to children overall — and especially those in foster care.
According to the most recent federal data, there are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. Dallas CASA, reports that in Dallas County more than 1,500 CASA volunteers work to serve an average of about 3,600 children a year.
“Their job is to be the voice for the child. They’re not the voice for the foster family. They’re not the voice for nobody other than the child,” said Hensel.
For several decades, Vallerie Dontes served as a CASA volunteer and now she is a supervisor for advocates.
She says COVID-19 has limited the access care-givers have with a foster child.
“There are virtual visits, phone calls, a lot of drive-bys because we’re not able to go into the buildings. But even when we have really strict visitation policies advocates are begging, begging, begging can I even go there and be 6 feet apart,” said Dontes.
CASA Dallas Program Director Becca Leonard says another issue they are facing is fundraising.
Since they’ve had to cancel so many events, they’re in need of donations.
“The pandemic has been a challenge for everybody, including us. So when it comes to fundraising, we rely heavily on events and due to the pandemic we had to cancel most of our events,” said Leonard.
Despite the barriers COVID-19 has put in place, Leonard says they are still receiving support. Advocates are learning news ways to interact with these children.