DALLAS, Texas – DALLAS, Texas – The foster care system in some states changed the way they operated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June, Florida celebrated its 100th adoption done over zoom, but in places like New York, the system paused for months.
"Many families decreased their capacity. Other families decided to close and step back for this time and so yes, there was a significant impact on the number of children we were able to serve during the pandemic," Buckner's Senior Director of Domestic Foster Care and Adoption Debbie Sceroler said. "Many of them experienced loss of jobs or decrease in hours or maybe illnesses and also families realized they would have to provide education for the children because schools were being done virtually."
Stephanie and Buck Baskin have fostered children for the last 10 years. The couple has adopted two children through fostering and they said it’s tough to hear that children aren’t being placed.
"I hate it. It is hard to swallow that there are that many kids that are displaced," Stephanie said. "Where are they going to go? What happens if they don’t find enough foster homes? What happens?"
They chose to keep their home open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am not going to lie, there were a few moments where I might have checked temperatures way too often," Stephanie said. "We had two little girls placed with us for about two weeks and then they went home to an aunt and then we had another sibling group of two little girls that we had for almost a year and they just recently went to an aunt and uncle."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reports the Lone Star State gained 393 beds for fiscal year 2020, but lost 540. In 2021, the state has lost 696 beds so far, while only gaining 112.
The decrease in available foster families left some children with no place to go.
"The latest report was in April and there was about 282 that were sleeping in CPS offices in April, so yes it is still a capacity crisis in the state of Texas," Sceroler said.
That's why Texas-based Buckner International, which helps place children with foster families, has stepped in to help, partnering with the state in April to offer beds.
"We are now providing facilities across the state in five of our locations where we can provide housing for children who would otherwise be sleeping in DFPS offices or hotels," Sceroler said. "We can serve 32 children at one time and we have already had 36 children who have come and gone from our facilities."
Another crisis hitting the system during the pandemic is children aging out of the system.
FosterClub, a national network serving youth in the foster care system, conducted a national poll which found 27% of 18-to-24-year-olds transitioning from care lost their jobs because of the pandemic and another 72% reported they only have a month's worth of expenses available.
Mei-Lin Gainey has been in and out of the foster care system since she was 8 years old and aged out when she turned 18.
"I was in the system for about two years, I think, and then I went back to live with my mom and then I came back into the system when I was about 15," Gainey said. "I stayed with the same family from the time I was 15 or 16 to the time that time that I aged out."
Someone who is in the foster care system ages out when they turn 18 if they have not been adopted. Gainey went into an extended care program after aging out of the system.
"It is a really great program for those who have aged out of care, but still need help becoming an adult," Gainey said. "I didn’t know how to budget, I was terrible at it, so they would help me print out a statement every month and help me learn what I wanted to spend every month and things like that."
Gainey later went to college, something she didn’t think was in her future.
"I just didn’t know what to do with my life, honestly. I really didn’t even think I was going to graduate from high school," Gainey said. "I was confused. I can only compare foster care to switching schools. They randomly just put you in a different high school and you don’t know where you are at or what is going on and they just tell you to go to class."
The recent college graduate earned her bachelor's degree in criminal justice. She credits a lot of her success to a supportive foster family.
"The foster family I was with continued to let me live with them, which they didn’t have to do because I was 18," Gainey said. "I actually still talk to my foster family and I actually work at their family-owned daycare."
But not all of those in the system are so lucky.
"I have friends who have ended up on the street because they didn’t have the same encouragement or support that I had," Gainey said. "I mean, I even had one of my case workers come to my college graduation."
Buckner, located in Dallas, Texas, is stepping in to help foster kids all have similar stories to Mei-Lin. The organization created a day to recognize those aging out of foster care.
"We actually created the National Aging out of Foster Care Awareness Day, which is on May 31 which is the last day of National Foster Care Month," Sceroler said. "We are hoping this will help shed a little hope into the lives of those that are aging out of foster care and help them discover what resources are available as they head into adulthood."
Gainey said the day will help those just like her, especially those needing help during the pandemic.
"I think it will help a lot because a lot of people don’t know what aging out is and they aren’t aware that there are resources for them," Gainey said. "Because so many people just don’t know about all of the opportunities we have."