Virus poses an extra threat for vulnerable children

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Children who need respite or foster care are facing extra pressures during the coronavirus lockdown, while a key role played by teachers is unavailable to vulnerable children. By Annabelle Georgakilas.

Foster parents are worried that the increased restrictions from coronavirus are causing extra pain for children who are victims of abuse or trauma. 

Experienced foster carers Emily Smith and Amy Harrington* both say they are concerned about not only the children in their care, but those who are unable to access care at this time.

Covid-19 has led to the reduction in respite services for foster children and carers and the amount of oversight on the children from external sources, both carers report.

Ms Smith said extra support usually provided by Department of Health and Human Services or the agency “has ceased”.

Ms Harrington said essential services to foster children had been cut because of the virus. Respite care was also affected, with a teen who was due to visit ger home during the school holidays unable to because of the virus.

“I’ve found it difficult to keep the wheels in motion for a lot of the therapy [the children] have. I worry that if this situation does last months and months that they will stall in their progress,” she said.

Ms Harrington’s three current foster children all have significant health and developmental challenges, as many foster children do. All of the children she has fostered show signs of either abuse or trauma, she said.

For children in troubled situations, spending more time at home with abusive or traumatising biological families could significantly affect their wellbeing.

Ms Harrington said when it came to identifying child abuse, the lack of contact with teachers “is a recipe for disaster” for vulnerable children.

“It will be harder to identify abuse while everything is shut down,” she said.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies there were more than 11,000 children entering out-of-home care per year, a 2017 study showed.

Both foster mothers said despite the challenges, they remained positive.

“There are always challenges with caring for any child,” Ms Smith said. 

“This difficult time has made me as passionate as ever about foster care.”

* Not their real names