COVID-19 pandemic causes shift for foster programs on the Suncoast

Updated: Jul. 26, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Last year, more than 1,000 children in Sarasota and Manatee Counties were taken from their homes and placed in Florida's foster care system – many having lived through extremely traumatizing experiences. However, now during this pandemic, the demand has become even greater.

There are about 200 foster homes on the Suncoast, and these families are taking care of about 1,600 children. The pandemic has caused about a 20% increase in the number of kids needing a home, and the financial situation that many of these families are now in has made it harder for them to accept these children.

“There is always a need for foster parents. It’s honestly a national concern. If you look at the stats, a lot of foster parents try it out for a year or so, and then they realize it’s not for them, so there’s a very big turnover rate every single year,” explained Kate Reed, the Communications Director for All Star Children’s Foundation.

However, this year, the foster care system has been even more impacted by this turnover. Back in March, there were very few children being placed in the foster system, but once schools and businesses were closed things quickly changed.

“I would say that a month and a half in, we started to feel the impact of that lull, it was like an inundation of those referrals. It’s been interesting and a challenge to manage all of that,” Kimberly Treharne, the Clinical Director at All Star Children’s Foundation, said.

However, places like the All Star Children’s Foundation have been able to take in these kids who desperately need help.

“We believe that if we provide training for these foster parents, so they are very informed on how to promote trauma-informed parenting to the children that come into their care, and they have a very big volunteer program,” said Reed.

All Star Children’s Foundation has also created a permanent space for some of these families to live. The Campus of Hope and Healing is a five-acre campus designed to be a place where they can learn to get through it. There are six homes with up to five foster children living in each being cared for by trained foster parents.

Plus, every single adult caring for those kids on the campus will be trained in trauma care and recovery.

“We’re providing them these beautiful homes with light and bright living spaces, and creating safe environments for them to work with trained foster parents. This allows them to still engage with their biological parents, and have them come have meetings on our playgrounds, but also collaborating with our community,” Stephen Fancher, the Chief Development Officer at The Campus Of Hope And Healing, tells us.

The site has a clinical treatment building, a clubhouse with a tutoring lab and several areas for activities. However, the silver lining during this pandemic, is that they have still been able to stay connected with those who don’t live on campus.

“Teenagers have engaged at an increased rate. The comfort with this way of interacting is evident. We’ve also seen some caregivers engaged more because if there isn’t a trip to the office that they have to navigate, we can just have a quick conversation,” explained Treharne.

They are actively looking for foster families to live on their campus. For more information, click here.

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