Foster care experts worry about safety during COVID-19

Drop in hotline calls shows need for community awareness

Kathleen Dunlap
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 6/3/20

Colorado child safety experts say that a drop in the number of calls to child abuse hotlines since the COVID-19 outbreak has them concerned. “We usually field about 60 calls per day,” said Kaleo …

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Foster care experts worry about safety during COVID-19

Drop in hotline calls shows need for community awareness

Posted

Colorado child safety experts say that a drop in the number of calls to child abuse hotlines since the COVID-19 outbreak has them concerned.

“We usually field about 60 calls per day,” said Kaleo George, a Jefferson County certified foster parent and trainer. “Now we get around 15.”

George said she has never seen the volume of calls dip this low in her seven years of working with Jefferson, Douglas, and Arapahoe counties. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colorado in March, the Colorado Department of Human Services has reported a 50 percent decrease in the number of hotline calls for Child Abuse and Neglect.

Elizabeth Aznar, Certification Caseworker with the Collaborative Foster Care Program, said she in-home schooling could be one factor in the decrease.

“One reason for this is that there are not as many eyes on kids, especially mandated reporters,” Aznar said.

While not all calls received through the hotline lead to new foster care placements, the lack of reporting means kids are potentially at risk, she said.

Governor Polis’ latest “Safer at Home” Order has allowed non-essential businesses to reopen, while schools, churches and other large community programs are opening more gradually.

That order needs to be narrower, she said.

“Safer At Home specifically relates to the pandemic crisis, but we need to figure out ways to say connected with the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods,” she said.

Parents that are either working from home or have been laid off must still engage their children with at-home learning, and that can lead to tension. The potential for abuse and neglect intensifies.

“A lot of parents don’t have the skills they need to juggle what is now expected of them,” George said.

Leaning on community

Community involvement ensures parents and children have the education, nutritional, and financial tools they need, she said, and that’s more than just an opinion, she said. George, her husband Benjamin and their three biological children have housed 12 foster children over the last seven years. They constantly lean on their close friends and faith congregation for help. They even bought a house adjacent to another family who also fosters kids. Both families share a backyard and their kids float in and out of each house with ease and familiarity. The adults listen to and care for each other through every hurdle faced.

George has also forged relationships with biological parents and seen her foster kids successfully reunited with their parents. This result of the foster care program has only deepened her belief that a strong community builds healthier families.

“We get attached to the kids placed with us,” George said. “They deserve that.”

There are struggles. Learning how to live with children from varying socio-economic backgrounds, religious affiliations, differing personalities, and conflicting value systems has certainly challenged her family.

“My biological kids have coping skills that many people don’t learn until adulthood,” George said. “But I’m also very intentional in asking for help. I know the places I can go when I need it.”

Knowing where to go for assistance could make all the difference to struggling families as the effects of the pandemic will linger into the summer months. Since most Colorado residents are still stuck in their neighborhoods or backyards, George encourages people to be aware of their surroundings. Keeping eyes and ears out for harmful situations is crucial.

“These are our kids,” George said. “And by ‘our’, I mean, the community. This is the outlook we should have.”

As the state of Colorado slowly re-opens, the Collaborative Foster Care Program is poised for the influx of new foster care cases. The goal of foster care in Colorado is reunification with children with their families, but this goal won’t be achieved without the aid of an involved and caring community. Aznar and George spend countless hours in trainings and certifications for new foster care families. They continue to host Informational Nights virtually to inform interested volunteers on how to become foster parents. Their efforts are tireless—evidence of their outlook that it takes a village to raise children. No parent should feel alone.

“We need to come alongside families,” George said. “There is hope beyond the circumstances of abuse and neglect. We get to participate in that hope.”

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