Stuck at home and feeling stressed due to isolation, job loss and the pandemic, many Americans are turning to drugs and alcohol. Stressful situations combined with increased drug and alcohol use set the stage for potentially dangerous, abusive situations, especially for vulnerable youth. For youth in abusive situations, schools, after-school programs, and sports teams offer safe haven; youth who rely on these now-shuttered programs for respite are instead stuck at home, often with their abusers. Furthermore, teachers are often the people who file reports of abuse or neglect to state agencies; one state agency reported a 43% drop in reports since the pandemic started, further underscoring a break in this vital safety network.
While COVID-19 affects all young people, it presents a unique set of challenges for the roughly 443,000 US youth in the foster care system. In many cases visitations between youth in foster care and their biological families have been suspended because of social distancing recommendations. For those who live in group homes or institutions, up to 11% may be at a higher risk of infection because of crowded living situations and staff who are still coming to work. Further, these youth are at higher risk for abuse and neglect during the pandemic. For those in group homes or institutions, risks of physical abuse are 10 times higher and up to 28 times higher for sexual abuse, often at the hands of other foster youth.
Luckily, several organizations and the State of California have found ways to help. On April 13, Gavin Newsom announced $42 million in aid to foster youth and families. This aid focuses on three main areas: additional funding to foster families, increasing funding for social workers, and funding for Family Resource Centers. National foster care advocacy group Together We Rise has both national and state resources that range from providing technology for foster youth to providing monetary assistance for basic necessities, as well as resources for former foster youth that are currently attending college. Individuals can also help on a local level, by calling San Bernardino County group homes and foster care agencies to see how they can help. Most importantly, foster youth need to be talked about, whether it is within our families, over social media, with our friends, or in our faith communities. We must give this issue extra attention, and bring a voice to our most vulnerable populations.
The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.
- President Barack Obama