“We still need foster homes. We still need foster parents,” said Kendal Esteves. “COVID does not mean we stop doing what we do.”
Esteves is in charge of recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive families for Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI), which manages the foster care and adoption program in western Iowa for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).
The LSI western Iowa service area includes 30 western counties in the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the normal mode of operations for LSI, but the service is adapting, Esteves said.
“We had (foster family) orientations scheduled before this happened,” she said. “In order to make sure that we could still capture the people we had already talked to and registered, we decided to try webinar orientations.”
The first LSI online orientation took place on March 19. For the time being, all future orientation sessions will take place as webinars.
“They’ve actually been very well attended and we’ve gotten a lot of excitement about webinar opportunities just because we live in a rural area and they are taking it as an opportunity to learn about something new,” Esteves said.
“They might not normally have been able to leave and drive and go to an in-person meeting.”
Classes for foster families have been adjusted in a similar fashion.
“We have classes that are also scheduled and people who are registered,” she said.
“We had to again bite the bullet and say were going to do classes via webinar, too.”
She would prefer to have the classes conducted in person because of the physical-interaction component.
“Sometimes there are activities that they do in a classroom that they really can’t do and they don’t get the full gist of it in a webinar format, however we still have the need to license more families so we chose to go ahead and move forward and do those in webinar format,” she said.
There is no way to determine when in-person classes will resume.
The webinar classes have been well received and have not presented as many problems as might have been expected.
“We’re hoping that at the end of this they can all get together and have a class to formally meet in person,” Esteves said. “A lot of these foster families, when they go through these classes, they form bonds and relationships with the other foster parents. We want to keep those bonds going.”
The use of webinars for foster orientation and training may cause DHS to reconsider the use of webinars.
“It has kind of woken up all of DHS to see that online formats might be a good option for something in the future,” Esteves said. “It’s sparking some thought and making them think about it.”
Foster families are also taking advantage of online technology during the pandemic, she said.
“Some have kids that are in their care that are not getting to see their parents in person, so the families are finding other ways for them to see their parents,” she said.
“We’re trying to keep the kids engaged with their parents so that the connection remains.”
Other families are working to help others stay safe from the virus.
“One family is sewing masks,” Esteves said. “I think they’ve made over 500 masks. These kids that are not being able to go to school are still able to do something fun and interactive and help the community.”
LSI is working to make sure the foster families have the resources they need right now, she said.
“This is stressful on all families,” Esteves said. “Coming out of this we want to make sure we have stronger families, not weaker families.”
Foster families and foster children have been asked to make time capsules with packets LSI is providing.
“They can write down what is going on or write letters to their future selves or talk about their favorite things,” she said. “This is living history. They’ll have something they can look back at 10, 15 or 20 years from now and remember this time – and remember when they were with a foster family.”
The greatest need for foster families at present is for those willing to take children from 12 to 14 years old.
“We do still have a number of children who need to be matched,” Esteves said. “It’s hard to find families that will take older children and sibling groups. We have about 20 to 30 on any given day that still need a safe home to go to.
“I tell parents with an empty nest that your nest doesn’t have to be empty,” she said. “If you miss some of that high school football or different high school events, we can still help you experience that. You can give a child a great high school life through fostering.”
LSI performs health screenings and caseworkers wear gloves and masks for everyone’s safety, she said.
“A lot of the in-person meetings that usually happen right now are happening via video conference,” Esteves said. “Caseworker can still talk to the foster parent even though it’s not in person.”
LSI is conducting a foster parent online orientation for the Carroll area on May 12 – but Denison residents are welcome, she said.
Anyone interested in attending may register at www.lsiowa.org/foster.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month.
“Foster Care Awareness Month is intended to show appreciation for these people who open up their homes when they don’t necessarily have to,” Esteves said. “It’s something they’re choosing to do because they’re working for the greater good or they want to help a child in need. That doesn’t stop when the world goes into pandemic mode.”