AKRON, Ohio — The pandemic has increased anxiety among many people around the world, but new research from The Ohio State University shows this is especially true for foster parents.
Researchers at the university compared what foster families talked about online prior to the pandemic to their discussions following lockdowns. They found that the families showed concerns around three topics.
One was delays in their attempts to get licensed as foster parents, especially with court hearings.
"All of our meetings were on Zoom and we really couldn't meet with the parents and the guardians were meeting with the children on Zoom," said Kathleen Paydo. "And sometimes I felt that was a little bit hard for them to connect and really understand what the children needed."
Paydo and her husband Ron have been foster parents to 135 children over more than 30 years in Summit County.
The second concern researchers found surrounded changes in activities and school to keep children occupied.
"We had to kind of think on the fly and be really creative," said Ron.
The last big concern was the permanency plans for children in their care, especially if anyone got sick including the child, the foster parents or even the biological parents.
"The children had a lot of concerns about the safety of their parents. I thought that they were highly anxious, wondering whether their parents were healthy, many visitation schedules were disrupted or we had to do Zoom calls for visits," said Kathleen.
The study suggested many state agencies need to be better prepared to deal with the next pandemic or similar emergency.
"We're kind of looking at policies again and starting to tighten them up a little bit in preparation for something," said Traci Foley with Summit County Children Services. "So we're prepared moving forward."
The Paydos believe Ohio and Summit County agencies have handled things well and they want potential future foster parents to know this: Don't be afraid to get involved.
"There's at least two social workers that work with every case and that's a great support because if you can't get a hold of one or the other is unavailable, they cover for each other," said Kathleen. "That is a big support for us."
Right now Summit County Children Services has about 800 children in their care. In June, they had only 183 licensed foster families.
Over the summer, that number has gone up slightly, but they still need more people.
"We're fortunate we have about 40% of those children are with kinship or relative family members," said Ann Ream, the agency's director of community relations. "We are looking to increase those numbers, to keep kids in our community, in our county of Summit."
On Thursday, Summit County Children Services is holding a virtual open house for anyone interested in becoming a foster family. Current foster families will be on hand to answer any questions or address concerns.
Click here to register.