Every child in our community and this world deserves to be loved and to feel safe. At Friends of the Children, we select and invite children — all of whom have unique talents, interests and dreams, and also face multiple systemic obstacles, to be paired with a paid, professional mentor called a Friend.
About 40% of our own program youth have been impacted by foster care. Like most Americans, our youth and their families are facing an incredible amount of stress, anxiety and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for isolation from each other. This can be devastating on many levels as one of the most important things our youth need right now is the support of a consistent, caring adult they trust and can stay connected to, and this is especially true of youth that are in or have experienced foster care.
At a time when child welfare case workers have limited access to youth needing support the most, or where youth need access to resources that support school success, Friends of the Children is helping fill a gap. A Friend’s full-time job under normal circumstances is to spend 3-4 hours a week with each youth in person – for 12+ years, no matter what. During these times, we have creatively re-imagined our program service model in order to keep our ‘no matter what’ commitment, while also practicing social distancing.
Friends have become incredibly innovative in how they are connecting with youth – dropping off supplies and activities for the youth and their families, reading books or doing math over the phone, and connecting through technology when our youth have that available.
It’s more important than ever that our community’s youth are able to reach out to the caring adults in their lives—those who are advocating for them and know their circumstances. So in addition to being supportive of programs like ours, please be helpful to our school districts as they navigate these trying times to connect with students virtually or through other distance learning methods and adjust teaching practices.
We need to ensure equity where all youth have the same opportunity to access devices to keep in contact with teachers, family members, and to continue to learn online. It is further important to ensure youth are able to connect with everyone in their circle, including CASA and caseworkers. Child neglect and abuse hotlines are seeing a decrease in the number of calls because schools are one of the largest groups of mandatory reports, so do what you can to safely connect with your neighbors to ensure children are protected and that their parents or caregivers have the resources needed to safely care for their child(ren).
Also as individuals, part of an organization, and part of our community, please care for our caseworkers that are working tirelessly to ensure children are safe, but having to change the format and frequency of child safety visits and make harder choices about when to intervene.
While our paths have changed as we navigate community challenges, let’s take this journey together to support youth and families who already struggle with isolation and stressors.
Amanda Squibb is the Executive Director of Friends of the Children – Klamath Basin since 2016.