Across the nation, we are all currently wrestling with responding to the global pandemic of COVID-19, and the many different impacts it has made on our way of life. Schools and childcare are closed forcing children to be at home while many people are faced with working from home or even being out of work. As we are all adjusting to a new, unprecedented way of life (perhaps balancing work, schooling children, running a house, and more) it’s now, more than ever, so important to help ensure we keep the children in our care connected to their families. Helping support them in keeping that sense of normalcy shows them we truly care and respect how important that is. This can be a great opportunity for their families to see that we are team players and are willing to be flexible and creative in bridging the gap during this time.
Of course right now, supporting those connections can require some creative thinking on our parts. In many cases, in person visits have been suspended due to recommendations for social distancing and self quarantine. Which currently leaves us with a challenge to connect children and families in new ways. The idea of virtual visits can be daunting.
Here are some tips for preparing yourself, the children, and everyone else involved for this new type of visit.
Your Family Support Coordinator and the child’s caseworker can help you understand the parameters and goals of visits, and help you feel more comfortable with the options available to you.
- Make sure all involved are aware of any parameters, the schedule for virtual visits, required supervision, etc.
- Be supportive of the visits and their importance to the children. Although it may seem daunting or require a little more effort on our end, we don’t want to convey the wrong message to the children.
- Remember to have conversations both ahead of the visits and ongoing with the children explaining that these are temporary changes while we all work to keep everyone healthy.
- Be ready to help address any anxiety, answer questions, and meet the kids where they are while they adapt to this new norm.
Realize that each child may respond differently to these new and different options. Be willing to be flexible, try new ideas, get feedback from the children, families, and caseworkers, to see what works best.
Be mindful that children may initially be shy or uninterested in this new format of visits. Ensure they have an appropriate environment- free from distractions, appropriate privacy from others not involved or monitoring the visit, etc.
Here are some practical tips to help encourage meaningful connections through the virtual visits.
Consider how these tips might be able to be modified for different situations; not every option will be suited for all cases. Always ensure you’ve gotten the “OK” for various ideas from the caseworker.
- When possible, utilize options that involve being able to see each other; whether it’s FaceTime, Zoom, or even pre-recorded videos sent back and forth, being able to see each other’s face helps.
- If seeing each other isn’t an option, look for ways they can hear each other’s voice. Perhaps it’s a regular phone call, recorded voice messages, or even recordings of parents reading a favorite story, hearing familiar voices will be appreciated.
- Keep things fun! Have kids share jokes, do MadLibs stories, sing a song, show off some art work, play a game of charades, etc.
- If siblings are involved, try to collaborate to have everyone involved at the same time; perhaps a Zoom call, a conference phone call, or a group chat, etc.
- Think of creative ways to offer connection and keep the visit engaging; a group watch party for a favorite cartoon episode, playing a favorite game together online, eating favorite snacks “together”, reading books to each other, having a virtual dance party together, discussing a favorite show they all watched, tuning into the same live stream (zoo, arts & craft, music, worship, etc.)
- Get creative for special occasions like birthdays; perhaps coordinate for everyone to enjoy pizza and cupcakes while wearing party hats during the call, have everyone sing Happy Birthday, send birthday messages, arrange for gifts to be sent/dropped off etc.
Be willing to share with the family the steps you’re taking to keep the kids safe, healthy, and engaged during these times. They’re likely worried about the kids too. They may want to know that you’re taking the recommendations seriously, and that kids are still working on their studies, having fun, and living life as normally as possible during this time.
Hopefully these tips help inspire some fun and meaningful virtual visits for everyone. Foster parents are some of the most innovative and adaptive people out there, which means this will just be one more thing we all hit the ground running with and ultimately learn how to make it work best for the children we are entrusted with.
You’ve got this, fellow foster parents!
This post is written by Katie, a ShareFostering Ambassador. Katie and her husband first became involved in foster care in 2016 while living in Texas. These days they’re happy to be fostering in their home state of South Carolina. You can usually find Katie jumping into any foster training she can find, chatting about foster care to any one who will listen, and supporting fellow foster parents in several different roles. When she has a few moments of “quiet time” away from an often loud life with 4 children, Katie enjoys crafting.
Read more about how foster parents are responding to COVID-19. Please make sure that you are following your state and local guidelines for health and safety. As always, maintain contact with your child’s caseworker and inform them of any needs or concerns.
Want to read more about connecting with your child’s family? We refer to these relationships with family members and commitment to honoring a child’s parents as “shared parenting.” You can read more in our Shared Parenting blog archives.