At-risk Children in the Times of COVID

There will always be orphaned and abandoned children; some things never change. There will always be families pushed to the breaking point. We live in a broken world with broken people, it’s been this way for a very long time, and nothing indicates humanity is getting any better. What does change is the magnitude and number of children in need. As cold as this sounds, it’s a numbers game, the more families are under pressure, the more families collapse. When people are under pressure, children become victims. With the current COVID situation, we see the number of children in extreme danger growing exponentially.

History shows us, whenever there is a significant hit to the economy, the number of children abandoned or abused spikes. We saw this happen after 911; the economy took a massive hit due to the collapse of tourism in Mexico (where we serve). Over the three months following 911, we saw our numbers go from 80 children in our home to over 120. Children were not abandoned directly due to financial need; this is rarer than many people believe. Financial pressure brings out substance abuse, child abuse, and generally magnifies underlying parental problems that were there all along. We saw this again in 2008 when the economic crises hit: families suffered, it trickled down, and children became the victims. The need for child care rises dramatically as the economy collapses, this is just how it works.

We’ve seen the same thing happen across the US with the current COVID lock-down. There has been a considerable rise in abuse cases, and teen suicide is surging. The uncertainty, isolation, and financial pressure, not to mention the fear of COVID itself, create a wide range of adverse psychological impacts. It’s only natural that these impacts would push many families to the breaking point. The isolation also adds to the problem in those children who might have found help through teachers, coaches, etc. and are literally locked in their houses with the person or persons who might be abusing them. Solid families are actually doing well. Families that are not healthy are having all those unhealthy issues magnified while being locked down together. We’ve all seen the memes and jokes about the home-school moms day-drinking, this cuts closer to reality for many kids than we want to admit.

In the last few months, we’ve had some children leave our home through adoption, reunification, or aging out, but we’ve taken in a lot more children than have left. In four months we’ve seen an increase in the children in our care of 27%, or to put a face on it, we have twenty-five more children in our care than we did in March. Twenty-five children who have had their worlds ripped apart, and are now in desperate need of healing. Once again, this is not directly due to financial needs within the families. All of these children have been abandoned or abused, some of them horribly.

While we’ve seen a considerable increase in need, we’ve also (like most people) been adjusting to our current lives while under COVID restriction. Our children are not in school in town, not going on outings, not going to church in town, and wondering when things will “go back to normal.” Along with the standard lock-down stuff, our short-term groups are gone. We miss our short-term mission teams and hope they can come back soon, but we’re getting by. We usually have many great teams visit over the holidays; we’re planning now for a dramatically different Christmas season without the festivities organized by our faithful visitors.

The quality of foster care homes or orphanages runs from pretty horrible to well done. In our home, we have a couple of things going for us that have minimized the COVID impact on our long term children and helped the new children coming into our home. For one thing, our home is so big, both in population and size of the property, that we kind of become our own town. Although not having groups visit has been a hit, and our kids miss regular school, we’re our own community. We have about 150 people with kids and staff that all live together in a small campus setting. The most important thing that we have is a great staff, a big team of both paid and volunteer staff who genuinely have a heart for the kids and do a great job providing what our children need on every level.

The point of this little update on orphan care in times of COVID is to help keep this great need in mind. We are all trying to move forward in this new world, so many children are moving forward in situations much worse than ours. Please watch out for those around you, pray for those around you, and help support foster care parents and others caring for so many children at risk.

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