Family supports are moving online, more foster caregivers and respite workers are needed, and school closures are creating challenges as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts NWT child welfare.
Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories, says there’s always a need for more foster caregivers in the territory.
That need historically becomes greater, she said, when children are spending more time at home, like holidays, and there are increases in family violence, substance use, and other issues.
“There’s going to be an increase in kids needing safe spaces to be. We are actively recruiting people to come forward and help out because we know it’s going to get worse from here,” she said.
The coalition is encouraging limits on the frequency with which children in care are moved from homes during the pandemic, hoping to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“As long as people are supported and comfortable where they’re at, we’re encouraging no moves for anyone,” said Roberts.
As for many families in the territory, Roberts said childcare is currently a challenge for foster caregivers with schools and many public places closed.
“I think isolation is a huge challenge for anybody, but if you have children it’s a challenge because everybody’s trying to keep them entertained,” she said.
“There still are caregivers that are working full-time or are essential workers. Just trying to balance all that is extremely hard.”
Roberts said the coalition is working with the territorial government to recruit respite workers and provide childcare for foster caregivers still working or give others a break. All respite workers are screened. Roberts said they do their best to maintain social distance for new placements.
Roberts said childcare may be provided in a caregiver’s home, at a screened respite place, or a community space that has been closed. (Space at the Foster Family Coalition building is being used to provide childcare for one family.)
The Foster Family Coalition is providing online supports for foster families across the territory, including virtual support meetings twice a week. Roberts said staff are posting fun challenges for families to participate in and providing gift cards for winners.
“I’m finding that people aren’t necessarily concerned about isolation or concerned about anything other than sharing ideas on how to support the youth in their homes and keep them entertained,” she said.
Face-to-face visitations suspended
The territorial government said face-to-face visitations, non-essential child and family services, and adoption services have been suspended for the time being.
Staff are connecting with children, caregivers, and biological families by video, phone, and email. In cases that require in-person contact, the government said front-line workers must follow Covid-19 guidelines including the wearing of personal protective equipment.
“Our number-one priority is the health and safety of children and families,” a statement from a government spokesperson read. “The Northwest Territories’ Child and Family Services continue to receive and respond with urgency to all reports of child maltreatment and neglect.”
Earlier this year, the Foster Family Coalition outlined serious grievances with the territory’s Child and Family Services division in a scathing letter to the territorial health and social services minister. The letter pointed out what the coalition said were dangerous gaps in the foster care system, including allegations that front-line workers lied to and verbally abused foster parents.
Roberts said communication with and support from the division is much better now, even with the challenges of the pandemic.
“I believe that they feel that the coalition’s voice is important in what they’re doing because it gives them a different angle to look at, when it’s coming from a caregiver’s perspective,” she said.
“So communication is really good right now and I think that’s why things are going well.”