Written by Amanda Kemp

Most of us are tired of hearing new terms related to the pandemic such as “this is an unprecedented time” or “the new normal.” It is also exhausting hearing people bashing each other’s views ad nauseam on how to handle the pandemic. The truth is, this certainly is an unprecedented time where we all feel like we are in uncharted waters, because no one really knows the best way to beat this virus. Rules and regulations are changing seemingly every other week or every month, preventing us from finding our comfort zone and the best safety measures on any given day. Some things have stayed consistent such as wearing face masks, using tons of hand sanitizer nearly every time we touch something, and washing our hands more than we ever have before. Some of Forever Families’ employees and families have provided their input on how this pandemic has affected them on a personal and professional level. Here is what they want to share:

“It was hard when [my adult kids] had COVID because I couldn’t see [my grandchild] or even help them out. The fear/concern is always there, I imagine for everyone, that their people/kids/family will get or share the virus. We are all on top of protocols at work and at home, but I feel like we have become lax with hand washing, mask wearing, etc. On a lighter note, it was nice to be home with family. We rarely left the house, enjoyed the quiet spring and warming summer days together. I will actually treasure that time…even though my corn hole game never improved!”

“Our family has been grateful that we have been able to maintain our income and not have to stress about finances as many of the families that we serve have. What has been a challenge has been working remote with three small children. Some of my work does not get done on days that I’m home until my spouse gets home to help. As well, the inability of the Wayne county court system to operate efficiently while working virtually has affected the adoption of our foster daughter. We expected to move forward with our adoption by the end of the year but now that date has been pushed to April of 2021. This leaves our family with a lot of uncertainty. Even with the challenges that the pandemic has brought me both personally and professionally, it’s also allowed me to slow down and appreciate what and who all I have.”

“I think that each phase has affected me differently. In the beginning I did not know anyone that had contracted COVID so while I was following guidelines there was little concern or thought about it all.  More of an inconvenience than anything.  With this new rise I know many people who have had COVID so it I am more concerned.  It has touched many members of my family and some with very compromised immune systems.  I have found myself being angry at those that are not following the guidelines and do not take precautions.  I think it will be difficult with the holidays upon us.  Holidays can be a bad time of the year for many and with the limited access to others I fear that we will see an even larger rise in mental health issues. It has been an adjustment professionally with everyone working remotely.  Humans are social and in our profession it is the key to what we do and who we are so the limited contact with families and colleagues has been difficult.”

This pandemic has been an unprecedented situation that has affected all of our lives. I was finishing up my last semester of college when we entered the first quarantine back in March, and became unemployed from the part-time job I had at the time. I’m sure some of you reading this faced a similar situation, and can relate to the uncertainty I felt when this whirlwind of changes hit my life. It was far from an easy situation to get through. Instead of struggling alone, I reached out to my partner and our families for support, and I was very fortunate to have access to enough resources to make it through the toughest part of it. When my hope started to waiver, I reminded myself that it was a temporary situation and a small bump in the road toward my goals. To keep myself sane through the months of being stuck at home, I re-ignited old hobbies that I hadn’t had time for in a long time and even took up some new hobbies. I was also fortunate enough to live with my partner and be able to spend quarantine with her, and our relationship strengthened over those months that we were around each other all day, every day. Our families live out of state and we haven’t seen them in many, many months; many of you might be able to relate to this. Spending this amount of time away from our families has actually made me more excited to reconnect with them in the future. I’ve also grown excited to be able to do mundane things again like walking through a store without having to wear a mask and going to the movies. I believe that we will get to the point of being able to do those things again someday. This is a challenging time for everyone, and I hope that all of our families, children, and staff can maintain the strength they’ve all exhibited for a little longer until we get through this. Please don’t hesitate to use the resources and supports that you have access to. Take care, and here’s to a better and brighter 2021!

“COVID has affected me personally in many ways. My daughter had to unexpectedly do virtual schooling, all of my travel plans were canceled and I could not visit my family as I normally would. It has affected my daily routine that I have to work from home and also help my daughter with virtual learning. It can be very difficult trying to manage both at the same time. I normally visit my parents on a daily basis but during the initial shutdown, I did not see my parents for 3 months and even now, I do not visit them often due to fear of giving my parents COVID since I still go out into the community for personal and work reasons. COVID has also affected my mental health as I have anxiety surrounding myself or someone close to me being diagnosed and not knowing how the infection will mildly or severely attack the body. I no longer watch the news as it is very depressing to hear how COVID has taken over the world. I know of two family members who have lost loved ones due to COVID.  

COVID has affected me professionally as I now only go into the office two days a week and I work from home three days a week. My parents keep my daughter and do virtual schooling on the days I have to be in the office. Agency staff members have to follow strict protocols and guidelines to slow down the spread of the infection by taking your temperature when you arrive into the office, wearing a mask in the hallways and wiping down surfaces that one has touched. In the past, staff would gather in the lunchroom but now we are not allowed to have that social interaction anymore. I have to conduct all of my meetings either using a video conference or via phone.”

COVID has definitely had an impact on all aspects of my daily living including: daily routine, family connections & traditions, social & professional life.  It has caused me to worry about even the smallest in person tasks due to fear of contracting the virus and bringing it home to my household members. The things that has help me through the pandemic includes utilizing FaceTime and other alternative methods to stay in close contact with my relatives and friends.”

“Personally, it has been difficult to not be able to see my family who lives out of state in Texas; we are going on one year of not having seen one another. This was especially difficult at Thanksgiving. My 19 year old daughter had to come home from college in March and has to do all online classes for the rest of this year and her study abroad was cancelled, which has been hard for her to leave her college friends in Chicago and not have the college experience. Also, just little things that I took for granted such as going out to the movies, to concerts, out to eat has been an adjustment. My coping skills have been reading, watching favorite TV shows, going to the beach or on walks in the summer. Professionally, it’s been an adjustment to try to navigate face to face contact with clients wearing masks and social distancing. Switching to zoom orientations has been going well but is not as personal as one on one contact with families. Navigating the changing guidelines for when I have to go to the hospital for a birth has been challenging; for example will the adoptive family be allowed in the hospital, will only one adoptive parent be able to see the baby.”

“COVID’s general impact on my overall mentality and daily life has mainly been that I no longer take the small things in life for granted and I’ve become even more appreciative of the loved ones in my life. Because of how quickly and scarily COVID started to impact our world, it was extremely difficult to even begin processing this new normal. I would say COVID has mainly impacted me negatively on both a personal and professional level. I was about to finish graduate school in May, walk across my last stage, and finally set off on my professional career in child welfare. Instead, I was left struggling to finish all of my coursework virtually, attending my commencement via a PowerPoint slideshow, and wondering how I would find a job when thousands were losing theirs. Luckily, I was able to find a great opportunity at Forever Families to begin as a foster care worker, and my life has grown more positive in so many ways. I will admit that it’s difficult to manage all my cases when the darkness of COVID follows everything I do with foster care children, Birth Parents, and Foster Parents, but I’ve been so appreciative of everyone on my cases trying hard to work through any challenges that arise. Going to court hearings via a lagging Zoom call, making referrals for agencies that are overwhelmed, and setting up healthy and safe visits have all been barriers that I’ve needed to work out somehow. Going home at the end of the day isn’t the same either. Usually, I would take the time to get together with friends and practice self-care to balance all the stressors of work and life, but with COVID, that is no longer possible. Everything is leaving me a little more exhausted without being able to pull myself back up with the happiness and familiarity of meeting friend’s for a night out and visiting with family. On a more positive note, I will say that the impact I’ve been able to make on my clients’ lives has truly made up for what I’ve lost throughout this year. Hearing a foster kid tell me I’m the best worker they’ve had, seeing the joy on a parent’s face during a visit with their child, and having a foster parent say they’re appreciative of how I’ve been able to help them, are the little things that make me happy to be where I am now.”

“When the kids were first doing virtual learning, I could see the daily struggle with my foster son not being able to socially interact with his class mates. He appeared to feel smothered, just grasping constantly for interaction from children his age. They were able to go back to school for a few weeks in October, and at that time I saw a tremendous improvement in my foster son’s overall mental health. He was happy, he talked about his friends at school, and he looked forward to going to school every day. The positive impact that socialization has on us is astounding. The kids are now back to virtual learning and thankfully it is not as bad as it was at first. Now that my foster son has friends who live nearby (who he was able to meet while attending school in person), he is able to go for bike rides with them after school, and get together to play outside.”

“My two foster teens have no motivation to get out of bed and go to virtual learning each day. It is a daily struggle to get them up and logged into their classes. Even then, they struggle to stay focused enough to do their work, especially the one with ADHD. They get so easily distracted, even with having a designated area to do their work with no TV or video games. They both desperately want to go back to school to learn in person. They will be starting tutoring soon which will hopefully get them on track to be able to pass their classes.”

Our colleagues and foster families are impacted by the pandemic in a variety of ways. One resonating factor is the lack of socialization and spending time with family. In child welfare, I believe that this is a great opportunity for us all to relate to and better understand how our foster children and birth families feel “normally” let alone during a world-wide pandemic. Even before COVID, when a child is removed from birth parents and brought into foster care, the time they are able to spend together is limited. Although each case varies, they don’t often get to spend holidays together, and there is typically a designated place for supervised parenting time and sibling visits to occur- they can’t simply go out to movies, bowling, restaurants, etc. for visits unless those places have been approved. This is for the safety and welfare of the children. The restrictions that have been put in place by the Department and by the governor in regards to the pandemic are very similar in some ways, and also quite restrictive. We are not able to simply go out to movies, bowling, restaurants, etc. unless those places have been approved and opened to the public. This is for the safety and wellbeing of the entire population. The restrictions in place may be an inconvenience and make our lives more difficult, but we have to remember that they are in place for a reason- to help keep people healthy and alive.

In trudging through these uncharted waters, there are certainly some tips that can make life a little less monotonous and help get us through this trying time.

  • Moving your body as much as possible! Taking walks and listening to fun podcasts to distract your mind.  
  • Taking hikes and enjoying nature
  • Starting each morning with writing down 3 things you are grateful for
  • Daily journaling to release thoughts/emotions
  • Stay in frequent contact with family using technology- phone calls, text messages, video calls, online games; share the small things that wouldn’t typically matter, keeping them involved in your life (pictures of new outfits or meals that you cook, tell them about something funny that you saw or thought about, reminisce about old memories and talk about what you will do together after the pandemic)
  • Attend therapy sessions to help process how you are feeling and how to handle stress and anxiety
  • Allow and encourage kids to play together (ride bikes, running/racing, roller blading, scavenger hunt, snowball throwing contest, flashlight tag, etc.)
  • Limit screen time- kids and adults!
  • Find a hobby as an individual or as a family (arts and crafts, reading, drawing, coloring, puzzles and board games, redecorate rooms, decorate for the holidays, keep a journal, go for daily walks or hikes)
  • Set a routine. Make sure you get up around the same time every day, eat a healthy breakfast, shower and get dressed- don’t sit around in PJ’s all day! Prepare as if you are going to work or school so that you can stay in a routine that is conducive for learning and success, rather than falling into a slump and losing your motivation to get things accomplished.
  • Make a point to get out of the house for a change of scenery. Walk the dogs (or the neighbor’s dogs), ride your bike, go to a local park, take pictures of nature, drive by a family member’s house and wave to them from outside, go for a scenic drive

We all look forward to the day when things can go “back to normal” even if we aren’t quite sure when that will happen, or what that will even look like with all of the changes that are occurring. For the time being, there are many things that can assist us with getting through this pandemic on a personal level. The most important thing to remember, however, is that the only way to get rid of this virus is for us all to work together and ensure that we are being safe. Keep your mask on when you are around other people, social distance, and wash your hands!