TAMPA, Fla. — Some of the most vulnerable children in the Tampa Bay area are at risk for slipping through the cracks when it comes to care during the pandemic.
Children in the foster care system are facing some unique challenges as they start the 2020-2021 school year.
With the pandemic, it’s more challenging for licensed foster families to take on additional children in the system, according to Janet Rinaldi, Director of Family Advocacy for the West Florida Foster Care Services.
Some are telling caseworkers the responsibility of either supervising eLearning is just too much or they have a high-risk family member who cannot risk exposure by sending children back to in-person classes.
Rinaldi said many licensed foster care families also just don’t have the means to help children in the system with special needs or learning delays.
"It's one thing to ask it's one thing to ask people to take kids into their home and be a foster parent,” Rinaldi said. “It's a whole other level to ask them to also become their teachers and monitor their schoolwork."
To try and support these families, West Florida Foster Care Services and other non-profit agencies have been working to deliver meals and other school supplies to foster care families and the children they serve.
They also have an Amazon Wish List with some of the most needed items.
Also, because of quarantines and the surge in remote learning, fewer children in the foster care system are under the watchful eyes of teachers.
This comes as there is also a shortage of devices for children to log into eLearning or virtual school in some local counties.
Licensed educators are mandated reporters to the state when they suspect potential abuse in any child. Advocates are now expressing concerns that some of the problems children may be facing could go unnoticed.
Synthia Fairman is a guardian ad litem for children in the foster system to the court. She said she has seen some of these problems firsthand.
“There have been a couple incidents in the foster homes and they have ran away,” she said. “If they went to school, somebody else could have caught that.”
She went on to say how critical it is that she be allowed to continue checking in with the foster teenagers that she represents.
“I need to see how they're doing,” Fairman said. “Are you getting bullied? Are you getting hurt?”
In the meantime, Fairman, who is a former foster child, and her business partner, Gabi Rosello, have launched a confidence class through their service, Doublemint Sitting.
In a partnership with Forever Young, a local medical spa, they are helping children in the foster care system learn hygiene skills as they head back to class.