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How one Texas non-profit is helping foster children learn and stay safe during the pandemic


AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a traditional faculty 12 months, college students within the foster care system expertise a novel set of challenges, together with stability, attendance and the necessity for emotional and psychological well being help, inside and outdoors the classroom.   

When COVID-19 hit, foster kids and households, together with shelter employees, discovered themselves at an excellent higher drawback.       

Jonathan, Victoria and Roman Barton. (Courtesy Barton household)

At the beginning of the pandemic, Jonathan and Victoria Barton had been within the last part of adopting their son, Roman.  They’ve been foster dad and mom for 5 years, and Roman had been with them for a bit over a 12 months.  Previous to that he was in Waco, Killeen and San Antonio.  Within the spring, he was lastly getting his without end dwelling with the Bartons within the City of Manor, simply exterior of Austin, Texas. 

“The week after every thing shut down, it was his birthday after which a month after that was his adoption so he missed out on two celebratory occasions,” Jonathan Barton stated.  

The adoption course of regarded so much completely different for the Bartons throughout the pandemic. They labored carefully with employees at The SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Youngsters’s Shelter and SafePlace, to navigate foster care and adoptions providers.

Throughout Roman’s adoption course of, the Bartons discovered his sister Aubrey’s adoptive placement fell by way of. She additionally missed her brother.  So the Bartons began visits together with her virtually each different weekend, till the pandemic. FaceTime calls turned the norm and since they didn’t wish to disrupt her studying at her faculty in Lockhart, the method to get her of their dwelling was extended. 

“As a lot as we wished her earlier than her faculty 12 months ended, we wished her to complete out her kindergarten 12 months the place she was and we’d wait till the tip of the varsity 12 months to convey her dwelling,” Victoria Barton stated. 

As soon as the varsity 12 months ended, the Barton household was capable of convey Aubrey to their dwelling as they finalized the adoption course of. 

The Barton household in Manor, Texas. (Courtesy Barton household)

In accordance with the Texas Division of Household and Protecting Providers, in the final 12 months, 6,017 kids like Roman and Aubrey had been adopted within the state.  However, there are nonetheless 16,065 kids in foster care in Texas and 519 in Travis County.     

The latest data book from DFPS is online and has particulars on the foster care system within the state.

Lots of the foster kids in Travis County discovered help by way of SAFE. Workers on the company tells KXAN they needed to make a number of modifications to their applications with a view to safely accommodate the youngsters of their care.

Ensuring kids in foster care and adoptive care succeed   

Through the pandemic, work by no means stopped or slowed down at SAFE. 

At present, there are about 40 youth within the numerous kids’s shelter applications. When COVID-19 hit, the company needed to discover the know-how and area to make sure the youngsters and youths had been protected whereas they transitioned to distant studying. 

“In late February we determined we wanted to create a COVID-response workforce, so the chief workforce bought collectively and created what we name a COVID coordinator,” stated Melinda Cantu, Vice President of Youngster Abuse Prevention & Intervention Providers. 

Cantu says that particular person was tasked with maintaining with federal and native mandates to form sanitization, social distancing and PPE protocols for employees and college students on the shelter.   

For the reason that begin of the pandemic, every program throughout the shelter has been separated from the others, together with: 

  • Emergency Care (serves 11) 
  • Teen Guardian and Early Childhood (serves 10) 
  • Transitional Dwelling (serves 14)  
  • Supervised Impartial Dwelling (serves 5) 

“Our numerous applications had been going to turn out to be ‘households,’ so these households had been going to stay safe and the employees can be particularly staffed for these,” Cantu stated. 

A quarantine room at SAFE for those who test positive (SAFE Alliance Photo)
A quarantine room at SAFE for many who check optimistic (SAFE Alliance Photograph)

The company additionally created an isolation and quarantine room for any optimistic circumstances or exposures. All kids and youths transitioned to a college constructing on campus for distant studying the place the company created pods with laptops to verify children had been in an remoted area throughout the faculty day. 

“You may solely work together with the youngsters in your cottage, which makes it troublesome for all of our youth, so we’ve got completely different instances that they are often within the frequent areas,” stated Monica Martinez, Director of the Teen Guardian and Early Childhood program. 

This prevented a COVID outbreak and minimized studying disruptions so the scholars in the company’s care had a profitable transition to the subsequent grade. 

Staffing modifications 

Workers at SAFE Alliance additionally needed to discover artistic methods to restructure their teen dad or mum and early childhood program to make sure the teenager dad or mum and youngster had been each profitable with digital studying.  Youth care employees created exterior actions, together with small studying circles, to hold the youngsters busy and their mothers studying. 

One other main hurdle: ensuring shelter employees prevented burnout. The answer was to herald employees members from completely different departments. These employees members needed to shadow the youth shelter employees for 40 hours per week, whereas additionally doing their full-time jobs.  

“We had lots of people step up and get skilled to be a youth care employee which isn’t simple as a result of it’s important to undergo restraint coaching and trauma knowledgeable care coaching,” Martinez stated. 

Success of the foster care college students 

A mural at one of the SAFE Alliance facilities (SAFE Alliance Photo
A mural at one of many SAFE Alliance services (SAFE Alliance Photograph

All college students who completed out the 12 months with SAFE Alliance in Could, handed. The employees says though the transition to remote-learning was troublesome, studying pods, constant schedules and neighborhood assets helped their youth excel.

Behavioral and Schooling Help Specialists additionally made remote-learning simpler by offering psychological, bodily and emotional help.

The SAFE Alliance is at present counting on neighborhood donations and grants to assist present help to their youth throughout the pandemic.  The company partnered with the College of Texas at Austin for its know-how wants and known as on neighborhood teams and people to supply video games, actions and flicks for kids within the shelter. 

SAFE additionally transitioned its foster and adoption coaching to an internet mannequin, in addition to counseling and remedy for kids of their care. 

Partnering with the nationwide non-profit Options Journalism Community, Nexstar stations nationwide are telling unique stories about how the pandemic has uncovered inequities for college kids and the options some teams have discovered to bridge that hole.



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