Fostering during a pandemic: The unique challenges foster parents and children face

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On average, there are about 3,000 children each month in foster care in Alaska, according to Denali Family Services. The month of May is all about bringing awareness to these children. The unique challenges these kids and their foster parents face, can be magnified during the uncertain times of a pandemic.

"Every child in foster care has a story. Some are worse than others, but there isn't one of them that is good-- not one," said Raymond Gauthier.

Raymond Gauthier is one of the people trying to bring happy endings to those stories. he's a therapeutic foster parent with Denali Family Services. He and his wife have cared for more children than they can count over the past eight years. Currently, they're caring for three, all under the age of sixteen.

"It's been very challenging having three children in our home taking care of their recreational needs and activities," said Gauthier. "Their social life is really diminished."

In addition to adapting to social distancing from friends, and video calls with clinicians and case workers-- an important staple in some foster children's lives, family visits, have scaled back.

"We are very limited on being able to have that visitation with parents at this point, not knowing where parents have been, so we've been very cautious of being able to allow that to happen, so it's trying," said Gauthier. "Our twelve-year-old cries about not being able to see his mom."

Gauthier says that the twelve-year-old is in the process of re-unification with his mother. Before the pandemic, he was spending weekends at his mother's house. Since the pandemic started, those visits have been put on hold.

"He totally knows this-- that that was the direction we were going, so now there's this disappointment of not going in that direction, and you hear, 'I want to go home' ... a lot," said Gauthier, "and it's tough."

In the meantime, Gauthier says he's just trying to keep the kids active while keeping them informed on the dangers and safety concerns of COVID-19.

"And they're not at that younger age where they're totally confused. They're the opposite of that," said Gauthier. "They understand, but there's that need for the connection of mom and dad that you're having to deal with."

And that's exactly the gap Gauthier aimed to fill when he decided to become a foster parent eight years ago.

"I cannot replace dad and mom, but I take and accept all of the children into my home as if they are my own," said Gauthier. "At first there is some rebellion. It's hard for them to kind of get adjusted, but as time goes on, they become part of the family. I don't want to be a foster person. I want to be a dad to these children."

As the pandemic continues to bring unexpected challenges, the need for foster parents continues to grow. To find out more information on fostering children in need you can visit Denali Family Services' website, or contact the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

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