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10 ways to support families when you can’t be together in person

Foster, adoptive, and kinship families are resourceful and resilient, but they need your support sometimes to help meet their children’s needs. During times of increased stress and challenges—such as now when many families are social distancing, many children are doing distance learning for school, and children and families may have temporarily lost access to valuable in-person services and support—it’s even more important to be intentional about supporting families. 

Below are 10 ideas for helping families get valuable support when you can’t be together in person. You should also check with families to see what ideas they have for ways to support them; they likely have great, creative ideas to suggest!

  1. Hold support group meetings virtually. Or provide technical and logistical assistance to help parent-led groups hold their meetings virtually. Read our tips and insights on facilitating virtual parent support groups.
  2. Pair families with buddy families for peer support. Consider pairing families geographically or by age or need of the children in their home.
  3. Coordinate meal and supply drop-offs for families. This will help lighten the load of preparing more meals and needing more supplies while having their children out of school and home more than usual. 
  4. Provide supplemental funds to families. This could include temporary increases to the foster care rate or adoption or guardianship subsidy to help cover the increased parenting time now happening and the increased costs involved in providing meals at home while schools and day care programs are closed. Some systems are also providing cell phones, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, and other technology to help families meet the new school requirements of their children.
  5. Share tips and links to online resources for families. You might offer ideas for talking with children about their concerns or questions in developmentally appropriate ways. One example is the Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease, from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
  6. Offer tips about how to maintain contact with birth families. Share lessons learned from other families on how to do virtual visits and connect with birth family members through video chats, texting, email, and other forms of online contact.
  7. Help parents understand the connection between current events and children’s trauma. Provide opportunities for parents and caregivers to talk with someone—whether workers who can provide support, other parents, or mental health professionals—about how the current health crisis and social distancing may be triggering for children who have experienced trauma and loss.
  8. Create a private Facebook or other online groups for families. Be sure to have a plan in place to moderate and support the groups, as well. Listen to our recorded webinar on using Facebook groups to support families after placement.
  9. Share a list of current resources. Create a website or flyer with clear information for families about the various forms of support and assistance available, whether through the child welfare system or from other local agencies and organizations. By providing an easy way to find accurate, updated information on forms of support available and how to access it, you can both help families access the support they need and demonstrate that you recognize how busy they are.
  10. Check in with families frequently and listen to them. Families may not have much time right now for lengthy discussions or full online meetings and trainings, but you can still touch base with them often and see how they’re doing. These brief interactions give you an opportunity to offer small doses of support and let families know that they are not alone. They also help you and your child welfare system, because you hear updated information about how families are doing and what forms of support might be helpful to them going forward.

As always, it’s important to keep in mind that different people need different kinds of support at different times. Be flexible and patient with families, and look for ways to partner with them creatively. People experience stress differently; for some, stress may make them less organized or more forgetful while for others it may bring out rigidity and need for more clarity and precision.

By being proactive in offering support to families in multiple ways and listening to their feedback about what is most helpful, you can both help meet their support needs now and strengthen your relationship with them for the longer term.