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Growing concerns in Central Texas foster care community due to coronavirus pandemic

Public health concerns and economic hardships are just a couple of the reasons foster families may have stepped away from helping.

AUSTIN, Texas — As thousands of families in Travis County face economic hardships and public health concerns due to the global coronavirus pandemic, local foster care leaders worry it is impacting children in the system. 

“The impact of those on the foster care system is profound in terms of the worries that families have about keeping all of their family safe and healthy," said Laura Wolf, the executive director of CASA of Travis County

Despite nonprofits and recruiting agencies transitioning their recruiting efforts online, leaders believe people's worries about their own family's health and safety are deterring them from actually following through with the fostering process.

According to Wolf, one to two child CASA of Travis County serves, stayed in a Child Protective Services (CPS) office in February and March.

RELATED: Austin nonprofit creates virtual support groups for foster families amid COVID-19 pandemic

In April, the number of children who spent at least one night in a CPS office jumped to 12, Wolf confirmed.

"That is a pretty stark and dramatic increase that I can't help but believe is in part attributable to COVID-19," she said.

KVUE also checked these numbers with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). They recorded seven children who stayed in a CPS office at least one night in April, five of those stayed at least two nights.

CASA said this discrepancy may be due to how each organization chooses to classify their data. 

In response to an inquiry from KVUE, a DFPS representative also explained the department prefers to count a child as not having a placement only after they have stayed two consecutive overnights in a CPS office, not one:

"The whole issue of kids in offices has to do with the lack of placement capacity in the foster care system, but single overnight stays are not uncommon, especially if the removal is late, or we are trying to find a particular placement for a sibling group. That does not indicate a problem with capacity in the system."

However, CPS and foster placement agencies, like DePelchin, are working together to create more efficient ways to place children. This includes utilizing a portal that better matches children with available foster homes based on their needs. 

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Aaoron Oeser, the program manager for the DePelchin Children's Center of Austin, said they are also helping address any current economic hardships foster families may have encountered because of COVID-19.

Oeser believes this will take away barriers that ensure children stay in their placement.

"The last thing we want is a placement disruption for a child that has been in a placement a long time and has bonded and received great care for them,” Oeser said.

Thankfully, Oeser added that most foster families they work with are stable right now. However, he worries that some families are backing away from joining foster care because they do not want to run the added risk of any exposure to the coronavirus. He wants to ensure families that the agency would place a child who is COVID-19 positive into a home prepared to take care of a child with the virus. 

DFPS confirmed only 19 children in the Texas Foster Care system have tested positive for COVID-19, and no child has died. The department then follows whatever physicians or public health authorities advise, given the setting, the circumstances and current condition of the patient, to help them recover.

As communities adjust to the pandemic, leaders with DFPS, foster care agencies and nonprofits encourage people and families to help in any way they can, including volunteering, donating and becoming a foster family. 

"This is a time for communities to come together, much like we have with our elder neighbors, friends and loved ones during the pandemic. The welfare of children is a shared responsibility for all Texans," DFPS stated.

WATCH: How you can help foster care children amidst coronavirus pandemic

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