Children are very attuned to the world around them. Sometimes we forget this as we watch them in their worlds of make-believe. Now more than ever, when a global pandemic spells uncharted territory for children (and parents) across the globe, we see its effects written on their faces, in their tantrums, and the curious questions they ask.
It is in times like these that I am so grateful to have my five adopted children safely under my roof. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system are being forced to brave this unprecedented crisis without the comfort of a stable home, financial security, or loving guardians.
Every day we see who the primary victims of the COVID-19 pandemic are. In the news and online we are inundated with images of makeshift morgues, families unable to comfort dying loved ones, and doctors scarred from making endless life-or-death decisions. But there are invisible victims too.
Children are uniquely vulnerable and easily forgotten in the midst of so much suffering. Stress—financial, emotional, or relational—has been proven to increase the likelihood of domestic abuse. And as our economy, our families, and our communities suffer through this pandemic, hospitals are tragically reporting increased instances of severe child abuse.
Ordinarily, there are external webs of support available to rescue children from abusive or neglectful homes. One of the primary ways that child abuse is detected is at school or daycare—where teachers are vigilant about scars and bruises. But during this time of remote learning, the warning signs can be much more difficult to detect.
The virus has also had a significant impact on the thousands of children who are already in the foster care system. Reunifications with biological parents have been delayed, progress has slowed in family courts (meaning that adoptions cannot be finalized), and greater instability means fewer families are stepping up to take children into their homes.
During this time of crisis, it is not just the healthcare workers who are our heroes. So is anyone working to make a difference in the life of a child. Leading the charge, as always, are foster care and adoption agencies, many of them run by different religious groups, who set out to help kids in need.
For these agencies, serving vulnerable children isn’t merely a day-job—it is a calling. While many other aspects of daily life have slowed down, child advocates and agency workers are putting in overtime to ensure that the vulnerable among us are well cared for and that recruitment efforts for new families to care for the 400,000 plus children in care don’t fall by the wayside.
As a veteran foster mother and, now, an adoptive mother to five special-needs children, my heart breaks for those kids whose minds are filled with questions and whose hearts are burdened with anxiety during this crisis. I ask you not to forget the invisible victims of the coronavirus pandemic. Will you step up and serve as a new foster family this year?
When you turn on the news and see the heroic healthcare workers putting their lives on the line for the health of our nation, remember also the child advocates and agency workers who are giving their all for our children. As you continue to feel the disappointment of delayed parties, graduations, and celebrations, say a prayer for the families and children who have long-awaited unification and who now have to continue waiting for that glorious day. And when you answer your child’s questions and ease their mind, hold them tight and consider opening your home to a child who hasn’t experienced this kind of love.
Melissa Buck is a mother to five children, including a large sibling group, all of whom she adopted through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Michigan.