TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Getting foster children placed in a safe home can often be challenging for foster care agencies and in this pandemic, the struggle has only increased.
The National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) is a foster care agency that works to place children in better living environments. In the midst of COVID-19, program leaders say these times have been tough.
"I think everyone's just anxious, you know, just the unknown,” said Samantha O’Neal, NYAP Lafayette program manager.
O’Neal said one particular challenge the agency is currently dealing with is the uncertainty with schools re-opening. NYAP Licensing Coordinator Rhyannon Barrett said teachers play a huge role in reporting for children who could be living in unstable homes.
"Oftentimes with the school year, that's when we have the most reports of child abuse and neglect,” said Barrett.
Both Barrett and O'Neal say its important schools do what's best to help slow the spread of the virus, they're just worried about the ripple effect it's causing.
"We're going to see a lot fewer reports, but we're also going to see a lot fewer families who are excepting children into their homes because of COVID, so really right now we just have to advocate and be persuasive,” said Barrett.
Persuading people to consider being foster parents is a way they hope to combat the issues the agency is facing.
“We're licensing families and the state has been very gracious in allowing us to do online training with families and doing online interviews for the process,” said O’Neal.
Barrett said it’s older teens that often face the biggest challenges when it comes to finding a foster home and those struggles have also amplified amid the pandemic.
“We’re seeing that a lot more teens and older youth, pre-teens, are being put in emergency shelter care because we don’t have homes that are willing to take on the teenagers,” said O’Neal. “Even the kids that are going on to college this next year, they’re kind of in-between and they just need somewhere for a little bit until they figure out what’s going on with school.”
O’Neal said the agency's goal is to get kids out of tough living situations and eventually reunited with their families once the situation is sorted out.
“All of our families just want to help reunite those children,” said O’Neal. “The state has come out with a new preservation act so everyone’s goal is reunification these kiddos but to give them a loving and safe home to be in until they are able to go back home.”
NYAP Lafayette works to place kids in homes not only Tippecanoe County but through the entire state.
“We accept all types of families, all types of people so if you're not sure if you could be a foster parent, reach out and we'll let you know,” said Barrett.
NYAP opened its branch here in Lafayette in January. It is currently the primary foster care agency in the state helping place children according to O'Neal. You can reach out to the local NYAP branch here.