Update from 1/13/21: Our Emergency Sanctuaries will remain closed through 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As noted below, there have been enough foster homes available for kids who would typically have stayed at our Emergency Sanctuaries. However, there are still not enough foster homes for all youth who are brought into the child welfare system, and we need more homes that are ready, willing, and able to care for older kids. For questions or concerns, please reach out to Jason Gortney, Interim CEO and Chief Program Officer.
In March of this year, after Governor Inslee issued the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Amara’s Emergency Sanctuary program was halted out of safety and concern for children, volunteers, and staff.
This was a difficult decision given our Sanctuaries provide a safe, homelike environment for children entering foster care, until they return home or are able to live with a foster family or relative. As an organization dedicated to the wellbeing of children and families, we needed to weigh the health risks of all members of our community with the current need for our Sanctuary program. During the first few weeks and months of the Sanctuary closures, we remained prepared to open, should it have become safe enough and the community need increased.
After working on strategies to mitigate risk to children, staff, and volunteers, we made the difficult decision to keep the Emergency Sanctuaries closed through the remainder of 2020, at minimum.
It’s important to us to be transparent with our community. That’s why we want to share all the factors that we considered when making this decision:
- High risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread: Unlike other child-care settings where the population of children and adults remains relatively stable from day-to-day and week-to-week, the Sanctuaries have a constant influx of people coming and going from the space, increasing the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread. In normal operations, there is a continual flow of new children coming and going, many staff needed to operate 24/7, and 50+ volunteers coming and going throughout a month-long period.
- Capacity to safely handle a positive COVID-19 case: If a child tests positive for COVID-19 while in our care, a new set of procedures is activated, including that the child must stay in our care and be quarantined for 14 days. Unfortunately, we do not have the space or staff capacity to manage this situation, should it arise. Furthermore, we would need to close the Sanctuary to new children for a minimum of two weeks to ensure the safety of new children coming into care.
- Fewer children are coming into care: The number of children entering foster care has dramatically decreased since physical distancing measures have been put in place. Teachers, school counselors, and medical providers are among the people who most frequently contact Child Protective Services (CPS), and with school closures and a decrease in in-person medical visits, the number of CPS reports has declined by more than 50%.
- There are enough foster homes for kids coming into care: There have been enough foster homes to take the children coming into care—in the past four months, no children that the Sanctuary would have normally served have stayed in hotel rooms or social worker offices. We also believe that, at this time, a single-family placement is the safest space for a child to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
While our Sanctuaries remain closed, and as we continue to evaluate health and safety risks, our amazing Sanctuary staff:
- Helped launch a Virtual Activities Program to provide free virtual activities for children in Amara homes
- Supported volunteer engagement with our wonderful Sanctuary volunteers who also miss being with kids at the Sanctuary
- Pitched in with other programs at Amara to support kids and families
We continue to look at the most impactful ways to utilize the Sanctuaries themselves and at how we work with our staff to safely continue supporting children and families.
We are grateful and happy to be redeploying our Sanctuary staff to support and grow our Family Time Program. Keeping children in foster care connected to their families has become one of the most emergent needs as a result of COVID-19, and we are excited for the opportunity to grow our impact in quality family bonding services.
For questions or concerns, please reach out to Ross Hiranaga, Director of Children’s Services. If you would like to make a contribution to support children in foster care, our greatest need is financial support. Your gift will help make sure children and families continue to receive the compassionate, high-quality support Amara provides. Visit our COVID-19 Updates & Resources Webpage for more information about our responsiveness.