Methods: The current study used a mixed-methods design: (1) The first phase of study conducted systematic review, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews between June and December in 2021; (2) The second phase of the study collected online survey data between December 2021 and April 2022. Using a convenience sampling method, foster parents in the US participated in the study. The final analytic sample included foster parents who have had a foster child(ren) since the COVID-19 pandemic. Child mental health and parent’s coping skills were assessed by using valid measures (e.g., Pediatric Symptom Checklist, Connor–Davidson Resilience Scale) and open-ended questions. As an exploratory study, a series of descriptive analyses were performed to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic changed life of foster children and parents.
Results: The majority of foster parents reported that their foster child had learning loss (67.9%) and was distracted from learning (70.7%). In addition, 36% of foster parents rated their child’s grade as below average and failing. Notably, over one third of the children (34.1%) had ever experienced school suspension, detention, truancy, or expulsion since Fall 2021. A quarter of parents (25.7%) stated that they had less communication with the child’s teacher, as compared to the pre-COVID-19 pandemic. The children were also found to have some internalizing (e.g., feel sad, worry a lot) and externalizing problems (e.g., do not listen to rules). In terms of receipt of mental health services, while over half of the parents (56.8%) reported that their child needed mental health services during the pandemic, 71% of them had difficulties in getting an appointment with a mental health specialist.
Conclusions and Implications: Foster children and parents had difficulties in learning and receiving mental health services during the pandemic. As these findings are similar to those seen with other natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic impact should be viewed as an educational disaster. Particularly, given that most foster children had already suffered from posttraumatic symptoms, they might experience more challenges, placing them at greater risk of having mental and behavior problems and experiencing school suspension/expulsion. Thus, it is critical that teachers and case managers should interact with foster parents to provide additional tutoring and appropriate mental health services. Federal or state policies that mandate the provision of support for foster children and parents should be developed to prepare for future health-related disasters.