TRAVERSE CITY — The running joke at the Canfield house is that, when husband Art comes home, he never knows how many kids will be there.
“He’s always like, ‘Umm, I left and we had four. Now we have six. I’m not very good with math, but … ’” wife Michele Canfield said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, but they’re respite. Their foster parents have to go down and get another infant so they’re going to just stay the night with us and that’s fine, right?’”
The Traverse City couple got their foster care license seven years ago and have been taking placements for six, Michele Canfield said.
They’ve had three long-term placements and offered respite care multiple times, she said.
The Canfields are one of 46 families licensed, or in the process of being licensed, who work with Bethany Christian Services Traverse City branch.
“We have families available, there’s just not enough of them,” said Chelsea Hill, Bethany Traverse City branch director.
The office has an average of 40 kids in domestic foster care every month, she said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic — and the methods used to contain it — Bethany expects the pool of eligible foster parents to diminish, Hill said.
At the same time, they’re anticipating an uptick in the number of children being placed in foster care.
It’s a “scary and uncertain time” for families and mixing that with self-isolation and subsequent escalations in stress levels increases the likelihood of physical abuse or neglect, Hill said.
Such situations are most likely to occur in families that already are at risk of entering the foster care system and with whom Children’s Protective Services is involved in some way, she noted.
“The scary part for us is, there’s less eyes on the families and the children as they are in their homes and isolating,” Hill said, pointing to school closures and the separation from teachers — who are mandated reporters — as an example.
Bethany is expecting to witness the spike in cases once the shelter-in-place order is lifted and those face-to-face connections are re-established, she said.
“All of us foster parents are genuinely concerned about other kids that are not in care that are possibly in situations that they shouldn’t be,” Canfield said. “That has honestly been a huge topic of ours — ‘How many kids could you actually take? How many more beds do you have?’
“It’s like we are literally sitting here, scrambling, going, ‘What are we gonna we do when this surge of children come into care?’” she said.
Another serious concern among the foster community is availability of resources and supplies, Canfield said.
Many foster children have physical of mental medical issues, and require medication or other care like specific dietary needs, she said.
For now, Canfield’s mindset is just to get her five children — including a 2-year-old foster — a regular routine.
“Psychologically, routine is safety for these kids,” she said. “The less fear I can put into them by instilling more of that, ‘We are safe,’ versus ‘We are trapped’ or ‘stuck,’ the better.”