“Teenagers, who run away more frequently than younger kids, might also be at higher risk of being given up by foster parents now. Data on the number of foster teens who have run away are sparse, but estimates indicate that, at any given time, more than 4,000 foster kids (about 1 percent of the total foster population) are absent without leave. Whether those numbers have changed at all during the pandemic is unclear; foster teens run away for so many reasons, and quarantine stressors might have driven those numbers higher. But the ramifications of an AWOL have certainly grown more severe.
During the early months of the pandemic, Bailey, a social worker in Baltimore, struggled to find new placements for teens whose foster parents had refused to let them back in after they’d left without permission. Some had run away overnight. Others had broken curfew to see a friend. They all had different reasons for leaving as they struggled to adapt to pandemic protocols—but they probably didn’t expect to be permanently kicked out. Many of the foster parents they lived with, however, were older or immunocompromised and worried about the risk of coronavirus transmission if they welcomed the teen back home. In one case, the former caregiver had cleared their former foster child’s room. (Bailey and one other social worker I spoke with requested to be referred to by first name only so they could speak freely without fear of retribution from their employers.) Fortunately, new placements were available for the teens Bailey picked up. In those situations, she and her co-workers called all approved foster parents in the area with open bedrooms until one agreed to accept a new child, and then immediately drove the kid to the new house.
Ned Breslin, the CEO of a Colorado residential facility, also received a surge of calls from parents who were considering giving up foster kids who had run away. To address their concerns about infection risk, Breslin worked with local partners to establish a quarantine area split between his facility and another one. Teens could stay there for five days and receive a COVID-19 test before returning to their original foster family. They preserved 79 placements this way, though some kids still needed new homes.”