Non-Profit Shifts Focus to Better Serve Foster Youth Impacted by Pandemic

The director of a local non-profit organization said since the pandemic, they've seen over a 300% increase in the number of foster youths in their residential program

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The San Diego Center for Children, a non-profit organization geared toward providing mental and behavioral health services to children, is seeing a spike in the number of referrals into their short-term residential facility.

Janelle Battaglia, the Director of Business Development for the San Diego Center for Children, said it's not a number they were anticipating to see given the recent trends in years past.

"Over the years, prior to the pandemic, we've actually seen a decrease in the number of youths coming in to residential treatment because the focus is keeping kids with the families," Battaglia says.

But Battaglia says the numbers these days are vastly different.

She said while the residential treatment program is not limited to solely foster children, their agency was only receiving five or so referrals at a given time for a foster youth. That number has since magnified and her organization is now handling 25 to 30 requests at a time.

"Since the pandemic, we have seen over a 300 percent increase in the number of foster youths being emitted to our residential program," Battaglia says.

The San Diego Center for Children can't pinpoint for sure if COVID-19 should assume full blame for the substantial climb in numbers, but Battaglia said it makes sense. The referrals are coming from parents who can no longer provide care for the foster child and she thinks the added stress and pressure at home from COVID-19 are overwhelming some families.

"You can imagine this stress is even greater for foster families who may have additional foster youth with special needs in their home who rely on a high degree of extra services provided to them through school," Battaglia said.

Such services are no longer available, leaving many families to bear the responsibility full-on and aren't up for the task given other tasks looming over them, leaving online instruction to now be overseen by organizations like the San Diego Center for Children. And Battaglia said her organization isn't even equipped to now take on the role of teacher.

According to the non-profit director said as a mental health resource for families, education has always remained a distant and separate entity from their services, where the non-profit would transport foster kids to and from school, but not ever become the teacher.

With the switch to online learning, they've now had to oversee the students' learning, which has brought its own set of challenges and costs.

"We've had an increase in cost just to provide the staffing and support to these youth of approximately $30,000 a month, and none of those funds or resources are being provided by either the child welfare system or the school districts," Battaglia explained.

The center is currently seeking donations to help fund these efforts. For more information on how to help, click here.

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