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Column: Here’s how people can make a real difference

For the Valley News
Published: 4/3/2020 10:10:23 PM
Modified: 4/3/2020 10:10:10 PM

Are you wondering how you could do some good during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s a suggestion: Become a foster parent or volunteer child advocate.

Consider this story: A single mother repeatedly leaves her 5- and 6-year-old kids alone in their Upper Valley home while she is at work. Declaring the children neglected, a New Hampshire agency takes them away — far away — about 70 miles.

Why move the kids so far? According to the social worker, no closer long-term foster care volunteers were available.

This happened recently. It is a failure of our state and our society. The Upper Valley is a haven of relative prosperity that should be able to shelter needy kids. We lack adults who are willing and able to help.

In the case described above, the mother is desperate to see her kids, but has no vehicle. The state may be able to transport her to child visits, but it will take almost an hour and a half to drive her to them, and the same back. Imagine the disruption to her life, the kids’ lives, the wasted time, the driver, the gas.

You can help. New Hampshire relies on foster parents to care for kids who have been removed from their parents for abuse or neglect. The foster parents may need to keep the kids a few days, or for upward of a year, depending on how the court rules. The state pays expenses and provides medical and dental care. Some foster parents take kids temporarily. Others accept kids longer, hoping to adopt, and many do.

The need is growing. In recent years, drug abuse drove up the number of kids who were abused or neglected. In 2019, New Hampshire alone took custody of 1,779 children and approved adoptions of 261, almost double the totals just four years earlier. Now the virus pandemic is expected to cause a new surge. Stress is rising as some people lose jobs and income, schools close and all are pressed to stay home together.

Another avenue is open. If you’d like to help but are not prepared to be a foster parent, you can volunteer to be an advocate for abused and neglected children. Court appointed special advocates, also known as guardians ad litem, are assigned to speak for these children in court. In New Hampshire, parents who lose custody of their children typically are given up to a year to demonstrate that they are responsible parents and can provide their children a safe and stable home. Court appointed special advocates get to know the children, the foster home, the social workers and parents — and speak up for the kids in court.

New Hampshire needs more volunteer special advocates, as well as more foster care families. Both were needed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They are needed more now.

This may seem a strange time to ask people to take on new tasks, but look around. Many people are rising to the occasion. Retired nurses are coming back to hospitals. People are sewing fabric masks for medical workers, delivering food to neighbors or ordering take-out meals to support shuttered restaurants.

The state is responding, too. New Hampshire’s Health and Human Services Agency is still recruiting foster parents and preparing to vet and train them using distance-learning. CASA of New Hampshire is doing likewise for child advocates.

To consider providing foster care in New Hampshire, call 603-271-4711. For child advocate volunteers, find information and an application at www.casanh.org or call 1-800-626-0622. Vermont’s Department for Children and Families is still accepting foster care applicants, though training is on hold. For guidance, see www.vermontjudiciary.org.

Rob Taylor, of Hanover, is a volunteer court appointed special advocate and guardian ad litem.




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