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11/12/2020

Forward | Coronavirus has trapped children with their abusers; let’s get them out

Wendi Sklaver and her husband, Sam, considered becoming foster parents for more than 10 years. But with four biological children and busy lives, it seemed impossible. Until Sklaver discovered last year that her synagogue, Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, was forming a cohort of foster families.

That community effort, Sklaver said, made the daunting seem doable. The couple joined other families at Wilshire in getting training and licensed, and since October 2019, they have fostered eight children (and counting) for emergency respite periods anywhere from a few days to a few weeks..

The Sklavers are among 20 families, and Wilshire one of four synagogues that have explored, progressed, fostered, adopted and flourished through our organization, Second Nurture, which uses the strength of community to help children in crisis.

A hidden effect of the coronavirus pandemic has been that child victims of abuse and neglect are forced to spend more time with their abusers, with fewer avenues to call for help. Children in abusive situations are being seen less often by adults outside their households who might have intervened.

When teachers, social workers, clergy, and other mandatory reporters — or concerned neighbors — see children out in the open again, there will be calls. Many, many calls. We won’t know the extent of this intensification until restrictions lift, but we do know that there will not be enough licensed foster parents to handle the needed placements.

Social workers are already struggling to place children waiting for a safe, loving environment. “I get calls from social workers looking to place kids and I just don’t have the families for them,” said Cathy Allan of Los Angeles County’s Children’s Bureau. “I say no to requests for 15 children every day.”

This is a point of deep frustration for us at Second Nurture — we have more synagogues “on deck” but not the organizational bandwidth to develop them. It’s like the lifeboats are all there, but we don’t have an air pump to inflate them.

The shortage is most intense for children needing short-term care, like the ones Sklaver has embraced. “We need adults who aren’t looking only to adopt,” Allen said. “ We also need people who just want to give back, to help stabilize a child, give them the security they need to transition and build trust for their next, long-term family.”

“Providing emergency care was very appealing,” Sklaver added, “because we would have kids up to 21 days and that felt manageable.”

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