October 19, 2020

The disappearing village

“Within a span of a weekend, the village that surrounded them was gone. They lost access to their parents, to teachers, to school, to gymnastics, to counselors, to tutors, and were left with a family they’d lived with for six weeks.” 

The two girls were in a safe home, but with people who didn’t know them and who looked different from them. Despite years of foster experience, Wendy and Wyeth Willard found the pandemic turmoil as much a shock to their system as for the kids in their care. 

“Suddenly, we’re responsible for filling in the gaps of the village. We’re supposed to be everything for them. And work our full-time jobs. And get them through school,” says Wendy. “It was literally impossible.”

Online school has been a challenge for even the best of students, but the kids in the Willard’s care had never attended school prior to the past year. Imagine being thrust into middle school as your first official educational  experience. And then, just when you’ve sorta got the hang of how school works, you’re removed from the only family you’ve ever known and dropped into the home of strangers who are nothing like you. And then… six weeks later… the world shuts down and you are expected to somehow do eighth grade assignments—online, on your own—with only six months of education under your belt. “One day, she hesitantly asked me if addition and subtraction are the same thing,” Wendy remembers, “And now she’s placed in high school algebra and expected to do the work. No wonder she hates school!”

Not only the kids lost their village of support, so did the Willards. Counselors, in-person tutors, support groups, and respite providers strengthened them for the heavy lifting of caring for their own family, working full-time jobs, and meeting the needs of children who have endured a lifetime of intense trauma.

Even without the extra weight of a pandemic, 50 percent of foster parents find it so overwhelming, they don’t continue after the first year. 

But foster parents like the Willards are more essential than ever. Without the mandatory reporting of teachers and counselors, cases of physical and sexual abuse and neglect are escaping notice. Many are expecting a deluge of kids entering the foster care system once kids are no longer trapped at home with their abusers.

After eight months, the two girls left the care of the Willards, who know they were just one step in what will be a long journey. “Looking back, it’s only by the grace of God we survived it. I’m heartbroken for these kids,” says Wendy. “We did everything we could in a really horrible situation when the chips were stacked against all of us.”

If this story made you aware of one effect of the pandemic that you hadn’t considered, please share it with a friend or on social media.

Read more stories of our under-served neighbors.