ORLANDO, Fla. -- The coronavirus outbreak has forced everyone to isolate and adjust to a virtual world, including stretched-thin agencies such as child welfare services.
- CORONAVIRUS LIVE UPDATES: In the Central Florida area | In the Tampa Bay area
- COVID-19 IMPACTS ON: Airports, Transportation Systems | Sports Events and Teams | Attractions | School Districts and Universities | Retailers, Restaurants Adjust Hours
- FREE CHARTER WIFI: Charter Communications to Offer Free Broadband, WiFi Access to Families with Elementary, College Students
- COMPLETE COVERAGE: Spectrum News | CDC | Florida Department of Health
Charter Communications has temporarily opened its live stream free to the public. You can watch Spectrum News via our live stream on your desktop or laptop without a subscription by visiting our website and clicking “Watch Live” in the upper right. Charter also is temporarily offering free broadband and wifi access for 60 days to teachers and families with K-12 or college students. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. The company also will open more than half a million wifi hotspots across the country.
Caring for children stuck at home comes with challenges -- just ask Prairy and Jeremy Riehl.
The couple has four children, including a 1 1/2-year-old they're fostering with support from Embrace Families, the lead foster agency for Central Florida.
"Most of the work that we do and our network of providers is delivered in the homes of local Central Florida families, so we have had to very quickly adapt to the reality that that is not something we should be doing all day," Embrace Families CEO Glen Casel says.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, case managers still must continue their work to protect children. Now, that includes remote social work and virtual visits.
But another serious worry for Embrace Families is potential child abuse going unaddressed.
"Our primary callers to the abuse hotline are teachers and health care professionals. Well, those two industries look a little different today, and so we’ve actually seen a decrease in calls. But that doesn’t lower my concern," Casel says.
The COVID-19 outbreak is straining the system statewide. In Sumter and Citrus counties, Kids Central says it has a critical need for new foster homes.
"Although America is changing right now, we will always have a need for foster families," says Sharon Gibbs, Kids Central Inc.'s director of Out of Home Care.
And as child welfare agencies adapt their operations, some foster parents suggest thinking outside of the box to support them. For example, instead of doing in-home and classroom training to prepare families to foster a child, those lessons are now being taught online.
"I would be welcome to having somebody zoom with us and read a book or you know teach my son to draw something or whatever. So just think of alternative ways that you can donate your talents," foster parent Brandy Buckner says.