The Lickteigs have a whole new set of adjustments in their life as they settle into what it’s like to be foster parents during a pandemic.
Amanda and Seth Lickteig are no strangers to fostering.
Since they were licensed in late 2017, the couple has worked with TFI Family Services to love and care for five foster children spanning a variety of ages. Currently, they have one foster son, who will be referred to as “Oliver” to protect the child’s identity.
The Lickteigs started fostering Oliver when he was just two-days-old. He celebrates his second birthday today.
Amanda was leading students on a study abroad trip in Denmark and was not in the United States when the call from TFI came in saying there was a newborn needing a home. The couple had a 12-year-old foster child at the time. Seth helped expand their family while Amanda rescheduled her flights back to Kansas.
The Lickteigs are both instructors at Emporia State University, so prior to the pandemic, the daily routine included dropping Oliver off at daycare and doing office work during the day, followed by spending evenings together. On weekends, they spent a lot of time traveling to visit family and attend sporting events.
Since the pandemic has affected Emporia, the Lickteigs have been working on “being more purposeful and structuring time with [Oliver]” for learning, doing virtual meetings with their case worker, going outdoors frequently and transitioning to telehealth for their foster son’s medical appointments. They get their work done while he naps.
Amanda said the telehealth mode is not as ideal as being face-to-face with the practitioners but that it is going as well as possible for the circumstances. The staff at Maynard Early Childhood Development Center has kept up Oliver’s speech services.
Children’s Mercy has suggested creative ways the family can use home resources for some of the therapy that he needs. Seth said Oliver’s services overall have “not skipped a beat.”
Oliver also participates in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library through United Way of the Flint Hills, which has been a great way to collect new reading materials once a month.
Community Liaison Coordinator Amanda Keller also recommends getting involved with the local Boys and Girls Club, Birth to Three, the health department, the public library and local mental health organizations. These organizations will also have more resources for other helpful organizations or services.
“We are very appreciative to our post office workers and to our delivery drivers, because we’ve been getting a lot of packages to do some things at home,” Amanda said, adding that Oliver likes to do art projects. “He’s lacked some of those peer relationships, but we’re trying to make up for other creative outlets.”
Oliver most enjoys cars, being outside and playing with the dog.
TFI workers have always been available via phone, but the home visits have transitioned to telecommunication. TFI workers have been working from home primarily, with the exclusion of facilitating any necessary supervised in-person meetings. TFI is working to return to regular in-person visits. Placing children is similar to how it was prior to the pandemic, but parental visitations have been altered.
The Lickteigs’ relationship with TFI Family services has been positive and has not altered, but the way their worker checks in is now virtual.
“I think one of the advantages to the change is by allowing the workers to work from home, it’s given them more flexibility,” Keller said. “They’re a little more able to give even more support, in a way.”
The stay-at-home-order can also be beneficial for foster children. Keller said the order allows children to adjust, and by settling in alongside the foster parents, bonding opportunities are presented. Spending more time together allows foster children to feel like they are included in a family.
“Being a foster family, in general, is just about being there for the kids who need you at that point of their life,” Amanda said.
There are some concerns with the stay-at-home order and the need to transition children into foster homes.
“When stay at home orders went in to place the amount of abuse and neglect reports went down drastically, because teachers and others were not having interactions with the children,” Keller said.
“Once the public starts to open up and children are being seen more often the rate of reports of abuse and neglect will skyrocket,” she said. “Kansas already has a shortage of foster homes and it will only get worse when that begins to happen. Now is an important time to become a foster parent if you have ever been thinking about it.”
Naturally, younger children and older children have different needs and interests, so the stay-at-home-order is affecting some more than others. For example, teenagers may be having a tough time being away from their friends, but they are also gaining new relationships.
“In some cases, the teenagers are building relationships with adults they may not have ever built before,” Keller said. “They’re seeing the adults in a different light, whereas before an adult was just someone who told you what to do. They’re starting to develop friendships with adults. For the younger kids, I don’t think things have changed a whole lot.”
Amanda and Seth were formerly middle school teachers, and their affinity for and practice with children of all ages translated from their profession to their home. Amanda believes in providing support, love and structure for children.
“I think it’s even more vital right now as those kids are going through some tumultuous times in their lives just being in the foster care system, and especially now with the pandemic,” Amanda said.
“It’s still really rewarding,” Amanda said about being a foster parent during the pandemic. “We have really been able to witness firsthand a lot of the growth and the milestones that he’s been making, just like with any kid that you see grow up, being able to participate full-time in watching them grow as an individual, and watching those lightbulb moments of them learning.”
There is a deep need for foster families now. Seth mentioned how they had a meeting about foster families taking on an additional child in the coming weeks; the Lickteigs are among those considering and preparing to foster an older child or teenager.
“I would encourage those who have been on the fence about foster care to go ahead and take that jump,” Amanda said.
Though the Lickteigs are licensed to care for three children, they have only been taking care of Oliver for a year and a half because of Oliver’s needs, illustrating that foster parents are not expected to take on more than they can handle.
There are currently 35 foster homes in Lyon County and about 150 - 200 children in foster care in the county. That means many of the children will live in foster homes outside of their home county, “away from their school, away from their friends, away from their family,” Keller said.
“Our foster parents have been great and continue to take children when they have openings and they feel that is something they can do,” Keller said. “They have stepped up and provided even more support for our foster children.”
For those who would like to help foster families in another way, Keller recommends simply doing what you can to help, such as providing a foster family with a meal or being approved to help take the foster child to appointments.
“We have had so many coworkers, friends and family donate clothes, books and toys, bottles and utensils, furniture and more for the kiddos who stay with us and we are so appreciative and grateful for their support,” Amanda said.
Keller would like to clarify two popular myths about fostering: 1) you have to own a home to foster, and 2) you have to be married to foster. Both of these myths are false. You may be a renter and a foster parent, and you may be single and a foster parent.
“Kids need adults in their life--good people to help raise them and take care of them,” Keller said. “It builds great life-lasting relationships.”
For more information on TFI Family Services or becoming a foster parents, visit TFIFamily.org or call 833-736-7837.