COVID-19 Crisis Intervention for Black Girls Impacted by the Foster Care & Juvenile Legal Systems
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, youth in foster care and youth impacted by the juvenile legal system faced a number of risks and vulnerabilities, including physical and mental health challenges, housing instability, poorer educational outcomes, and more. Research confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these vulnerabilities and increased racial and ethnic disparities among these youth. However, few of those studies explore the effects of gender.
Indeed, despite strong evidence confirming that Black girls are disproportionately represented within the juvenile legal and foster care systems and that their pathways and needs differ from those of other youth, Black girls and gender-expansive youth are rarely centered in analyses examining the experiences of youth impacted by foster care and the juvenile court system.
Findings from the National Black Women’s Justice Institute’s new report, COVID-19 Crisis Intervention for Black Girls Impacted by the Foster Care and Juvenile Legal Systems, fill this gap by exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Black girls and gender-expansive youth impacted by the foster care and the juvenile legal systems and the organizations that serve them.
Our goal was to understand the needs of system-impacted Black girls during the pandemic, how they compared to their needs and experiences before the pandemic, and how organizations supported Black girls and helped them meet their needs during such an unprecedented public health crisis.
Several key themes emerged about the needs of system-impacted Black girls and gender-expansive youth during the pandemic. Among them was that the pandemic intensified already-existing critical needs related to housing, income, education, food, and mental health.
Organizations that serve Black girls and gender-expansive youth impacted by the foster care and the juvenile legal systems responded to meet those needs and better serve youth in many ways:
Organizations pivoted and stepped up to provide crisis responses beyond their original scope of services, focused on mental health and emotional wellness, safe housing, financial assistance, technology access, and food. The pandemic did not create these needs; rather, it intensified these persistent threats to system-impacted Black girls’ wellbeing.
Organizations purchased and distributed laptops, tablets, and other devices to the youth they worked with to increase youth’s access to technology and the internet to maintain connection with family and friends and for students to participate in school. The pandemic exposed a digital divide, running along racial, ethnic, and class lines in the United States–having far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for the education and wellbeing of Black youth, already at high risk of disconnecting from school. As schools and social interaction shifted online, Black and Latinx youth were less likely to have digital devices and reliable internet access, compared to white youth, limiting their ability to participate in remote education and connect socially. This digital divide was a major challenge for system-impacted Black girls.
Organizations redesigned foster care services and programming for court-involved youth to be able to offer them online instead of in person. Even as stay-at-home orders relaxed, remote services remained a part of programming, especially for youth impacted by the juvenile legal system, which for some young people and families continues to facilitate more program engagement.
Given the unprecedented circumstances, organizations developed advocacy networks that created space for providers to share what they were experiencing, learn about different strategies to support the safety and wellbeing of youth and staff, and offer support, including vital information about COVID-19, to members of the community.
Throughout the pandemic, service providers were a lifeline for Black girls and gender-expansive youth impacted by the foster care and juvenile legal systems. Despite challenges, providers continued to advocate for their clients, communities, and each other to ensure system-impacted Black girls’ needs were met during the COVID-19 pandemic.