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  • Melinda Murphy

Foster kids get support during COVID

For many children in foster care in the United States -- there are more than 400,000 -- life is often difficult enough. During a pandemic, it only gets more challenging.

Some don't have access to technology needed to continue distance learning. Those who've aged out of the system often don't have a support network to fall back on -- and they already face a higher risk of homelessness.

"For so many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of confusion and fear," said Danielle Gletow, a 2013 CNN Hero. "But for those in foster care, and particularly those who aged out of foster care, this has been an exceptionally difficult time because a lot of their support systems have been removed."

Gletow, a foster and adoptive mother, started the non-profit One Simple Wish in 2008. The organization grants wishes to children in foster care across the country and those who've aged out. Last year, the group reached 20,000 youth.

Each wish is posted online, and anyone can cover the cost to make that wish come true -- from tangible items like a bicycle, a varsity jacket or school supplies, to an experience such as music lessons or a trip to the theater.

But when Covid-19 hit, Gletow knew this population would have much different needs.

"We immediately created a Covid-19 response fund and started focusing on the things that we knew our young people were going to need," Gletow said. The biggest request the organization has seen is for laptops and other technology for children's remote learning. And often, these laptops are important for more than school.

"Kids were doing weekly visits with siblings and biological parents, but once the pandemic hit this was no longer possible," Gletow said. "Now, the only way for them to do these things is virtually through tablets or laptops."

For young adults who've aged out of foster care, job loss or furloughs can be devastating. And those in college no longer have the housing they relied on. So, Gletow's non-profit is assisting former foster youth with rent and utility assistance, along with food and other essentials, during the pandemic. One college senior in New Jersey is among them. Living with her eight siblings, they all help take care of each other.

"As one of the oldest in my family, I have many responsibilities such as helping provide food, money, time, and basically raising my younger siblings along with the help of my older siblings," the student said.

With support from One Simple Wish, the family has been able to keep up with necessities such as food and gas.

"They've been providing us with ShopRite gift cards, Target gift cards, gas cards to help us pay for our groceries and everything," she said. "It's greatly appreciated."

Former foster youth Amber Whitaker has also received support from the organization during Covid-19, including tuition assistance for her graduate degree.

"I really hope to be able to help children in a similar circumstance as to what I was brought up in," Whitaker, 31, said. "And One Simple Wish helped to make that happen."

Gletow said her group has seen more than a 300% increase in needs coming from foster children and former foster youth during the pandemic and the organization is able to fill these needs very quickly without a lot of red tape. "It's important to us that nobody ever feels like they are not being seen or heard," Gletow said. "We're able to reach out to those cases that don't necessarily perfectly fit into larger programming."

Gletow wants to make sure this population knows they can come to her organization for assistance with anything and they will be met with zero judgment.

"We just want to make sure that everybody is safe and protected," Gletow said, "and that everybody has a sense of support at a time when the whole world feels completely out of control." Want to get involved? Check out the One Simple Wish website and see how to help.

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