DSS, foster parents step up during pandemic

Talbot County foster parent Susan Zollinhofer, left, is pictured with Paris Quillet, special projects coordinator at the Talbot County Department of Social Services. The department is delivering Lysol, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to foster families who have children coming into their care during the pandemic.

EASTON — While COVID-19 may have inconvenienced many of us in our day-to-day living and has had widespread financial implications for our local businesses, it has not stopped one group of people from caring for some of Talbot County’s most vulnerable citizens — our foster children.

Throughout the past 10 months of the pandemic, a cadre of Talbot County foster parents have continued to meet the needs of children in crisis in Talbot County who have needed the consistency of a caring home until they can be reunited with their families, placed with relatives or adopted. For many, it has meant assuming the risk of being exposed to the virus themselves, as well as following CDC guidelines to keep the children in their homes healthy and safe from COVID-19.

“We have been fortunate that none of our foster children or foster families have tested positive for the coronavirus,” said Paris Quillet, special projects coordinator at the Talbot County Department of Social Services.

“As staff, we have been diligent about providing our homes with supplies, as well as guidance for managing during the pandemic,” Quillet said. “We determine the comfort level of our foster parents before making any placements. We want to support our foster parents where they are during this challenging time.”

A new support group was formed in Oct. 2019 among the Talbot County foster parents to help parents with any issues that they might be struggling with.

Co-facilitated by foster parents C.J. Phippin and Jeanne Scharf of Easton, the support group went virtual in May and has helped to make sure each family has the resources it needs to manage during the pandemic.

Phippin, who took a sibling group of two foster children during the pandemic, said, “Children are still entering foster care during this time. We all want to be able to help with these placements as they come up.”

“The Talbot County Department of Social Services has made us all feel comfortable being open for placement and confident to do this,” Phippin said. “They have been very proactive with handling the issue.”

Phippin and his spouse Chris also coordinated a donation of pillows, school supplies and bookbags from Chris’s employer, Sam’s Club. Lysol, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes were purchased by the Department of Social Services and delivered to foster families who had children coming into care.

For Jessica Flaherty and her husband Brian, who were in the process of being licensed as foster parents during the pandemic, the process has gone smoothly for their foster care placement of a two-year-old, medically fragile child.

Their foster child has had to be hospitalized two times in Baltimore since her placement with the family in June, which was been challenging for Jessica, as she had to stay with her there and not leave the hospital at all during those hospitalizations.

The Flahertys have four biological children, including one child who has Down syndrome. “My husband and I have both had experiences with children with these needs,” Jessica Flaherty said. “He was raised with a child who had Down syndrom,e and I was raised with foster children. We knew we wanted to adopt a special needs child one day, and instead had our own child born with Down syndrome. It is our lane and it’s what we are good at.”

“I have been blown away by the support of the Talbot County Department of Social Services,” Jessica Flaherty said. “They bring supplies to us every month to help with the care of our foster child.”

“No matter what’s going on in the world, there will always be young people who will still require help during trying times,” Scharf said. “When we take necessary precautions, follow CDC recommendations to keep everyone safe, then we can help others during their trials. Sometimes, helping during something like this is just opening your home and heart to do the simplest things so the child can go to school and that makes all the difference to them.”

Over 60% of children in foster care on the Mid-Shore are 14 and older. Foster parents are needed for sibling groups and children with special needs. For more information, call the Talbot County DSS at 410-820-7371.

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