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In a time of crisis, Mockingbird Families find creative ways to support each other

It’s the first Saturday of the month, and my husband and I look forward to seeing the bright faces that make up our Mockingbird Family. Two brand new foster families have joined the constellation this week, and we can’t wait to meet the precious little ones that have been welcomed into their homes.

Under normal circumstances, we would be sipping coffee, sharing stories and taking turns snuggling babies to the soundtrack of excited squeals coming from the upstairs playroom. But, these are anything but normal circumstances.

Instead of gathering together in the circle of worn sofas in our family living room, we sit in front of computers in our own homes. One by one, familiar smiles pop up on the screen - like the opening credits of a Brady Bunch episode - as we prepare to start our first virtual hub meeting.

It’s been a handful of weeks since the Coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the world like a snow globe, leaving us all to build a new COVID-normal with pieces of our lives slowly floating back down to us. So much is still left hanging in the air.

On top of school and business closures, stay home orders, and bare grocery store shelves, foster families attempt to navigate a system with minimized (and most of them virtual) resources while children continue to come into care every day. With one look at our group, it’s easy to see how it’s affecting each of our homes; it’s written all over our faces. We’re feeling extra weary, overwhelmed and disheartened.

And yet… being together right now, showing up for each other - this is what Mockingbird is all about. We are here to offer encouragement and support, and to remind one another that we aren’t alone. This is how we differ from the traditional model of foster care, especially in the face of this crisis. We already know each other’s stories and challenges. We know exactly who to turn to when we need help.

We are Family.

As each member takes a turn sharing individual struggles, we are surprised to hear that while isolation is tough on families right now, too much communication is particularly stressful, too. With virtual visits, meetings, training, and doctor’s appointments added to every day foster care responsibilities, families are feeling bombarded by information.

Rather than assuming we know what the families in our constellation need, my husband and I listen and ask, “How can we best support you right now - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?”

Based on their feedback, we come up with a few creative ways to offer help and reassurance in place of the respite care services, social activities, and in-person monthly meetings our families rely on.

Meal deliveries

Each family in our constellation has the opportunity to choose a local restaurant to order a meal from, and we arrange to have it delivered to their home. The gift of dinner prepared without having to spend extra time in the kitchen allows parents and children to relax and experience a sense of normalcy we are all craving right now.

Gift cards for online shopping

Families also appreciate receiving gift cards for local grocery store delivery or to the online store of their choice. Parents are able to experience a bit of financial relief as they purchase essential items (like toilet paper, baby wipes, and special formulas) that are hard to find on shelves right now, or activities (like board games, puzzles, and arts and crafts supplies) to keep little ones occupied during this extended time at home.

Care packages

Care packages never fail to lift drooping spirits and remind families they are not alone. On Easter weekend, baskets were filled with personalized items and treats for each adult and child in our constellation and then dropped off for a front-porch surprise. Other groups have also left small gifts like bouquets of spring flowers and boxes of chocolate on families’ doorsteps.

Virtual activity nights

Our sister hub came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a virtual movie night. RedBox movie codes were purchased and sent to each family, then they all checked in and watched the movie together on Zoom. We are also planning an online game night and virtual book club through our private hub home Facebook group.

As our first virtual hub meeting draws to a close, I catch a glimpse of a toddler that has joined our constellation. A knot forms in my throat as she flits back and forth in front of the camera; we have a new family member, and I have know idea when we will get to meet her face to face.

We can’t wait to welcome our constellation members in our home again. Until then, as a Mockingbird Family, we improvise and work to do the best we can with the resources we have, we continue to show up for one another (virtually!), and we remember we are all in this together.