Foster care providers turned to PPP loans as pandemic intensified family stress

Foster care providers received millions in Payment Protection Loans to adapt services, which include food donations, during the pandemic. (KVC Kansas)
Foster care providers received millions in Payment Protection Loans to adapt services, which include food donations, during the pandemic. (KVC Kansas)

TOPEKA — Foster care agencies in Kansas leaned on large federally backed loans during the pandemic to avoid furloughs and acquire technology needed to provide services to thousands of suddenly isolated children and their caretakers.

As most of the state sheltered in place, uncertainty over the rapidly spreading deadly pathogen heightened stress and financial pressures on families. The four nonprofit foster care contractors in Kansas sought stability for their operations and more than 2,000 employees.

“Most parents under pressure just need access to community services and support to get through difficult times, but tragically, stress and isolation do increase the risk for child maltreatment,” said Jenny Kutz, vice president of marketing and communications for KVC Health Systems. “Now more than ever, vulnerable children and families need quick access to caring professionals, so that is why we’ve done everything possible to protect our valuable team members’ jobs.”

Kutz said KVC Kansas received between $5 million to $6 million in funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped the organization avoid furloughs for its 470 employees.

Saint Francis Ministries president and chief operating officer Tom Blythe said the organization received a $10 million loan through the federal program to provide stability for its operations and 1,600 employees across six states. The nonprofit is responsible for more than 3,200 foster kids in Kansas.

Two other state contractors, TFI Family Services and Cornerstones of Care, didn’t answer questions about their use of PPP funding or the amount received. Information released by the Small Business Administration shows Cornerstone received between $350,000 and $1 million, and TFI received between $2 million and $5 million.

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Local lenders provide cash through the Paycheck Protection Program. The nonprofits then seek forgiveness from the Small Business Administration to cover the loans, effectively turning them into federal grants.

“We operate on a tight budget,” Blythe said. “Our work changed significantly as COVID-19 brought about the decision to stop face-to-face visits between children and families, required updated and additional technology to allow virtual visits, and brought about the need to purchase personal protection equipment, thermometers and sanitization supplies.”

Saint Francis Ministries, whose services include an equine therapy program in Salina, had to halt face-to-face activities during the pandemic. (Saint Francis Ministries)

Blythe said the changes in work jeopardized transportation staff positions who no longer were called upon to transport children during a statewide stay-at-home order. The PPP funds allowed the agency to redirect those employees to other duties, including the sanitizing of cars and offices. The funds also allowed the agency to retain drivers who were older or had underlying health conditions until it was safe for them to return to work.

“We remain concerned about what the next six months may bring,” Blythe said. “Should schools be unable to reopen, we foresee extra support required for foster families, just as other families in our communities will need support.”

Kutz said KVC Kansas moved quickly to adapt services when the pandemic hit in March. The agency cares for more than 1,600 children on any given day, and supports about 900 foster and adoptive families in Kansas.

“Our frontline child welfare professionals continue to meet with children and families in homes, so we had to purchase PPE and implement other precautions to keep everyone safe,” she said. “We expanded our use of video conferencing for child and family visits and for mental health treatment for depression, anxiety, substance use, child behavior challenges, or parenting needs to ensure children and families still felt supported during this immensely challenging time.”

The nonprofit also transitioned its foster and adoptive parent training class from in-person to online instruction. The shift ensured a steady stream of new families would be able to care for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, Kutz said.