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Berkshire Farm adapts child welfare services to pandemic


CANAAN–Despite the changes required by the Covid-19 pandemic, officials at the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth (BFC), a child-welfare agency based in Canaan, say the organization is continuing to serve children and families, customizing adjustments for each case.

“We’re still responsible,” Alicia Kremer, vice president of Foster Care said in a phone interview April 30. “We are essential workers; our staff is working every day. Most important is that we continue to provide services. We don’t stop; kids and families ultimately need us.”

BFC, according to its website, provides over 100 “treatment and care” programs and services that support its mission of strengthening “children and families so they can live safely, independently, and productively within their homes and communities.” These include foster care, group homes, prevention and detention programs. It serves “over 2,000 children and families a day,” in 53 counties throughout New York State.

BFC gets funds from the counties where it provides services under contract to the counties, said Julie Brennan, vice president of Development and Marketing. BFC gets additional support from donors and foundation grants.

The organization started in 1868 as a “refuge for what were then called ‘wayward boys,’” in Canaan. In addition to its Canaan headquarters, BFC has offices in Hudson and several other locations from the Bronx to Buffalo. It also runs detention facilities in Albany, Glenmont, Middleton, as well as the Burnham Youth Safe Center in Canaan.

“We have 530 staff members who show up every day,” said Ms. Brennan. “We are essential.”

BFC must visit each of its foster homes at least once a month. In Columbia County, about 90% of these check-ins still take place in person, said Ms. Kremer. The case workers wear masks and, when necessary, other protection.

‘We don’t stop; kids and families ultimately need us.’

Alicia Kremer, v.p. Foster Care

Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth

Some visits have to be conducted with a video connection through the internet. The determination of whether to make a visit by video versus in-person is determined on a case-by-case basis, though some foster homes do not internet service capable of making video visits possible.

Either way, foster families benefit from more contact from BFC now than before, Ms. Kremer said. With schools closed, children and foster families are together 24/7. BFC calls and visits them with suggestions for activities.

How children see their biological family–in person or by video–is also determined on a case-by-case basis, Ms. Kremer said. So is whether in-person meetings can include hugs. But she said, “It’s extremely important for us to continue contact. We also ensure that everybody is as safe as possible.” Phone contact is increasing.

Conversion to the use of internet video is being used court appearances. Last week BFC had a child in Columbia County adopted by video conference, Ms. Kremer said. The court, the child, and significant others were all in different places.

“We’re still actively recruiting and needing more foster families,” Ms. Kremer said. “Children need permanence.”

Group homes, she said, are staffed by BFC employees, utilizing protective masks and equipment. They offer additional activities and education for youth now they are out of school and in the homes every day.

Berkshire Farm ‘s website is

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