ST. LOUIS — A health expert says the death of grandparents during COVID is contributing to the youth violence crisis, with too many kids ending up in foster care. Dr. Kendra Holmes says the pandemic is having a lasting effect on the Black community and is contributing to the current chaos.

“We lost a lot of grandparents, and those were caregivers providing that structure. That support and discipline that children need where many of those were lost, due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Kendra Holmes, President/CEO Affinia Healthcare. “We’re seeing an increase of those children in the foster care system in the foster care system.”

Even the Missouri Department of Social Service admits there’s a huge problem in the foster care system saying there are, “Too many children going into foster care and remaining there too long.”

I also talked to Missouri Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman who is the chair of the senate health and welfare committee that oversees social services.

“It’s pretty bad Elliott right now as of yesterday morning we had 13,092 kids in care,” said Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R) Jefferson County. “So kids are staying in care for longer. That’s bad for a lot of reasons. We want kids to be able to be back with their parents as long as their parents are safe and able to care for them.”

Missouri’s population is about the same as Maryland’s. While missouri has more than 13,092 children in foster care, Maryland has 4,000.

Dyna Eckhardt has complained about the state foster care system here in Missouri to her bosses for years. She finally quit and now does the same thing for a not-for-profit agency, placing troubled kids.

“I left because I felt it was becoming an unsafe situation. We didn’t have enough staff to cover the number of hotline reports that were coming in. I felt like there were safety concerns for me going into the homes, but also the children and the families that we serve,” said Dayna Eckhardt, former family services worker.

“Over 80 percent of the inmates that are in federal prison have been in foster care. We need to focus on those children who are falling behind and being left behind in foster care,” said Dr. Kendra Holmes.

Dr. Holmes fears unless we can get a handle on the agency where so many troubled kids end up we are destined to repeat chaotic scenes like last week’s mass shooting in St. Louis.

“I can’t understate the importance of mental health with COVID and how it has impacted our children. And you know Elliott, children don’t have the capacity to make adult decisions. Put that on top of mental illness, alcohol, drugs, and guns, and it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Dr. Holmes.

Missouri is adding some $20 million to try to deal with some of the problems in foster care. At the top of the list is raising salaries to fix the under-staffing problem and improve ways of trying to get kids out of the system and back with families. The hope is that there won’t be as many angry, frustrated children out on the streets.