According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, there are over 397,000 children in the foster care system right now. There are simply not enough qualified homes to care for all these children. Our hearts should be moved to compassion. We cannot sit idly by while even one child goes without a home. We know we must do something, but what? Should everyone be a foster family? The short answer is, no. Should everyone do something? Without a doubt, the answer is a resounding yes!
If you aren’t called to foster, what can you do? Here are 10 practical ideas to support foster families in your community.
- Listen: Fostering is very different from typical parenting. Foster children and foster parents will need time to reflect on the uncertain emotions of living this different lifestyle. You can expect that the foster families will feel, love, grief, frustration, anger, joy, pride, sorrow, happiness and confusion. Those emotions may all bubble up at once! Don’t try to solve the issues that arise. Don’t share advice. Don’t judge. Just listen.
- Bring a meal: In a world of “Meal Trains” foster families often get lost. Foster children have just had their entire world turned upside-down. They may wake up at night more frequently than their typically developing peers or they may not even sleep at all. They may need extra attention during the day as well. They will have court dates, visits, therapists, case worker drop-ins, new school transitions and a plethora of other things pulling at their time. Foster parents are required to adjust their family’s schedule to accommodate everything. This leaves very little time to plan a meal. Last year a neighbor brought my family a meal, I wasn’t home when she delivered it so she let herself in the back door, patted my three dogs on the head and put the meal safely into my refrigerator. Imagine my delight when I came home after a weary day to find a fully prepared meal waiting for my family!
- Celebrate: Every child deserves a baby shower! We may not be able to throw one for each child that comes into care but we can celebrate in other ways. Share your families hand-me-downs for sure, these are always appreciated! If you can, also wrap a small gift for the child or family as well. A new set of onesies, a favorite children’s book, or a shower bag filled with good smelling soaps and shampoos for a teenager. These small things go a long way to showing the child and the foster family that they are valued. When our 2nd oldest daughter came to live with us, my friends and I stayed up half the night painting her new room the brightest shade of pink I’ve ever seen. We didn’t know how long she would stay but we wanted her room to feel like it belonged to her. My friends understood the need to celebrate a little in the midst of a painful situation.
My friends understood the need to celebrate a little in the midst of a painful situation.
- Squelch gossip: As the friend of a foster family, you will hear gossip. It may seem well-meaning at first. “I just don’t know how they are going to do it, bringing home three more kids. They already have their hands full!” Some will be more blatantly disrespectful, “I heard they brought home a crack baby this time. What do you think the back story is on that poor little guy?” When you hear others talking about foster families or foster children, put a stop to it right away. A foster child’s information is private and his or her story is never to be shared with others. If you have followed number one well, you have listened to the very real struggles, joys and sorrows that this family is going through. You know that words can hurt. Remind others to respect the foster family’s privacy as well as the privacy of all children involved.
- Laundry: When my kids were little, my friend walked into my house with a gigantic trash bag and asked where my dirty laundry was. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely confused. I pointed to the closet in my room and she promptly went inside and began filling the garbage bag with laundry. I began to protest but she wouldn’t hear it. “I’ll be back tomorrow with your clean laundry,” she said. Then she walked out the door and did just as she promised. It was wonderful!
- Bring snacks: Meal trains are a beautiful thing (refer to number 2) but kids are hungry all the time! Pack a sack of kid-friendly snacks. I asked my kids for some of their favorites in case you are unfamiliar with kid food! Here is their list – Juice boxes, skinny pop, crackers, pre-sliced or pre-cubed cheese, cereal, fruit snacks, apples, cuties, yogurt, granola bars, graham crackers. You can also tuck some adult snacks in there too, dark chocolate, wine, donuts and coffee are just a few things I love to see in a care package!
- Respite: Everyone needs a break, even foster parents. In many states, respite providers must be licensed by the state. Becoming licensed to do respite will involve a background check, fingerprints and possibly first aid training as well as CPR training. Check with your county office to find out how you can provide a respite so that a foster family can go out on a date, on a small vacation, or even go to their training to maintain their own license.
- Playdates: Include foster children in playdates. Do not assume that they will not want to be invited to a birthday party or movie night. They may have some restrictions but foster families can help navigate the details. When my children were in foster care, I was always delighted to have them included.
- Support Bio or Adoptive Children: The revolving door of foster care can take a toll on the children who are permanently in the home as well. Offer to take them to the park or on a playdate. Or offer respite for the foster children to give the other children a little bit of alone time with mom or dad.
- Memberships or day passes: If you have a little money to spend and want to do something special, buy a day pass or membership to something local and fun for kids. Movie passes, Children’s Museum, Art Museum, Zoo, Amusement parks and National Parks passes are all things most foster families can’t afford. They will be grateful for the opportunity to get out and have some fun!
Current foster families, what are some other ways people who are not fostering could support you? Share with us in the comment section below.