It’s true, not everyone is called to foster or adopt. When Mike and I first started fostering, I couldn’t see a reason that we would ever stop. Children are coming into care at an alarming rate and many are unable to return home. When we first became foster parents we knew that our primary goal was to reunify families and help children heal. However, children are often in foster care long term. Many are adopted by their foster families. Permanency is a good thing but it also means that foster homes are reaching capacity and having to close their doors. This is what happened in our family. The day after our 8th adoption, our home had reached capacity, we closed our license and stopped fostering.
Under our current laws in our state, our home is full, which means we can’t foster right now. We know there are foster families, children, biological families and caseworkers who just need some support. We are aware of the need, but our ability to address the need in a tangible way is so different. Now that life has slowed down for us at home, we have been able to step back from the chaos of fostering and ask ourselves what we would have liked to have support with when we were still in the system. If you are a family that is not called to foster or adopt right now, here are a few ways to support those who are.
- Driving- Fostering involves so much more driving than I could have imagined. If you know a foster family, offer to pick up an extra drive to school, sports, counseling or even the grocery store
- Laundry – I will never forget the time my friend stopped by my house, walked straight into my laundry room and loaded garbage bags up with all of my laundry. She hauled them out to her minivan and would not accept one word of protest from me. She returned the next morning with neat stacks of sweet smelling clothes for me and the four small children I was raising at the time. I burst into tears. The task was never ending at that time in our life but she blessed me to the core with her one act of kindness.
- Meals – Let’s face it, I’m not a great cook. You probably don’t want me to make you a meal. Well, you might like my chili (it really is a culinary delight) but since it’s the only thing I can make, you don’t want to rely on me to feed your family long term. Meals have never been my favorite time of the day. When we were fostering, it felt like we went through an endless cycle of appointments, laundry, meals, clean up and more appointments. Having a friend stop by with a tuna-noodle casserole felt like a gift of gold. You don’t have to be a great cook to help provide a meal. Call the foster family you want to support, find their favorite take out restaurant, and have food sent directly to their door.
- Respite – It can be so difficult to find child care for any child but what about a teenage child who can’t be left alone? Or what about a child who has experienced a trauma that prevents him or her from playing with other children safely? Or what about the child who needs medical attention that a typical teenage babysitter can’t provide? You can be that person for a foster family. Offer to learn exactly what the child needs and then do it. Take the teenager out to the movies or for a coffee. Attend a doctor’s appointment to learn to administer medications properly or learn to feed through a g-tube. Providing a few hours of respite will refresh and renew the foster family so that they can continue to be on the front lines day in and day out.
- Play-Dates – My kids remember what it was like to be in foster care. I can’t offer them up as playmates to just anyone but often when I share with them that our friends have a new foster child they are transported back to what that felt like. They will offer to go to the park, children’s museum or zoo with the child. Our kids can be friends with others who are going through similar experiences.
- Gift Cards – You can get gift cards for everything! Get creative here, drop off a gift card to children’s store so the foster family can buy new swimsuits. Or slip a gift card into the diaper bag when they visit the church nursery. Money is tight for many families but for foster families, there are so many hidden expenses that we don’t typically think about. Children may come into a home with only the clothes on their back. One of my foster sons came to us in a pink sleeper because it was the only thing the department of child services could find.
- Groceries, Toiletries, Cleaning Supplies – More kids means more food, more toothpaste and more mess! Collect everyday supplies for foster families you know. Little things like toilet paper feel like a big blessing when you don’t have to run out for more in the middle of the night.