Foster parents are often very passionate about showing those around them the need there is in our community for good foster homes. Here is a post on why we need more people to consider opening their homes to children in the foster care system. While we may be passionate about encouraging others to open their homes to these children, we know that not everyone feels as though they are meant to be a foster parent. And that’s ok! There are many ways that you can help children in foster care and the people who do decide to open their homes to these children. Here are a few ways to support foster families.
Bring a Meal
Bringing a new child into your home, of any age, changes the dynamics in your home. Whether you are bringing a brand new baby home that you carried and prepared for their arrival for 9 months, the toddler you spent years filling out paper work, forms, and finally traveled halfway across the globe to bring home, or if you just got a phone call that a school aged child needs a warm meal and a safe place to stay and will be there in 20 minutes.The first few days and weeks with a foster child can be very chaotic. Everyone is adjusting to a new presence in the home. The call might come on the day you were supposed to grocery shop and you are out of food. Foster parents have to adjust to a new child in their home, but also numerous doctors appointments that first week, visits with biological parents, caseworkers and endless phone calls.
Consider bringing a meal or two to a local family who has a new placement. Notice I didn’t say “make a meal?” For those of us who don’t like cooking, brining take out, or even ordering a pizza can be a huge blessing. One friend not only brought us a big pot of chili that lasted us a few meals, but brought snacks and some goodies for breakfast. Another suggestion: ask them to write a grocery list and go grocery shopping for the family.
It helps the foster family feel support from those around them. That friends and family not only believe in what they are doing, but that they aren’t doing it alone. A simple meal really helps. There are great resources for rallying others to help bring meals. Websites such as http://www.takethemameal.com is easy to set up in a few minutes, share with others, and it really helps foster families with the transition.
When I first became a foster parent, I thought respite was only for parents who needed a break from difficult children and that another family would watch the child for a weekend so the foster parents could be refreshed and refueled.
While that is a part of it, often foster families just need someone to watch their foster children so they can go on a date, to a wedding, a meeting, or to a doctor appointment. The state requires that anyone who watches a foster child must have 3 different clearances to do so, and in our county, their home must also be inspected before the child is allowed to stay in the home of an approved adult. So not just anyone. You can imagine how difficult it can be to find someone to watch a child who meets all the criteria.
If you know someone who is a foster parent, ask them what you need to do in order to help with the child. A lot of us know it is extensive and time consuming to be cleared to watch a child, so we never ask our closest friends and family to do so. Ask anyway. If you aren’t ready to go through all the steps to be cleared, ask if you can come over and help entertain children. Cuddle babies, help with lunch, change diapers, help with homework. Having family and friends who are able to step in and help when I’m overwhelmed is the greatest action they can do to show they support us in our journey.
“Court Appointed Special Advocates is a network of 949 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates-empowered directly by the courts-offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care.” (http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301295/k.BE9A/Home.htm)CASA workers are assigned for the child. They listen to the child, and interact with everyone who plays a role in a child’s life, such as parents, social workers, doctors and teachers, to get an understanding of what is best for a child.
Anyone can be a CASA worker. Check out their website for information on how to become an advocate.
Mentor a Child
When a child “ages out of the system,” it means they are now considered an adult and no longer dependent on the foster system for their needs. However, it also means they are still without a family, or a place to call home. They often are without guidance and assistance to navigate life in the world. Below are a few ways to be involved in these teenagers lives.
Mentor a foster child, who will soon age out of the system, navigate through college.
Big Brother Big Sister, a program that connects mentors to children who need positive role models.
Volunteers assist teens who have or will soon age out of the system.
I don’t know of a single foster family who doesn’t have some sort of need when it comes to clothing, baby equipment, toys, etc. Ask a foster parent, especially with a new placement, if they need anything for the child. Most often, these children come with nothing, and the foster parent will provide clothing, toothbrushes, toys, special stuffed animals and anything else to make the child feel welcome and safe in their new environment. Consider asking if you can run to the store and pick up diapers, pacifiers, formula or anything else they may need upon the arrival of a new child. If you have gently used toys, cribs, baby equipment or even furniture that can be passed along to another family, consider donating it to a new foster family. I had a friend tell me she would like to spend $75 towards anything we needed. She had me make a list, went to the store and bought the items, and brought them to our home. I was so thankful.
Together We Rise
This non-profit organization supports children in the foster system in many ways, but one unique way is by providing bags for children entering the foster system. Children who are brought into care are given a trash bag to fill with their belongings, if they have any. This organization not only provides special duffel bags for the children to carry their things, but it is also filled with things to make a child remember he or she is not forgotten. Personal hygiene items, a blanket, coloring books, crayons, etc. For more information, click the link below.https://www.togetherwerise.org/
Resource Parent Unit
Our county has a branch just for supporting foster parents. They organize trainings and other family functions to show foster families how much they are appreciated. Ask your local Child Protective Services office if such a unit exists, and how you can be involved. For example, a local retirement community hosts a holiday party for all foster homes. There is breakfast, entertainment, and the residents of the retirement community have the names and ages of all of the children in attendance, and purchase generous gifts for every child at the party. A lot of time and organization goes into these events, and volunteers are always welcomed. Aside from the holiday party, there are picnics, movie nights and plenty of other ways to volunteer.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
As a foster parent, it’s easy for me to look around and see the different needs surrounding the children in foster care and the support foster families need. But I know often times, others know that they cannot be foster parents but feel helpless in knowing how to support the children in foster care and the people who care for them. Maybe you know someone who is a foster parent, or maybe you don’t. If you don’t, ask your local Child Protective Services agency or private foster agency how you can support foster families. If you do know foster families, ask them how you can help. Sometimes we are hesitant to ask for the help we need. Ask again. And again. Because different needs arise. And the simple question, “How can I help?” goes a LONG way in helping us feel supported.