Until two years ago, I didn’t have any experience with foster care. Although we had acquaintances who were foster parents, I knew very little of their day-to-day lives. That changed dramatically when our daughter and son-in-law opened their hearts and home to foster. A text announced the arrival of their first placement, a newborn. I had so many questions about him. I wanted to know how much he weighed, whether he was healthy and if he needed anything. He stayed with them less than forty-eight hours – thankfully his mama was able to care for him. Since then. I’ve learned that children often arrive with only the clothes on their backs, dirty and in need of health care. The case worker hands the caregivers the child (or children) and a $50 Wal-Mart gift card. If you’ve purchased formula, diapers or other baby supplies you know how far that goes!
Two years and six placements later, I’ve learned a little and realized how much I wish I had known about ways to love on the families around me. I had no idea the extent of sacrifice made by fostering families. It’s been wonderful to see how needs have been met and even anticipated by friends, family and others in the fostering community. In the process I’ve realized that there are so many ways that I can be involved in fostering through support of foster families.
If you know a fostering family personally, don’t be surprised if they are reluctant to ask for or accept help. Don’t let that stop you! If you don’t know of any families but have a desire to support children in foster care, check with your state agency. Florida followers check here:
Here are some ways that you can support foster families:
- Meals – When you know there is a new placement, arrange to take a meal, whether ready to eat or something for the freezer. While you are at it, ask if there are any urgent needs you can meet.
- Pizza Gift Cards – When a new placement arrives or a doctor visit or court date goes long, it’s great to have this option available for a quick dinner. Delivery is a beautiful thing.
- Gas cards –Foster parents drive children to parental visits, medical and therapy appointments and court dates and not all mileage is reimbursed.
- Wal-Mart/Target gift cards – Kids need stuff. ALL. THE. TIME.
- Diapers – Ask what size and brand they need/prefer.
- School supplies
- Treats for foster parents like Starbucks or Chick-Fil-A gift cards
- Services or skills
- Photography – Foster children often have gaps in their lives with no photos.
- Scrapbooking- When a child leaves a foster home they often have nothing to show for the time spent there. A scrapbook may treasured for life.
- Auto repair
- Organization – Foster families often get lots of donated goods that need to be sorted and stored.
- Seamstress – hemming, altering, etc.
- Offer to do laundry for a day, run errands or take their turn in the carpool
- Take the family’s biological children on a special outing
- Scholarship camp, music or dance lessons
- Provide an overnight type bag for each foster child – personalization a bonus! Foster children often carry their belongings in garbage bags.
- Offer to drive or ride along to appointments.
- Volunteer to visit at a set time to read to toddlers or rock a baby. While it would be nice for mom and dad to rest during this time, they will likely be on the phone, advocating for the children for health care or other needs.
- Give gently used clothing and baby gear (or other age appropriate items) – make sure the clothing is clean, free of stains and that gear is in good condition. If you wouldn’t want to use it for your newborn, it’s not “good enough” for a foster child.
- Listen. Fostering is beautiful yet the system and process is at times ugly; fostering is full of joy and yet heartbreaking; it’s challenging, frustrating, time-consuming and physically and emotionally exhausting and yet it is incredibly rewarding. As a compassionate listener you can encourage and comfort with your presence and sympathetic, compassionate responses.
While the list is not comprehensive, it’s a great starting point. Perhaps you’ve got some ideas. Please share them in the comments.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 (MSG)