The most common things that I hear foster parents say they need:
1. Emotional support and encouragement
2. A break every now and then (a chance to go on a date with their spouse)
3. Help with clothes, toys and basic physical needs as kids of different ages often come with very short notice
4. Advice and support regarding parenting an abused child
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every foster family had another family that came alongside them in total support? Is that possible? This is a HUGE need. Could you connect one on one with a family, be their respite (designated, fingerprinted babysitter), or be a mentor for one of their kids? You could be the cool “Aunt/Uncle” that takes the kids to a movie every now and then, or watches them once a month while “Mom and dad” go on a date. This type of support provides the kids with another stable, loving adult in their life, and another positive role model while giving the foster parents the necessary time reconnect with one another and recharge. This is how normal healthy extended families work; it would be wonderful if one family at a time we could bring this normalcy to these kids. The best example that I have seen of this is promoted by Help One Child, an "outreach to at-risk children both in and out of the foster care system” that serve Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
Go through your kids’ closets and toy chests. When you learn of a new foster parent in your community that has just received a child of a certain age you may be able to make an enormous difference by offering some of these things. I was given 30 minutes notice before my first set of kids arrived at my doorstep at 11:30 at night. They only had the clothes on their back, and for the youngest that meant her 5 yr old sisters footie pajamas, not even a pair of shoes. Later, I was terrified to discover that while I had one spare car seat (thought I was prepared) I didn't have a booster seat for the 5yr old. Here, I desperately needed to take the children shopping for clothes and I couldn't even leave my house until I had a car seat! A dear friend gave me her daughter’s old one which absolutely saved me in that moment, not only with the physical need but to feel less alone in this endeavor. I’ll talk more tomorrow about how churches and community groups can help to make this even easier for everyone.
If you own a business, consider providing some sort of discount to foster families. Discounts are offered to all different groups of people, why not foster families? It could be a small percentage or a buy 1 get 1 type of offer, whatever works for you. Every foster parent will have paperwork from the county to identify his or her role and the reimbursement that they receive for their kids barely covers basic expenses and doesn’t leave much room for “extras.” If businesses could support these families with a little discount that would enable them to take the kids for a nice haircut or take them out just a bit more, it would be amazing.
Pray. Whether you have committed to come alongside a specific foster family in total support or not, one way to support, often neglected, is the power of prayer. Pray for these foster families and for the children that walk through the doors of their home. Pray for healing for the kids that are recovering from physical, mental, emotional and sexual wounds, the scars of which may follow them well into adulthood.
These are a few, immensely important ways that, as an individual or as a family, you can come alongside and support specific foster families in your community. Beyond this there are many organizations that you can get involved with that I’ll give reference to later in this series. What do you think, are there other ways that individuals can support foster families in their community?
Tomorrow: How Churches and Community Groups can Support Foster Families.