By Laura Troup
As a foster parent and foster parent recruiter, I get questions all the time about how to support children currently in the foster care system. There are plenty of ways to help.
The first one is obvious: Foster. If you have room in your house and love in your heart, go for it. Be trained and certified to take foster children into your home and life. Attend PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) training through AGAPE, DCS or one of the other great partner agencies in your area.
Not everyone can be a foster family, though, so the next seven ways to support foster care are for those who aren’t certified foster parents.
Bring a meal. When foster homes get a placement, it’s crucial that the first few days are spent connecting with that child or children—not grocery shopping or cooking dinner. Setting up a meal train assures them that food is one less thing for them to worry about for a bit while they get to know the child, and they can spend that precious time helping to make the child feel comfortable and safe in their home.
Provide gear. Foster parents can’t have every supply at the ready for every possible type of placement. For example, they may have a twin bed, but end up getting a 2nd grader and a baby. They need a crib and baby gear. Or they may have bedding for girls, but they end up getting boys. When you find out they have a new placement, reach out to see what they need.
Schedule playdates. Even if the foster placement is older children, they need to build connections. Don’t assume they wouldn’t want to come to a birthday party or gathering of your friends with children – for many children in foster care, it could be their first time to attend something like that. It also allows the foster parents to have connections and maintain some normalcy in a chaotic time.
Babysit. Childcare is one of the biggest challenges of foster care. Let the parents have a night out to recharge alone. You can also offer to babysit the biological children of the foster family while they attend training to become certified or while they attend post-approval training to maintain licensing requirements.
Provide respite. In order to prevent burnout, foster families definitely need to build in some self-care time. Providing respite care requires a background check and home safety visit, but it allows the foster children to develop connections with other caring adults and gives a much-needed break to hardworking foster families.
End gossip. If you have foster families in your circle of friends, you will hear gossip. When you hear others talking about the individual situations of foster families or children—even well-meaning—put a stop to it. Details surrounding why a child is in foster care are private and confidential. Remind others to be respectful of the foster family’s privacy, as well as the privacy of any foster children involved.
Check in. Foster care can be an emotional roller coaster. Be a listening ear when foster parents need to reflect on the range of feelings that serving in foster care can bring out. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t give advice unless it’s requested. Don’t judge. Just listen.
Lacie Haynes, AGAPE foster parent, says, “Being a foster parent is a challenge, but there are many awesome experiences that come along with it. One of those is getting to see the Lord’s church work the way it is intended to. To be on the receiving end of countless meals, words of encouragement, items being donated, and so much more is so encouraging and faith building. We truly could not foster without the love and support of our church family.”
Foster care is not for the faint of heart, but if we are pursuing Jesus, we are pursuing ways that serve the greater kingdom. We are all called to look after the orphan and widow in James 1:27, so it’s important to find your way to put that service into action.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a foster parent or how to support foster families, email email@example.com.