May 5, 2014
I Could Never Do That!
“Wow, you’re a foster parent?! I could never do that!” How many times have I heard that comment? As if what I do is something extraordinary. As if I’m something other than who I am: an average person, just trying to be faithful to what God has called me to do.
If time would allow, here is how I would love to respond to that comment . . .
While it’s true that you may not be able open your home to a child in need, it is true those of us who are foster parents certainly can’t do it by ourselves. You can support foster children and those who care for them by opening your heart, using your skills, and sharing your life. Here are 25 ideas of things that you can do . . .
1. Welcome. Help welcome a foster child into your circle of friends by hosting a welcome party or picnic. For a foster baby, host a baby shower. Offer to bring meals, just as you would for the family of a newborn. These acts of love speak volumes to the child and to the foster parents!
2. Drive. Many agencies need people to drive foster children to various appointments. These could include visits with birth family, medical or dental visits, or to a new foster home. Some children rarely get an opportunity to see their birth siblings who live with different families, simply because there is no one who is willing or able to drive them.
3. Volunteer. Volunteer to take foster children or other children in the home to the activities that your own children participate in (youth groups, sports teams, extra-curricular activities, etc.). Due to the many demanding responsibilities, foster parents are often not able to add extra activities into their busy schedules.
4. Advocate. Become a Guardian-ad-Litem. They are also called Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA. GAL and CASA workers are volunteers that work with the court and the foster homes to see that the children are not lost in the system. You could become the voice for the silent orphan. (Isaiah 1:17)
5. Mentor. Come alongside a foster child to teach him or her a skill or hobby. Older youths may need to learn basic life skills like budgeting, cooking, opening a bank account, filling out a job application, etc. You would be surprised how many foster children, because of their tumultuous family history, lack basic skills that most people take for granted.
6. Connect. Become a Big Brother or Sister - either formally or informally. Time invested in a child’s life is never wasted!
7. Hire. Provide a job and give a chance to learn and grow. Many youth in the foster care system have a difficult time finding work due to the stigma of being a "foster kid", or simply because they lack any marketable skills. You could help by reaching out to these young people and providing them with their first work experience. What a huge step this would be towards providing hope and preventing poverty. (Statistics show that 25% of foster children become homeless after aging out of the foster care system when they turn 18.)
8. Shop. Many foster children need school supplies, shoes, clothes, or even toys or art supplies. Suitcases or bags of any kind are often needed. (Did you know that many children go from home to home with their belongings in trash bags?) When I have cared for medically fragile babies, it has been very difficult to run errands for even simple things. I have had several friends who have supported me by buying my groceries, returning books to the library, and doing my Christmas shopping. Who knew that “shopping” could be a valuable talent that can be used to bless others!
9. Give. Share some of your children’s extra toys, games, and stuffed animals. One of my foster son’s most prized possessions were donated books, mystery stories that he read late into the night. Another foster daughter treasured her second-hand bicycle, the first one she had ever ridden.
10. Tutor. Many foster children are struggling in school, either because of learning disabilities, multiple school transfers or lack of parental involvement. A few hours of consistent tutoring could make a big difference in their academic success.
11. Invite. When planning family outings, parties, or even game nights, invite foster children who are close in age to your own children. They most likely have never seen what a loving family looks like.
12. Recognize. Foster children want to be recognized for their accomplishments just as much as any other child. Attend their music recitals, sporting events, awards ceremonies, and graduations.
13. Offer. Skilled professionals, such as music instructors and hair stylists, can offer free or reduced-fee services to foster children, enabling them to enjoy the “extras” that they might not otherwise get to experience.
14. Donate. Help provide scholarships for many of the extras that are difficult for foster parents to afford: sports teams, summer camps, music lessons, art and dance classes, club uniforms, school pictures, field trips, etc. My teenage foster son begged to go to camp with his church youth group, where he ended up making some life-changing decisions!
15. Celebrate. Host a party and make a big deal of a foster child’s birthday. Some foster children may have never had a birthday party before.
16. Share. Provide an opportunity for older children to share their cultural history and heritage. Also, share your special cultural traditions and celebrations with foster children who share your ethnicity or religious background.
17. Include. It is especially important for extended family members to help foster children feel included as part of their family. Treat them the same way you treat your other grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. You may be the only “grandma and grandpa” these kids have ever had!
18. Provide. At Christmas time, consider providing a small amount of cash or a gift card to a foster child (and take them shopping!), so that they can purchase gifts for their family members. They literally have nothing, and what joy it brings them to be able to give.
19. Scrapbook. Help foster children create a “Life Book”, with pictures of their birth families and relatives, foster families, and baby pictures. For some foster children who move multiple times, this is their only connection with their childhood. Amazingly, the pictures I took of my 15-year old foster son were the first childhood pictures he ever had.
20. Train. For foster children with special needs or medical concerns, receive training for how to care for them. When the foster parents need a break, want a date-night, or have a commitment with their other children, it is a huge blessing to have babysitting options.
21. Relieve. Go ahead and get your foster care license and provide short-term respite care to long-term foster families. Many foster children are not allowed to leave the state, so foster families cannot take them on vacation with them. And sometimes the foster families just need a short break to rest, reconnect with their spouse, and focus on their biological children. Respite care providers are essential in helping foster parents avoid exhaustion.
22. Ask. Feel free to ask a foster child how he or she is doing, and if there is anything he or she needs. Ask the foster parents as well. Even if there is nothing specific that is needed, sometimes they just need someone to listen and know that you are interested.
23. Respect. (I purposely listed this one following “ask.”) Respect the children’s privacy by not asking personal questions about their past. It is their story to tell if and when they want to share it. Respect them by treating them as normal kids.
24. Remember. When a foster child you know is getting ready to move – either to another foster home or returning to his biological family – have a special time of saying good-bye, write notes of blessing on their continued journey, or just let them know how thankful you are that you got to know them.
25. Love! Some foster children have experienced things that you wouldn’t believe. Demonstrating love to them through words and deeds may be their first time to experience healthy, nurturing love from an adult. And your love may be exactly what they need in order to heal and forgive.
The next time I hear someone say, “I could never be a foster parent,” I just might reply, “Maybe you’re right. But here are some things that you can do.”