We all know the foster system is in crisis, along with a whole lot of other parts of this country that are feeling pretty broken at the moment. It's something those who pay attention hear about often, but becoming a foster parent is a commitment most people can't take on for logistical reasons. Thankfully, there are so many ways you can help foster kids without being a foster parent, and some of them involve no more work than picking up an extra set of school supplies when you shop for your own kid. Too many kids, a reported 428,000 on any given day according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are in foster care in the United States. Resources are slim for them already, and foster families are too few.
I was a foster mom for a year between adopting our baby girl and before I went back to work full-time. My partner and I figured that we may as well use our foster license, which we completed in order to adopt our daughter, when we saw how much need our one little agency had for foster parents. It was the most transformative thing I've ever done, and if we could survive on one income I'd still be home with foster babes.
Just this week, I've had two conversations with foster moms in the middle of their own foster journey. They both have multiple biological children and have added sister sibling pairs, between the ages of 1 and 4, to their broods. They love their foster girls like their own, but I can say from personal experience (and after the aforementioned conversations) that foster parenting is exhausting. It involves frequent meetings with case workers, visits with biological parents, court dates, and much, much more, especially at the beginning of a placement. While I'm not currently fostering, because I've gone back to work full-time, I realized I could be doing more to help foster kids and more to share the burden with foster parents.
You Can Learn
Do you know a foster kid or a foster parent? Maybe you do, but I'd guess most don't. In fact, in my experience, most people's knowledge of foster care is through stereotypes and rumors of people abusing the foster care system in order to make money. I know that happens, but there's another side of foster care that's so important to see. Families, like my friends', who feel compelled to give to children in need, often foster for no compensation whatsoever. The minimal compensation they might receive is enough for preschool classes or clothes or food.
When my partner and I fostered, we did it through a private agency and we weren't compensated financially. At all. If the child was on Medicaid or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), that was the only help we received. In fact, in those cases, WIC was the reason my family was able to foster at all. Without it, taking another baby who depended on formula would have been cost prohibitive to us.
But aside from learning about the foster system, knowing a foster family allows you insight into the foster care system that will give you empathy and compassion for both birth families and foster families. Not in an abstract way, either, but in a real, tangible way that will only prove beneficial. Knowing and learning about what the foster care system involves, from all angles and in multiple circumstances, is the first step to helping foster kids.
If you don't know any foster families, there are a few feeds you could peek at on Instagram or Facebook for a look. @Fostergoodwins or @Fosterthefamily both give really candid and holistic views of foster care, with respect to foster kids and birth families, too.
You Can Create Journey Bags
Many foster kids are removed from their homes, or moved from previous foster homes, with just a few belongings stuffed into a trash bag. It's not a myth, dear reader. Take it from me when I say, that really happens. There are projects (like Together We Rise) in nearly every major city (and plenty of not-so-major cities) that accept donations for duffel bags or backpacks for foster kids.
Usually all you need to donate are a few basic supplies — like toothpaste and tooth brush, an age appropriate toy and book, and maybe a pair of pajamas — and that's that. With Together We Rise, you can donate a very nominal amount ($15 or $25) to provide a full bag to a child, and you won't even have to leave your couch.
You Can Donate Hand-Me-Downs
If you are getting rid of your kids' hand me downs, see if there are any foster homes or local foster agencies that would benefit from those clothes.
Another tip: when you drop them off, make sure they're newly washed, organized, and labeled, to make it easier for overworked caseworkers to grab a bag on their way out to a foster family.
You Can Provide Dinner & Coffee
When a foster family gets a new placement of a foster kid, they might get a call that morning (or that afternoon) and receive very little information about the placement that will arrive that evening. That means whatever plans you had for making dinner typically go straight out the window. If you know a foster family, bring a freezer dinner, like you would for a family with a new baby, or drop off coffee and muffins one morning.
Those kind of acts make foster families' lives all smoother, and make everyone feel more supported.
You Can Donate School Supplies
If you're out buying school supplies, consider whether you could buy a few extras. If you can stock up on pencils and pens and drop them at your local foster agency, you'd be making a world of difference.
You Can Offer To Watch Other Kids
If you know a foster family, you can offer to watch their biological children while the foster parents spend time with their foster child or take them to appointments. Foster children have regular meetings with case workers, therapists, and their birth families, and all of those meetings take time. Strapping multiple children into the car to get to them can be extra exhausting, so if you can alleviate that exhaustion by watching biological children, all the better.
You Can Provide Respite Care
In many states, you can provide respite care for a foster family. The average burn-out rate of foster families is less than two years, and that is in large part because foster families don't have big support networks who can allow them to take a break with their biological families. Leaving the state with a foster child is sometimes difficult, even if the family wanted to take the foster child on vacation with them, so respite care can help provide a little freedom for a foster family.
You Can Become a CASA Volunteer
If you have more time, but aren't in a position to have a foster child in your home full- time, becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is an incredibly worthy option. CASA volunteers work with one foster child at a time, spending time with them, their biological families, their foster families and their caseworkers. Then they are able to speak on the foster child's behalf in a court setting. They also function as a steady person in the child's life, but without the responsibility for making sure they eat their green beans or brush their teeth every night.
You Can Donate Money
If you are short on time, but looking for a way to financially help foster children, organizations like One Simple Wish are lovely. They facilitate granting "wishes" to foster children that go above and beyond what foster families or foster agencies are able to provide. Yes, their wishes will probably break your heart, but if you can help make them come true, you'll know you're making a positive difference in a child's life.