Not everyone can become a foster parent or a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), but everyone can help raise foster care awareness. Here are four easy ways to start:

1 – Let yourself be moved by numbers.

In the United States, there are around 400,000 children and teenagers in foster care right now.  Over 100,000 of them are unable to safely return to their biological families and are classified as “waiting children.”  Waiting for a family. This is not OK.

But psychology tells us that people are not moved by numbers. We are moved by stories. By faces. So those of us who desperately want to connect these waiting children to families do things like posting their beautiful faces and sad stories on websites. Or letting them plead for families in front of television cameras. These things generate a lot of buzz. But they just feel icky, don’t they? Is it OK to resort to these manipulative and ethically questionable tactics if it finds families for kids? That’s a tough question.

Do you want to spread foster care awareness? Make it an irrelevant question. Trust me . . . every one of those 400,000 children and teenagers have beautiful faces and sad stories. Every single one. Let yourself be moved by the numbers. 400,000 is too many.

2 – Don’t spread misinformation. 

Children are not in foster care because they are bad. Reunification with birth families can be a beautiful, safe thing. Adoption from foster care is not (monetarily) expensive. And I have never met a foster parent who is “in if for the money.” Somehow, these stereotypes persist. And persist.

Do you want to spread foster care awareness? Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Or hear on TV. Or see in a movie. And for goodness’ sake, please stop sharing this craziness.

3 – Get to know us. 

Children and teens in foster care. Foster parents. Social workers. We are real people—just like you. We are neither heroes nor villains, and the very best way for you to believe this is to get to know us. Listen to our stories (and respect the details that we choose not to share). Hear our passion and our angst. Tell us that we are doing a hard thing well.

Do you want to spread foster care awareness? Get to know some of the people involved. Tell us with your time that our voices matter. And don’t be surprised when you find yourself more involved than you expected . . . we are a pretty passionate and persuasive group!

4 – See a need and meet it. 

Children and teens in foster care need what every other child needs: food, clothes, school supplies, positive adult relationships, a sense of normalcy. Chances are, you have connections and resources to meet some of these needs. Stuff is great. Just (please) be discreet. Respect the privacy of the kids that you are trying to serve. Experiences are better. Relationships—ongoing, positive relationships—are best of all.

Do you want to spread foster care awareness? Know that you cannot meet all of the needs. But you can meet some. Use your resources, your connections, your voice to do what you can. It matters.

If you are involved in foster care, what would you add? How can folks help to spread foster care awareness? What are you doing to raise awareness in your community?