It’s the season of generosity. The season when, while we are out shopping for our loved ones, we also feel a certain pull to take care of those in our community who do not have as much as we do. This includes kids in foster care. When we think about serving kids in foster care during the holiday season, we think of buying stuff. Stuff is fine. But what these kids (and all kids) need most is relationships with caring adults in their community. So, if your heart is pulled toward generosity, here are five ways to serve kids in foster care this holiday season without buying stuff.
1. Include them in your plans.
Many kids and teens in foster care want desperately to have all the “normal” childhood experiences that they feel like they’re missing. If you know a foster family, include them in your plans this holiday. Invite them to decorate gingerbread houses, sing carols at a nursing home, cut down a tree in the woods, visit Santa, share a meal, or attend a religious service with you. If you don’t know a foster family, meet one. It’s pretty hard to serve kids in foster care if you don’t know any.
2. Advocate for permanency.
Use your voice, your professional skills, your community contacts to advocate for permanency for kids in foster care. Speak up for the 100,000 American children waiting for families. Even if you can’t adopt one of these children or teens, you probably know someone who can (and may be eager to ask questions and learn more when you start the conversation). And remember that adoption is not the only “positive” outcome of foster care cases. Consider sharing your talents with a drug rehabilitation program or a job training program in your community. With the help of resources like these, many kids in foster care can be safely reunited with their biological families.
Meet a child or teen in foster care. Take an interest in them. And keep showing up. This can be through a formal mentoring program, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. All children benefit from the consistent presence of a caring adult in their lives. This is particularly important for children and teens who may have trouble trusting adults because of the circumstances of their earlier lives. Remember that children are in foster care because an adult couldn’t parent them safely. It is never the child’s fault. All children need to know that someone values them. That someone will listen to them. That someone enjoys their company. And you can be that someone.
4. Get licensed for respite care.
The regulations for this vary from county to county, but it may be as simple as submitting fingerprints and personal information for a background check. Often foster families have difficulty getting childcare because of the rules involved. Jumping through the hoops to be able to care for kids in foster care temporarily is an incredible gift to their foster families—and to them. An evening or Saturday away may be just what the child needs to feel refreshed. It may also very well be just what members of the foster family need to avoid burnout and regain emotional health.
5. Sponsor experience gifts.
Again, kids value time and relationships more than stuff. Instead of buying a tablet or an expensive pair of shoes, consider investing in a cooking class, a season of recreational soccer, a season pass to an amusement park or zoo or kid’s museum. Even tickets to the movie theater or a sporting event. All of these are investments in relationship. And they have the potential to create happy memories (and photos!) that will last much longer than this season’s hottest toy.
If your heart is drawn toward generosity this time of year (or any time of year), follow it! Just remember that serving kids in foster care (and their biological and foster families) doesn’t always mean buying stuff.