1. Pray. 

Pray for the children who will lie down in an unfamiliar bed in a stranger’s home tonight. Pray for the the parents who had their kids removed today. Pray for the reunification and restoration of families. Pray for healing for the kids who have lost faith in everyone and everything that was supposed to keep them safe.

Pray for the judges, attorneys, social workers, advocates, and counselors who are tasked with making potentially life-altering decisions and recommendations for children in care. Pray for the foster families who have voluntarily opened their homes to brokenness and heartache. Pray for the hearts of Americans to be broken and enflamed by the children in crisis in our country.

2. Provide Respite Care. 

Respite care is basically any time a ward of the state is with someone other than the foster parent, birth parent, or caseworker. Because all children in care must be under the supervision of an adult who has been cleared by the state, foster parents can’t call a neighbor or their 17-year-old niece to watch the kids, even in an emergency.

Providing respite care can be as simple filling out a form and submitting a copy of your driver’s license so you can babysit or serve as an emergency contact for a foster family. Or, respite care can be a commitment to short-term care, in which you become licensed by the state for the occasions when foster parents need a break or a child needs a safe place to stay during a transition.

Respite care can be planned in advance or urgent and can last from a few minutes to a few weeks. Requirements vary by state and agency.

3. Support a foster family. 

Foster families need all the support they can get. Foster parenting is much more than loving on the kids (that’s the easy part). Often, it is the day-to-day hardships and complexities of working with a team of people within a government entity that is the biggest challenge.

Family visits, doctor appointments, school meetings, counseling, trainings, caseworker visits, emails, phone calls, reports, logs, and endless stacks of paperwork keep foster parents on their toes. A community supporting a foster family can lessen the burden. As a foster parent who is overwhelmed on my best days and hiding in my closet on the worst, I generally accept offers of help in any capacity. You don’t even have to be creative! Just ask if you can help with whatever it is you are good at or enjoy doing. Offer to do a particular task that you could do weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly:

  • You’re offering to mow our lawn? Okay!
  • Bring us a freezer meal or two? Oh my goodness, you have no idea how much that helps me on the tough days.
  • You want to fold laundry in my living room every Tuesday morning while you watch the Price is Right and drink a Mocha Frappe? That’s really specific . . . and I love it. Our laundry is your laundry!
  • You’re willing to read with our fourth grader for 20 minutes after school twice a week because you know the nightly reading battle is wreaking havoc on our relationship with her? Be careful, I might kiss you full on the mouth!

Committing to helping a foster family for even an hour a week can be the difference in a parent barely hanging on and finding the balance they need to be their best selves for their family.

4. Volunteer. 

The opportunities to volunteer with kids in foster care are endless. You could become a mentor by taking a vested interest in the life of a child in care that you know personally or you could sign up through one of dozens of program such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or Kids Hope USA.

You could volunteer at your local foster care agency to chaperone or work programs, events, fundraisers, and sometimes to assist in the office or help families with transportation.

Other ways to give of your time include tutoring or reading with a child, helping with SAT/ACT prep, teaching a teen independent living skills or how to drive, organizing or participating in a fundraiser, providing an internship opportunity at your business, serving on a foster care review board, or working with The Purple Project or Foster Care to Success.

5. Become a CASA. 

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a volunteer who is authorized by the court to speak on the behalf of a child in foster care. A CASA spends time with the child, gets to know him, and speaks with everyone in the child’s life, including foster parents, birth parents, relatives, teachers, social workers, attorneys, and medical professionals. They then take what they have learned to the judge and make recommendations in the best interests of the child.

CASAs can be a source of stability and hope in the life of child and many volunteers find the experience to be rewarding. Find out more at CasaForChildren.org

6. Donate

Most children in foster care arrive at their first placement with little to nothing in their possession. Most foster parents spend more than the state provides, buying what the children need out-of-pocket. Child welfare agencies try to help by collecting the most needed items, such as clothing, suitcases, duffle bags, back-to-school supplies, and Christmas gifts. Whether you can give gently used items or a gift of cash, donations to a local agency are almost guaranteed to be put to good use immediately.

7. Advocate. 

If you have a heart for children in care, but foster parenting isn’t possible for you, you can fight for the rights and well-being of the 400,000+ in the U.S. foster care system simply by raising awareness of the state of the foster care system.

First learn about where the system falls short. Talk to foster parents, read the stories of former foster children, listen when you hear about foster care on the news, and reach out to your local agencies. Then, use your voice to educate others about what you’ve learned. The children who suffer because of our collective negligence are voiceless. They need us to speak for them.

For more information on any of these ways to help, seek out a licensed foster parent in your area.