I know quite a few foster families, including many in my own family. The reality is that each situation is different, and personally, I sometimes struggle with what to do to support those families. I know each child has different needs and every family is different with how much information they share. In my experience, many are unlikely to ask for help. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer.
Offer Help Whether They Ask or Not. Having a new child in your home who is possibly uncertain about his or her situation and adjusting to a new family can be tough on a child, and it can also be hard on the adults. Foster parent (Erica) notes that it’s a struggle to ask for help. “One of the most meaningful things that a friend did with our last sibling placement was when she saw me exhausted at church one Sunday. She said, ‘Go home and put the kids in play clothes. We are going to come get them for the day.’ She took them to her house and fed and played with them. She didn’t ask. She just did it, knowing I needed a break.” If you can’t offer your time, consider bringing the family a meal or bringing new toys or clothes to the house should you discover that there’s a need.
Bring over Items They May Need. You don’t have to run out and buy gifts, but you may have something in your home that these families can borrow or have, particularly if the placement was last minute, etc. “We were really unprepared for our first placement of a toddler. People in our church immediately offered the use of a car seat, a stroller; some even gave us hand me down clothes,” says foster parent, Cheri. Several times, we have offered books or toys as well to help the new children have what they need. When in doubt, ask the family what they could use!
Welcome the Children into Your Home. I know a lot of people can be guarded when it comes to foster children because they’re afraid of getting attached to a child that may not be in their circle for long, but the reality is that these kids and the people fostering them need you to be there. “The way our friends and family graciously accepted the presence of a new child in our home really meant a lot to us,” explains Cheri. “At church the children were always welcomed and included in everything.”
Babysit. As Erica noted, a break is essential. Though many of us rely on family for help when we need a night out, the reality is that the child a family is fostering could be a relative and they may not have family who is willing to help them out. Everyone needs and deserves a break—as we all know, parenting is tough stuff. Offer to babysit as much as you’re able, or if they’re open to it, pay for a sitter for them to have a night off.
Don’t Give Parenting Tips Unless They’re Solicited. Though in my opinion, this goes for talking to all parents, foster families have unique situations based on the background of the children in their home. Foster mom, Jennifer, says, “Avoid comparing our struggles with those of parents whose children have always had a healthy, secure home life. A sticker chart is not going to fix everything.”
Educate Yourself about Foster Care. In order to truly understand any situation, it’s best to do your research. Instead of asking daily if someone is going to adopt a foster child, which could undoubtedly be an emotional and touchy subject, do your research to understand the laws in your state. Learn about the work families go through to make sure children have a safe and stable home life and the services that they likely utilize. Also, learn appropriate language to use when speaking to the families. And above all, realize the severity of the situation. As Jennifer explains, “Don’t celebrate when something goes wrong with a kid’s parents that might make it easier to adopt. Our first thought as a culture shouldn’t be ‘hooray!’ It should be something met with sadness.”
Listen. When you reach out, try not to ask too many questions. Just listen. Foster parents are amazing people, but numerous placements, helping children find the therapy and help they need, navigating them through a new school system, providing a healthy family dynamic, all the while dealing with their own emotions is hard. Be a person that they can talk to if they just need someone to sit and be there.
Be Mindful. Numerous foster parents said that they were most grateful for two things: prayer and reaching out. When these people come to your mind, say a prayer or give them a call. Let them know that you’re thinking about them. A simple text or a phone call goes a long way!