Not everyone can foster a child. But everyone can support foster families in one way or another. Today we’ll talk about the top five ways to support families going through some of the hardest, most stressful times of their lives. It’s not always natural or easy to see a need. I’ll give you some things to look for.
1. Bring the family a meal.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the first week or the first month that a family has a new child or sibling group. The real bulk of the matter is that life for them has changed—all of them. Offer to bring them a meal, or if that’s not your strong suit, give them a gift certificate for a child-friendly place. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Think McDonalds. McDonalds? Chances are the child(ren) entering their family ate at budget-friendly restaurants if they were able to eat out. Chances are a trip to McDonald’s can provide healing balm for that child and a rare moment for the new parents to spend extra moments in building a relationship instead of trying to figure out what to feed their growing family. If you are able to bring a meal, think simple. If you make a more elaborate meal for the parents, think comfort and ease for the kids. Macaroni and cheese goes a long way to comfort kiddos. Add in some yogurt, apple sauce, a fun dessert and you’re set. Comfort is really what foster families need most of all. In between parent visits, therapy appointments and all the appointments and expectations that foster families have going on, a provided meal can be a life saver.
2. Ask or offer if they need things for the children.
I don’t know a foster family that would turn down clothing, shoes, or beds for a child in their care. You may or may not have what they need, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Always make sure that items you donate are in good condition. If you wouldn’t put it on your child, chances are they won’t want it for theirs either. Foster families can change in size and shape rather quickly. If you have an item you don’t need, just ask or offer. The hardest thing for us is having people offer things and we took what we could truly use, and turned down what would be short-lived or cumbersome. It was especially difficult when others didn’t respect our “no.” If you don’t have anything that a family can use, perhaps you can provide a gift certificate for the family to use towards an item they really need. It’s not always about the need, it’s a lot of times about being seen. Seeing a family that is grown untraditionally isn’t always easy to support or recognize. But if you think creatively, you will find a way to support them well.
Prayer is always a need. You won’t always have the answers. And you won’t always know the need. Chances are the foster parents won’t share their children’s story, especially in entirety. Sometimes it’s too private, sometimes it’s too hard, sometimes there are just too many unknowns. And sometimes, they just won’t know how to put into words what you should pray for. I believe the beauty in all is that God already knows how their story will end, He already knows what they need most, and He will hear your prayers. In the depths of all the emotions that foster families go through, prayer is most coveted. It’s a one-size-fits-all balm for the heart and soul. It’s a tangible way to help any family without pressure or expectations for them. It’s not always easy in foster care to identify a true need or to share the reasons for a certain need. Some things are deeply private and hard to share. Sometimes they can see the positives and negatives to a situation and feel unprepared to make the decision of what the outcome should be, could be, or what to wish it would be. Foster parents covet prayers for themselves, for the children in their care, and just as importantly for the biological parents and family members of their children.
4. Provide childcare for them.
You may or may not be able to care directly for the children that are in foster care depending on the laws your county/state. If you can’t provide care for the foster children, perhaps you can provide care for the other children in their family and give the foster parents a few hours to grocery shop, grab coffee, or grab dinner while the foster children are at a visit, appointment, etc. There are many reasons a foster family may need care or help with the children in their home. Meetings and appointments aren’t always appropriate to have children along. Sometimes meetings need to be attended without kids and many times, especially for families without local family to help, need childcare help more than anything. Sometimes it’s a ride or a simple short period of time to get someone to and from where they need to be. Other times it may be longer periods of time. If you are already familiar with their family, caring for their children will come easier to you. Simply ask and offer. I can almost guarantee that a foster family will rarely ask for help. So, being honest and earnest in your offerings will be essential.
5. Acknowledge their grief.
It can be difficult to identify when a family is grieving. But, I can guarantee that even when they’re happy when a child is able to return home to their biological parents, that family is grieving the loss of that child. It is entirely possible to be happy and deeply grieved at the same time. Notice when a child leaves. Ask about their family—their process. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate: a hug, an “I’m sorry,” a simple question of “how do you feel about that?” can help soothe a grieving heart. Losing a child, whether they’ve been with them a long time or a short time, often carries a confusing mixture of emotions. When our foster daughter moved home to her family, we were so happy for her, but we also grieved her in a very big way. Our friends showed up with a sweet card, words of comfort, a memento to remember how we touched her life, and food for our family. The food was simple and yet some completely soothed the hearts of each member of our family. We felt heard, seen and deeply loved. It was soothing for all of us.