It is many folks’ dreams to become a foster or adoptive parent. But after much research, applications, and interviews, maybe you were turned down for one reason or another. Or maybe you tried your hand at fostering and decided it wasn’t for you. But you still have a passion for fostering or adopting. What can you do? Well, as the saying goes, “Not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can do something!”
You may ask yourself, why help foster parents, don’t they get help from the government? Most foster parents do receive a reimbursement but not kinship providers. At any rate, the state does not provide the emotional support that foster parents need. You may also say, don’t adoptive parents have the resources to support themselves? Again yes, but they need a network of people around them to support them as they try to serve a child. If you had a passion for serving foster children, then helping another family may be right up your alley. Here are some solid reasons why you should assist a foster or adoptive family.
1. Help prevent disruptions. A disruption is an unplanned move of a foster or adopted child from one home to another. The worst thing for a newly placed foster child is to move from home to home. Some behaviorists estimate that a foster child is set back six months developmentally with each move. And believe it or not, adopted children get moved out of their adopted homes from time to time. What was supposed to be their “forever family” has now given up on them, for one reason or another. These children need consistency and stability. These families need support in order to prevent disruptions. As a matter of fact, the more natural supports a foster family receives, the more the foster child grows developmentally and the longer that child will remain in that home.
2. Help in the development of a child. Many people erroneously think that just because a foster child has a roof over their head and are given three square meals a day that everything is back to normal. Not quite. Although, yes, it is meeting the child’s basic physical or survival needs, there is more to development than meets the eye. Needs such as emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual must also be met. Many of these children enter care delayed in one or more of these areas. Professional support as well as natural support is vital for the growth of these children.
3. Help with attachment issues. Many of these children grow up unattached or with weak attachments with adults because of the lack of care given by their primary caregiver. Many foster children or kids adopted domestically have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Internationally adopted kids may have experienced the loss of a parent, war, poverty, or may have been the victim of human trafficking. Whatever the circumstances, the lack of care has caused attachments issues between them and their foster/adoptive parents.
What these children need is to be attached to their current caregiver as well as others. If a child can learn to be attached to one adult, chances are great that they will learn to be attached to other adults, as well. This goes a long way in developing healthy future relationships. When you, as an outsider, come in and connect with a child as a mentor or a tutor, they innately develop other healthy connections.
4. There is strength in numbers. Foster/adopt parents not only feel alone, they feel isolated. They feel that they must do it alone because to ask for help is a show of weakness. They feel like “lone rangers.” But even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. For a foster or adoptive family to be successful, they must be surrounded by positive people, who support them physically and emotionally. Someone to defend them. Someone who has their back when times get rough.
ADOPT A FAMILY
You may not have been able to adopt a child, but have you considered “adopting” a family; assisting a family who is fostering or adopting goes a long way in assisting the child directly. This family is swamped with providing a home that must meet extraordinary standards, learn how to serve a child who is dealing with trauma, while the family tries to keep their own household in running order. Your passion for foster care or adoption can help a family far beyond what you will ever know. Consider adopting a family by doing the following:
– Provide respite or babysitting. Foster/adopt parents need a break, too! If only for a few hours to hang out alone at Starbucks. Or to go on a date with their significant other. Or simply to go shopping by themselves without worrying about their little one having a meltdown in public! Is addition, there may be emergencies that come up in which it is not appropriate to bring a little one. Funerals and hospital visits are two places that come to mind. Who can they count on in an emergency?
– Provide meals. The first week of any new placement can be tumultuous! New sleeping arrangements, new school enrollment, bath time, doctor’s appointments, and dental appointments can be overwhelming! A home-cooked meal is the last thing that that most moms think of. Providing three to four meals that first month of a new foster or adoption placement is a blessing in disguise! And even if they have too much food, a few frozen pizzas are easy to cook up in a few minutes! Not many people can afford a nanny. But having someone to rely on for dinner is a godsend!
– Go shopping. If you have never been stopped by a Walmart greeter asking you if you need assistance with a child that is having a major meltdown, then you’ve never been a foster parent. Foster children can, at times, be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells, and excitement that a grocery or department store brings. It’s sensory overload! Of course, the parent can just get a babysitter, or you can go shopping for them. What a breath of fresh air!
– Provide gifts in kind. Do you know how much a pack of diapers costs nowadays? Or formula? Or car seats? Or bunk beds? Even if a foster parent is licensed for an age range of 0-5 years old, that is a large age range to be prepared for! An infant carrier differs in size and shape from a car set for a 5-year-old! Wouldn’t it be nice to know someone can provide one of those items on a moment’s notice? Formula for a substance-exposed newborn is also expensive and hard to find. Having someone provide these needed items is one less thing to worry about.
– Christmas gifts. For those families that celebrate Christmas, this can be a joyous occasion! It can also be very stressful for large families, which adoptive families tend to be. Offering the entire family (not just the foster or adopted kids) at least a Christmas gift of their own is truly a Christmas miracle!
One community in Arizona holds a special event for foster children every year. They set up a Christmas tree and have several tags in the tree with each foster child’s age and gender on the tag. People in the community take home these tags and purchase a Christmas gift just for that child.
– Backpacks for foster kids. Back to school time can be an especially stressful time for foster and adoptive parents. It seems like the school supply list grows longer and longer every year! One idea some communities have is to fill backpacks for each kid ready to go for each foster kid in the community. These backpacks can be filled with pajamas, toiletries, diapers, baby wipes, etc.
– Assist teen moms. Teen moms in foster care are under stress in two areas: navigating the confusing world of the child welfare system and caring for a child while being a child themselves. Their foster moms can help. But they all need a helping hand.
HELPING THE CHILD
Remember those old late-night TV commercials, narrated by Sally Struthers, showing poor, disheveled children around the world who needed your help? Well, you do not need to go around the world to help a poor child. Legally speaking, foster children are considered homeless. You also don’t need to be a foster or adoptive parent to do so. Here’s how you can help a child in your own neighborhood.
– Mentoring. Have you ever considered mentoring or tutoring a foster youth? Foster youth need mentors other than their foster parents. Mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters are just what the doctor ordered! These programs are effective especially for juveniles, many of whom are in the foster care system. Juveniles enrolled in a study were 46 percent less likely to initiate drug use, 32 percent less likely to have used aggressive means to solve conflicts, had higher class and school attendance, and had greater trust of parents and more emotional support of peers.
Mentors spend time with juveniles in their own community, at school and at home, focusing on the interests of the juveniles, improving needed life skills and learning new ones. This may include anything from filling out job applications to creating resumes, learning money management skills to learning study skills, and from recreation such as learning to swim as well as learning how to play chess. The more time the foster youth spends with a positive role model, the more positive effect it can have on the youth.
– Free movie tickets! Going to the movies can be expensive these days! Between the tickets and the cost of concessions, a foster family can go broke! Providing for one or more of those items, perhaps through a theater gift card, is a welcome surprise.
– Birthday presents. A foster or adopted child may never have had a real birthday party. A birthday present just for them will make them feel special! Though video games and DVDs are nice, a present that helps them develop their mind, their body, and their gross motor skills can help them in their development. Bicycles, board games or trampolines fit nicely into those categories. Sensory-oriented gifts are great as well: Play-Doh, Silly Putty, and sandboxes are great ideas. A simple rocking chair or a bean bag chair is great for kids on the autism spectrum.
– Free theme park tickets! Most foster/adopt kids have never gone on vacation, let alone gone on a road trip to Disney World or Six Flags. Wouldn’t it be nice to sponsor one kid per year to go to one of these theme parks? It will be an experience they will never forget!
– Prom or junior formal. Do you remember what it cost to go to prom when you were a kid? Whatever it was, it is considerably more now! Wouldn’t it be nice if a few people in the community chipped in to buy a prom dress for a foster youth? Or a limo? Or a tux? What a display of unconditional love they will never forget!
If you cannot be a foster or adopted parent, perhaps you can be directly involved with children and youth in another way. These options below can make a difference in the life of a child.
– Youth programs. Youth programs such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America, YMCA, church youth groups, and parachurch organizations like Young Life and Campus Life help youth in more ways than one.
– Civic groups. There are civic groups and service organizations in your local community that help needy children. Groups like Kiwanis, Lions Club International, or Shriners International help sponsor kids to theme parks, help kids receive glasses and sometimes help with medical issues.
– Youth sports/recreation. Sports are a great way to learn teamwork, self-control, respect for authority, and winning and losing with dignity.
Caring for a child through foster care or adoption is many people’s ideal. But if age, finances, health, or other circumstances prevent you from doing so, that doesn’t mean you cannot still help a child. Supporting the family directly (or the child indirectly) can make a lifelong difference in the life of a foster or adopted child. Remember the saying, “Not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can do something!”
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.