by Patti Fisher
Special to The Leaven
May is National Foster Care Month. It’s a time to recognize that we each can play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care.
Though the number of kids and their needs are immense, many of the solutions are small. All you have to do is think of helping just one kid.
Here are some easy ways to help make a difference in the life of a foster child and for the family caring for that child.
Pray for these children, their foster and biological families. Pray for the workers who put in long hours and face difficult barriers. Pray for the courts and policy makers. Pray that you might be used by God to show love, fill a need or bring a smile.
When a child comes into care, they often come to a strange new home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We, like many other foster families, have extra hand-me-downs sorted by size and gender.
However, we have also gotten kids that are different age/gender than the clothing we have on hand. We have recently been able to go to Lawrence Sunshine Foundation, the local clothes closet, instead of making a mad and expensive dash to the store.
This is only possible because others have donated. Yes, even gently used clothing can benefit children in care.
No one thinks twice about taking a meal to the parents of a newborn. It isn’t as common to think of taking a meal to a family with a new placement.
Honestly, even having a simple meal delivered to us is appreciated. It is one less detail we have to worry about in the midst of new kids adjusting to a place, our family adjusting to them, and social worker and doctor appointments.
Offer to bring a foster family a meal during the first week of a new placement, and I guarantee you will not be turned away! Well, if the dish you’re offering is liver and onions, you might be turned away.
These kids have a lot more appointments than the average kiddo! In one week, I may be taking them to the doctor, have a home visit from my family’s support worker, their support worker, take them to a visit with one or both parents, and have a court hearing.
There are people who volunteer with their local agency to pick kids up and drive them to some of these appointments when their foster parents can’t, usually because of work obligations.
Contact a local social work agency and see if you could volunteer one morning or afternoon a week.
All baby-sitters for foster kids have to pass a background check with the foster family’s licensing agency. This means one additional hurdle for the parents to plan anything like a night out or even attend required training. Tell your friends who are foster parents that you would be glad to submit to the background check and keep the kids once a month for a couple of hours.
Believe me, having a night out, even just for dinner or a movie, can really recharge the parents spending all their time and energy pouring into these kids.
Donate to foster care causes. From welcome boxes, gift cards or backpacks and school supplies, you can help provide needed items to foster children and families. Designate a foster care agency to benefit from your United Way donation, day of service or Amazon Smile donation.
Have your child’s youth group collect carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors or first aid kits to donate to an agency. Provide activity books and crayons to an agency to help kids pass the time waiting for appointments.
Talk to your friends who are foster parents and ask them what specific things they need — they might be things you would never guess. (We have neighbors who walk our dogs, freeing our time for the kids.) They may want help with chores or errands. Even better than asking in a general way is offering specific help.
Use the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory to find a local agency to partner with to help children in foster care. Ask how you can help; maybe they need your party planning skills for their next foster parent appreciation event.
If you have read this far, you might be the person I should ask to open your home in addition to your heart. Consider becoming a respite home, taking placements according to your schedule (often on the weekends).
Don’t let the fact that you are uncertain how to help keep you from action. A great first step is to reach out to a foster family or agency.
You can be part of God’s plan for a child in care.
Patti Fisher is a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence.