Vol. 15, No. 2 May 2011
Fostering a Supportive Community
by Belinda Hogstrom
“Wow, you’re a foster parent?! I could never do that!” People say that to me all the time!
While it’s true that not everyone can become a foster parent, it is true that “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Foster families can’t do it by themselves. Everyone in the community can support children in care and their foster parents by opening their hearts, using their skills, and sharing their life.
Here are suggestions for things people who are not foster parents CAN do . . .
1. Welcome. Help welcome a child in foster care into your circle of friends by hosting a welcome party or picnic. If it’s a baby, host a baby shower. Offer to bring meals, just as you would for the family of a newborn. These acts of love speak volumes to the child and foster parents!
2. Drive. Many agencies need people to drive children to various appointments. Appointments could be visits with birth family or medical or dental visits. Call local agencies to see if this is a need in your area.
You can also offer to drive children in care to activities your own children participate in (youth groups, sports teams, extracurricular activities, etc.).
3. Advocate. Become a Guardian ad Litem. GALs are volunteers who work with the court to ensure children are not lost in the system and their needs are met and voices heard. To learn more visit <www.nccourts.org/Citizens/GAL/>.
4. Mentor. Offer to teach a child in foster care a skill or hobby. Older youths may need to learn basic life skills like budgeting, cooking, opening a bank account, filling out a job application, etc. Become a Big Brother or Sister—either formally or informally. Spending time with a child makes a difference!
5. Hire. Some youth have trouble finding work due to the stigma of being a “foster kid.” Reach out to these young people and provide them with work experience.
6. Shop. Many children in care need school supplies, shoes, clothes, or even toys or art supplies. Suitcases are often needed. When I cared for newborn twins, my friend went grocery shopping for me. What a help that was!
7. Give. Share some of your children’s extra toys, games, and stuffed animals. One of my son’s most prized possessions were donated books. My daughter treasured her second-hand bike.
Skilled professionals, such as music instructors and hair stylists, can donate services, letting children enjoy “extras” they might not otherwise experience.
Financial gifts can provide scholar- ships for extras that are difficult for foster parents to afford: sports teams, summer camps, music lessons, art and dance classes, club uniforms, school pictures, field trips, etc. My 12-year-old begged to go to camp with his church youth group (where he made some life-changing decisions!).
At Christmas time, consider providing a small amount of cash or a gift card to children in care so they can purchase gifts for their family.
8. Tutor. For various reasons, children in foster care often struggle in school. A few hours of consistent tutoring can make a big difference in their academic success.
9. Include. When planning family outings, parties, or game nights, invite children in care who are close in age to your own children to join in.
It’s especially important for extended family members to help children in care feel included as part of the family. Treat them as you would your other grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. I love to hear children I foster calling my parents “grandma and grandpa”!
10. Recognize. Children in foster care want and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments. Attend their music recitals, sporting events, awards ceremonies, and graduations.
11. Celebrate. Host a party and make a big deal of a child’s birthday. Some may have never had a birthday party before.
12. Share. Give older children a chance to share their cultural heritage. Also, share your special cultural traditions and celebrations with children who share your ethnicity or religious background.
13. Scrapbook. Help children create a “Life Book” with pictures of their birth families and relatives, foster families, and baby pictures. For children who move multiple times, this may be their only connection with their childhood. Amazingly, the pictures I took of my 15-year old foster son were the first childhood pictures he ever had.
14. Respite. Get your foster care license and provide respite care to long-term foster families. Many children in care cannot leave the state, so foster families can’t take them on vacation. And sometimes foster families just need a short break to rest, reconnect with their spouse, and focus on their biological children.
For children with special needs or medical concerns, get training on how to care for them. When the foster parents need a break, want a date-night, or have a commitment with their other children, it is a huge help to have babysitting options.
15. Ask. Feel free to ask children how they are doing, and if there is anything they need. Ask the foster parents as well. Even if there is nothing specific needed, sometimes it helps to know someone is interested and willing to listen.
16. Respect. (I purposely listed this one following “ask.”) Respect the children’s privacy by not asking personal questions about their past. It is their story to tell if and when they want to share it. Respect them by treating them as normal kids.
17. Remember. When a child you know is getting ready to move—either to another foster home or back to the biological family—have a special time of saying good-bye, write notes of blessing on their continued journey, or just let them know how thankful you are that you got to know them.
18. Love! Some children in foster care have experienced things you wouldn’t believe. Demonstrating love to them through words and deeds is so important. Your love may be exactly what they need to heal and flourish.
The next time I hear someone say, “I could never be a foster parent,” I just might reply, “Maybe. But here are some things that you CAN do.”
Belinda Hogstrom has been a foster parent since 1995 and is currently serving in Wake County, NC.
Some of these suggestions are things you can take action on right away. For others, such as providing transportation or donating gifts, it will be important to work closely with foster care agencies. Use the following links to contact agencies in your area:
NC County DSS Agencies
NC Private Child-Placing Agencies
NC Foster and Adoptive Parent Association
Copyright © 2011 Jordan Institute for Families