This blog topic is one I have been wanting to write, but hadn’t yet, because I HATE asking for help when I need it (and thus didn’t want it to seem a plea for help for us specifically).
Well, now that we have no extra kids… I feel like I can do it…
I can say (type), “We NEED help!” SOS.
Foster families need help. Even when we act like we don’t. Even when we SAY we don’t. The turnover rate for foster parents in the United States is between 30% and 50% each year. That means 1 of every 2 or 3 families who answer the call to foster and open their homes to vulnerable youth will close their homes by this time next year. They will throw in the towel & it’s the kids who suffer as a result. Not to mention the (already very broken) system who spends large amounts of money & time to license these families.
More needs to be done to support foster families in the trenches. We have experienced WHY this turnover occurs. In fact, there have been times when we wondered if we would become contributors to the awful burnout statistic. As foster parents you have no control and are very much the low man on the totem pole… but you have ALL the responsibility… 24/7… day after day after appointment after appointment. You love these children as your own and sometimes at the expense of your own (children, spouse, hobbies, etc). It is a sacrifice. And very much worth it in the end… but it is exhausting, overwhelming, frustrating, and many other ‘-ing’ words.
The system unfortunately offers little support to foster families (we are lucky to have amazing case workers who communicate well, but even that is rare I hear). Once a child is placed in your care it is common to feel very alone… isolated and “abandoned” with child(ren) who now rely 100% on YOU.
This is where a VILLAGE is crucial.
Even if you are not in a place to foster children or teens yourself, there are ways YOU can help out these families feeling very overwhelmed by what they have chosen to say YES to. You can be a part of their village. And I can promise you, it will make ALL the difference.
Here are 10 Specific Ideas, 10 things that were/would have been very helpful during our last 10 months of fostering:
- Bring FOOD. It can be as simple as dropping donuts on their doorstep and texting them to check the porch or as extensive as setting up a Meal Train (https://www.mealtrain.com/) for the family– the first 3 weeks of a new placement tend to be the craziest! Another idea is ordering pizza to be delivered on an evening of their choice (or any other carry out/delivery option). You could also offer to have groceries delivered to their doorstep or cut up fresh fruit and deliver a fruit salad. A friend of mine was great at this food thing… she would show up at lunch time with Chik Fil A or after my dad died she dropped off City Barbeque (my favorite). She knows I won’t ask so she just DID IT… forever thankful.
- ASK what they need. If they are licensed for a range of ages it can be hard to have everything on hand all the time. And time is limited to “prepare”. With both of our placements we had just a few hours from that initial call to when the children were in our home. If you have gently used or new items on hand, offer them up… clothing, baby swings, mattresses, baby jumpers, shoes, etc. When we got our second placement we were short a crib mattress (because we never thought we would say yes to 2 in cribs). We sent out a message to our neighborhood and within minutes got a couple responses back and soon after a mattress to our driveway. Many times people are ready to get rid of some of this stuff anyways… or are willing to lend it out while it would otherwise be sitting in storage.
- Help to WELCOME the new child. Deliver an age appropriate toy or activity with a note. Maybe offer to swing by and drop off icecream or something fun for that first night or 2. Set up a playdate for down the road when they get more settled.
- LISTEN. Regularly check in with the family and just listen to how things are going. Do not offer unsolicited advice. Do offer to pray for their specific needs & challenges.
- TELL THEM SPECIFIC WAYS you wish to help. Say: “I want to babysit once a week (or month) so that you can have a couple hrs of one on one time with your other children, what time might be best?” In our state, anyone you trust for your children can babysit <24 hrs for your foster children. Ask: “Can I steal your van/car during naptime (or anytime you don’t need it) one day and get it cleaned and vacuumed… I know mine needs it!” Many people won’t ask for help so you have to TELL them (I may or may not be one of those people). My aunt, for example, TOLD me she would be at my house at 8 on Tues/Thur to pick up my son for preschool so I didn’t have to take all 4 kids (in carseats) out in the snow/cold/heat/etc. I even tried to tell her no (because I felt bad/guilty), but she told me to “shut up” and showed up anyways (lol)… many times with donuts in hand (we may have a donut addiction around here).
- Gift them a MEMBERSHIP pass. If you don’t know a family well, maybe find out if they have a zoo membership or museum membership and if not, buy them a day pass or a yearly pass if that is in your budget. We LOVE the zoo (have a pass) and it is so nice to get out with the kiddos and do something to make happy memories. During the summer, you could also consider a pool season pass or tickets to a waterpark.
- RUN ERRANDS. If you are planning on running errands anyways, text that foster friend and ask if they need anything while you are out (diapers, milk, formula, baby food, cheese, coffee, etc!). Hint: Even if you aren’t “out anyways”, tell them you are (lol)… they will be more likely to take you up on the offer.
- BABYSIT for free. There was a point in time we had to hire 2 babysitters anytime we wanted to go out on a date. That gets pricey! Luckily we have the means to do so every once in a while but not all families do. Offer to babysit all or some of their children (whatever you have the capacity to do… or bring a friend) for a date night out. Date nights are SO important while fostering (or parenting in general really!). There are also a TON of appointments, training classes, and meetings, many of which foster families cannot bring children to. Offer to babysit for the next one of those that works with your schedule.
- INVITE the whole family over. Fostering is ISOLATING. I joked that no one wanted to have us over anymore (may be partly true lol… we brought a lot of chaos with 4 under 5). Ask if there is a day/eve that the whole family could come over to play games, share a meal, have S’mores, etc. Be a friend to a foster family.
- PROVIDE HELP AROUND THE HOUSE. Offer to have a cleaning lady you know/trust clean their home, or ask if you can clean (some people are hesitant about this though). Mow their lawn. Pull their weeds or mulch. Ask if you can take their laundry home and bring it back cleaned and folded. See if you can come over a day and keep the kids busy in one area of the house while the foster parent gets things done around the rest of the house (or takes a shower in peace).
*** A Bonus # 11 (but most important): PRAY FOR THIS FAMILY. Don’t just say you will, do it! Prayer is felt and matters.
If you know a foster family, think about taking time to do one of the above. Maybe it will keep them from becoming 1 in 2 or 3 families that burnout and quit by the end of their 1st year fostering. These kids NEED good foster families- families who are not so burnt out that they give up on them. Be a part of their VILLAGE.
If you do not know a foster family, ask your child’s school or your local church. I bet you will find one to support in reaching out to either one of those!
♥♥♥ And finally, to our little village– THANK YOU!!! We could not have made it this far without you.