Family Life, foster care

How You Can Support Foster Families

One night this week I was overcome with anxiety. Getting in my car seemed a little dramatic so I left the baby with my husband and ran downstairs to the garage. A room I particularly loathe due to the abundance of camel crickets and lawn equipment.

I crouched down and held onto the side of the old stroller and sobbed. At times my breath came in gasps and I wondered if I was having a panic attack. I remembered how last year I would gag with nausea when things got particularly stressful as a foster parent. We were going through a difficult time with a teenage foster son.

I hadn’t felt nauseous in a while but I did that day after court for our foster baby. And as I sat on my ankles in that damp room, with the stacks of Bob Dylan CD’s and the rows of paint cans, I cried out. God. Don’t forsake me. Don’t hide your face from me. I cried until there were no more tears left.

Then I went back upstairs, got the baby ready for bed and read books with my daughter. I had felt like I couldnt breath but I took the next breath. And so the night went on.

I wrote the above last summer on my blog when we were going through a particularly difficult season as foster parents and I never published it. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to think I was losing my mind, though those closest to me knew how greatly the court case was affecting me. How much I cared for this little baby and what happened to him. I wanted him to be safe and I didn’t have that control. It’s a hard place to be and it can feel all-consuming.

As I write this today our foster baby is still with us and his case has greatly improved. So it feels like we are in a much better place. But for the past few years it’s been tough trying to fulfill this calling to help children in need.

Maybe you’ve thought about being a foster parent but you aren’t in that place right now. You might know how great the need is and want to help but aren’t sure how you can. I wanted to share three ways you can support foster families. Hopefully these ideas will give you a little insight into what a family in your group of friends, church or community might need.

1) Throw A Shower

Often foster families are licensed for more than one child or have decided they are open to receiving placements of different ages. So it’s nearly impossible to plan for every child who may come into your home. Often children arrive with nothing but a trash bag of clothes and sometimes they come without anything. We picked up our baby from the hospital and went home with only the outfit he was wearing and a bag full of blankets hospital volunteers had donated. We spent over $1000 that first week just getting basic things we needed. I was SO grateful for friends who gave me bags of baby clothes from their attics or sweet relatives who sent clothes or dropped by with an outfit or bottle warmer. We had less than 6 hours from the time we got the call to the time we brought baby home. So that’s not a lot of time to prepare.

Yes, maybe it feels strange to throw a shower for a child who could leave at any time. But foster parents are required to send anything bought for the child with the child if they leave- so not only are you helping a foster family but you are also helping a biological family in need. And, the stipend for foster care is low. Many assume it covers everything and foster families are set. Families who want to truly provide for the child in their home end up spending A LOT of their own money. As you do with your kids. And when kids are coming and going this can really tax a budget.

And isn’t every child worth celebrating? Hosting a quick get together is such a sweet and supportive way to show you care and are ready to embrace this new child. Don’t know the family well enough to give a party? Handing them a gift card is also a wonderful way to show your support. And is so appreciated.

2. Treat a New Placement like a New Baby

When your sister had a new baby you probably brought over a meal. Or maybe offered to babysit her other kids so she could get some rest. No matter what the age of the new foster child coming into the home, foster parents could use some help. Between trauma the child has experienced and getting no sleep because a child is scared of their new bed to signing up for new schools, going to new doctor appointments and navigating home visits, bio parent visits, shared parenting- all in the span of the first week- foster parents are exhausted. We had a couple from our church that we didn’t know well drop off a pot of soup and salad one night after we brought our foster baby home. We so appreciated the effort and thought. Can you become a respite babysitter? Often it just takes a background check and you are approved to babysit so the foster parents can take an evening off.

A call or text means so much and instead of saying, let me know how I can help (we’ll never let you know – it’s too awkward!) just say, I’m thinking of dropping off a pizza tonight in case ya’ll could use a break, is that ok? And this is also appreciated even when the child has been in our home for months. Sometimes that’s when a lot of foster parents can get burnt out trying to care for children from hard places. It often gets better- children get more settled, routines get established- but sometimes it gets worse.

Kids who are now in a safe place step out of survival mode and then the difficult behaviors start up. We’ve all navigated the tantrums in the store- but magnify that by 100 when trauma is involved. It can be hard and we need to know we are doing a good job. Once my sister mailed me a care package with the essential oil Valor in it. Just that name made me tear up. I wasn’t feeling brave- I was scared that foster care was becoming too hard. And her sending that made all the difference.

3) Watch Your Words

This one is hard, because I have had so many well-meaning people say hurtful things. And I know they didn’t mean to be hurtful! So I wanted to tread lightly- but still let you know what’s important to hear and not hear as a foster parent. First, we can’t share details of the bio families. So asking if the baby was born on drugs – or where the parents are- or what they did- it’s best just to avoid these questions. Especially in front of the kids. Even young kids can understand that it’s not normal to not be with their birth families. And questioning the details in front of them makes them feel like THEY aren’t normal. I had someone ask a previous teenage foster son how he liked his “new” parents. Actually, he would much rather have been with his “old” parent, his bio mom, and again- the question made him feel like there was something wrong with him.

I always introduce my foster kids as my sons or daughters. Because at that moment, that’s what they are. So when you are speaking to them or about them, treat them the same way. And let’s avoid the horror stories. The ones about friends who fostered or foster kids you read about in the news. Foster care is nuanced and every case is different. Just because you saw on CNN that a teenage foster child burned down the foster families house does not mean every teenager in foster care would do that.

Another question I get asked all the time is, are you going to adopt so- and- so? The reality of foster care is we often don’t know. And some families are fostering just to foster and not to adopt. Again- saying this in front of the child is a definite no. They know deep down that their futures are up in the air. Some want to be reunited with their birth families and some would like to adopted. But they don’t have a say in the matter and neither do we. So a better question would be, how can I pray for you?

And that leaves me with the last point, which I’ll just leave under this one. Pray! I cannot tell you how thankful I am for ALL the prayer warriors who pray with us and for us. Even people we don’t know well will let us know they are praying for us. It means more than you can know.

Support for foster parents can make all the difference in whether these families continue to foster or give up because it gets too hard. You play such an important role as supporter. I often think of my extended family as a foster family too- because they are helping and encouraging us and that’s a ministry in and of itself.

So thank you!

-Claire

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