Have you ever considered being a foster parent to a child, but for whatever reason, could not make the type of commitment this relationship requires? Even if you are unable to take a child into your home, there are still many ways you can help kids in crisis and the families that care for them.
For vulnerable children, a foster family can be a lifeline offering a stable environment during an uncertain season of life. Currently, the need for foster care parents is at a record high. According to Jaime Casida of ResCare Youth Services, an organization that provides foster homes to children as part of their mission, the drug problem in Indiana has led to a huge increase in children being removed from their homes in recent years. There are simply not enough foster homes to care for these children. While becoming an actual foster parent would serve the most pressing need, for those not in a position to take on this responsibility, it is still possible to offer much-needed support to foster kids and foster families.
Here are a few practical ways to get involved:
Contact a foster care organization and ask what you can do to help.
Go directly to the source and see how you can be of best use. For example, The Villages, Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency, serves adoptive and foster families throughout the state. Volunteer support is crucial to their mission and they offer multiple ways to get involved – from hosting events to raise awareness and funds to applying a fresh coat of paint at one of their childcare centers.
Offer to organize a meal calendar.
When a new baby arrives, friends and neighbors often rally to coordinate meals for the busy parents. Consider offering the same kind of support to foster parents occupied with the needs of making a new foster child feel welcome.
Pitch in with errands.
Foster children may arrive with very little clothing or toiletry and personal items. Offer to make a trip to the store to pick up essentials for the new foster family. Helping with tasks like lawn mowing or house cleaning can ease the burden of foster parents busy attending to their new family addition.
Be able to babysit.
Foster children may not be able to be left with a babysitter unless the sitter has had their background checked and is certified in CPR. This can create an obstacle for many foster families in need of a sitter. Consider taking these steps so you can step in as a sitter when the foster parents need to attend appointments, or just need a break.
Encourage your children to reach out.
For kids new to a different foster family, school and community, a friendly face of someone their own age can help make their adjustment a little easier. Talk with your children about the importance of making all kids feel welcome and ask foster parents the best way your children might be able to connect with kids in their care.
Become an advocate for children.
The Child Welfare League of America (www.cwla.org) is a national network that advances best practices and public policy for children, youth and families. They partner with individuals and organizations throughout the world to advocate for the rights and protection of kids and families and offer many ways to get involved.
Court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers are empowered by the courts to advocate on behalf of a child in foster care. Volunteers for CASA collect information from key people in a child’s life such as foster parents, teachers and social workers and use that data to make a recommendation to the judge concerning the best long-term placement for the child. There are several CASA organizations in the Indianapolis area; visit www.casaforchildren.org to find out more.
As many parents know, becoming a mother or father often makes one feel an empathy for all children – not just your own. If fostering a child is something you are considering, please take the next steps to find out more about the process. If you are unable to become a foster parent but still feel compelled to help, the time and energy you spend supporting foster kids and families is valuable, appreciated and instrumental to their success.