The need for foster care doesn’t stop during a pandemic.
Even during this time of global crisis, there are children facing their own personal crises who need foster homes and support from caring families and individuals. It takes a village to raise a child, and that saying especially rings true right now.
Fostering a child is an important commitment, and it might not be the right choice for every family. We are grateful to the Indianapolis-area families who foster children and welcome them into their homes. But even if you aren’t in a position to foster a child yourself at the moment, there are still many ways to support these children and their foster families.
Children in foster care need the same kinds of resources as other children. “If a family does not feel they are in a position to be a foster parent, they can always support the agency through a monetary donation, in-kind donation or by volunteering,” says Abbi Achterberg, director of community engagement at The Villages, the state’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency. The Villages typically accepts donations during normal business hours at its Indianapolis office, but contact them first to find out if their donation process has changed because of the pandemic.
“Some of the items we need the most are diapers, wipes, diapering supplies, formula, new children’s shoes, new children’s socks, and new children’s coats or jackets,” Achterberg says. More information about what items The Villages needs (and what items they cannot accept) are located here on their website.
Noelle Russell, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, suggests gifting positive experiences to foster children via OneSimpleWish.org. This innovative wish-granting platform can bring positive experiences to the lives of the more than 500,000 children who are in the foster care system every year.
Share Your Time
Donations of your time are always in need. “Our biggest need for volunteers is to assist with childcare during foster parent in-service trainings,” Achterberg says. “These take place once a month, usually through the week, from 6-8 p.m. Volunteers would assist staff with doing activities with children while parents are in training.” Volunteers must undergo a background check in order to volunteer with The Villages.
Organizations like School on Wheels match tutors to children in transitional situations such as foster care and shelters. Volunteers meet in groups with children on a regular basis in a common area and assist children with homework and other school-based activities. You can also donate items, such as school uniforms and school supplies, by visiting their web site at IndySchoolOnWheels.org.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Indiana matches youth to an older mentor who can serve as a positive influence in a child’s life during a difficult transition. In addition, the organization Hands of Hope seeks volunteers to help create “bridge bags” to children entering the foster care system. These bags contain essential toiletries in a drawstring bag, which provides a more personal way to contain their belongings than the basic trash bags many children must use to contain their belongings when removed from the previous home situation.
An encouraging word goes a long way for children coming from difficult family situations — and the caseworkers who work hard to help them find a safe home. The Children’s Bureau, which for 167 years has specialized in serving children who have faced trauma and disruption, suggests writing notes to case workers and young clients. The Children’s Bureau also welcomes both individual and group volunteers and accepts in-kind donations for foster children.
Provide Respite Care
Respite care is an option to give foster parents a break when needed, with the assurance that the foster children in their care will be well-cared for in their absence. “Respite care provides temporary relief for our full-time foster parents who need a few days to themselves, or who may be dealing with a personal emergency of their own,” says Keri Carter-Moore, a team leader of foster parent recruiting at NECCO, which serves multiple states across the Midwest. “Respite care can be urgent or planned, lasting no longer than 14 days.”
Become an Ambassador
Those who have a special interest in helping children navigate the court system are of great value to the state of Indiana. A CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, is a volunteer who acts in the best interest of a child who has been removed from a situation of abuse or neglect. A CASA then ensures the child remains under the CASA’s guidance as the child transitions to a safe and comfortable foster home. Though the training program is a commitment of time, the rewards are great. Ultimately, the greatest joy for a CASA volunteer is to guide a child into his or her safe and permanent home.
These are just some of the ways you can help a child in the foster system and the families who care for them. During this unprecedented time, these children in need can benefit greatly from a little more support and love from everyone.