Wednesday, July 29, 2015

10 ways to help a foster child without being a foster parent

As I write this short blog on my phone, I'm cradling Baby Z --- our foster son of almost a year --- in my arms. 

He's fitfully sleeping. I just finished singing "You are my sunshine" ... always keenly aware that the words, "You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away..." ring much truer than I would like.

Many of you have told us that you respect our role as foster parents. Some of you have asked how we are going to do it ... you know ... the "giving back" part. (I usually tell you I have no idea how to give a baby back. We haven't done that yet.)

Most of you conclude by saying that you could never do what we do.

In case you still want to help ... but truly believe you can't be a foster parent yourself (yet) ... I want to give you some ideas on how to still help foster children. Because I know your heart (it's awesome), and I know there is still so much left you can do --- even if you can't take a child long-term into your home.

1. Provide meals for foster families when they receive a placement. (And by placement, I really mean a child.)

God made it so that most families have an average of 9 months to prepare physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for a new baby to enter a family. That gives time to not only grow a human, but also to make freezer meals, hold baby showers, do registries, prepare nurseries, purchase appropriate clothing, and nest to your heart's content.

Foster families only get about 24 hours notice before taking a child (give or take 23 hours). And that's if they are lucky.

Foster care moves quickly ... Usually, it seems ONLY in this stage ... And as a parent, it is OVERWHELMING. 

I have gotten the call about a baby in the morning, and was told to be ready to pick her up, brand-spanking-new, at the hospital that afternoon. 

No matter how much you think you have the room ready, it's not quite enough. You don't know the gender or the age of the child that is going to be placed in your home, till you get the call. You don't know what they will come with --- in our case, only a week's worth of clothes for our foster son. (And we had 0 boy clothes on hand.)

Not only is it hard to prepare, but with a new child, a social worker has to come to the house within 24 hours. You have SO many appointments those first few weeks, it is crazy. There is paperwork, doctor's appointments, sometimes court to attend, day care to set up ... The list is long and crazy.

Plus you have a child that has changed living situations, is living now with strangers, and is likely stressed and possibly traumatized.

All that to say ... Preparing for a child in 24 hours is a lot of work, and stress, and chaos ... Even if the foster parents are happy to do it. A meal would be a ginormous, super amazing, mega huge thing to do for foster families. Like really. Huge like the Hulk. A REALLY BIG DEAL.

If you are far away, consider sending a gift card to a pizza place or take-out restaurant. Or volunteer to organize meals via Mealtrain.

Vow that if a foster family you know gets a new child, you'll let them know meals will be the last thing they have to worry about.

2. Give or lend clothes, age-appropriate toys and books.

After having two girls, all our clothes were decidedly pink, purple or princess. When Baby Z came along ... Well, he didn't have a chance. (And yes, for awhile, his pajamas were quite girly. Sometimes, they still are.) 

Our toys were equally girly. Sure, we had some blocks and Legos and a few other gender neutral toys, but our one and only dump truck was pink and purple. (No joke.)

I'll always remember when my friend Maria came by and dropped off a few bags of boy clothes, plus several boy books and toys. (FINALLY --- a proper boy truck for the boy!) 

I'll also be forever indebted to my girlfriend Alex, for lending me tons of hand-me-downs, helping me keep Z looking good for over 6 months.

A stranger on a local "buy for baby" Facebook group GAVE me her jumper she had originally posted for sale, just because we were foster parents.

These were all huge blessings!

Before you gather up all your unwanted baby items, send them to Goodwill, hold a garage sale, or post them on Craigslist or Facebook ... Call or message your foster friends to see if they need anything.

If you don't know any foster families personally, Google "foster care agencies" then give them a call. Ask if they need any donations of clothes or toys. 

If there are no agencies, call your local DSHS. They have to stock visitation rooms (rooms designated for bio families to visit the kids in a secure, supervised location) with toys, puzzles, books, and baby gear. Many times, they could use some new-to-them toys.

If you have clothes to donate, check in with your local foster care clothing closet.

Your unwanted, unnecessary items to YOU could be a huge blessing for a foster family, and lift a big financial burden from their shoulders. So start giving and start lending!

3. Throw a baby shower for your friends who are fostering.

If you have friends that have just announced they are fostering, or are hoping to adopt from foster care, offer to throw them a shower. While you will always want to check with the foster couple first, I think this is even more important if the family is fostering or adopting because they don't already have biological children. Why make them miss out on this really fun part of becoming a family?

I know this might seem a little untraditional, as foster children are often not permanent additions to the family. But if someone is getting licensed, throw them a shower anyway. They have lots of purchases they'll need to make in order to get their home foster ready. For instance, even though our crib was perfectly safe and in great shape, we had to purchase a brand-new crib because of a state law, just to get licensed. 

You can also help them get caught up on the basics. Do they have a double-stroller if they are intending to take a sibling set? Do they have gift cards for diapers, formula, wipes and clothes? Do they have bedding for the crib, and a smorgasbord of toys or books to keep on hand? 

If a foster child's parental rights have been terminated, and the foster family is moving forward with an adoption, now is the perfect time to offer to celebrate the joyful addition to their family. The focus at this point might not be so much on preparing for baby --- as in many cases, the child has already been living with the family. But this is an opportunity for you to celebrate with them, and let them know that you are just as much in support of their family growing as you would be if they were giving birth.

4. Take their picture.

Are you a photographer? Are you just really handy with a camera? Offer to give their new family, and especially their child, a portrait. While a family portrait is likely not something they'll want to do right away, it can be an amazing gift to parents when their foster child is about to return home. 

It is also a gift to the foster child. Most foster children don't have access to photos of themselves. Help give that child memories to take with them once they leave.

5. Volunteer. 

Our foster agency, West Sound Youth for Christ, holds quarterly trainings for us foster parents. You may not know this, but like physicians and nurses, we are required by state law to do continuing education. 

To help us meet our ongoing training requirements, our agency holds a dinner and training night for our family ... Complete with childcare. Volunteers help prepare and serve our dinner, and watch our kids.

You could be that volunteer! 

6. Organize an Angel Tree at your church for Christmas ... Or purchase gifts for a child featured on the tree.

Our agency partnered with our church this year to provide Christmas gifts to children in care.

Most states DO give a monthly stipend to foster parents who have taken in a child... But that stipend has to cover clothing, food, formula, diapers, wipes, activity expenses, school expenses, extracurricular activities and more. For homes who have taken in several children (or already have several children of their own), Christmas can be somewhat of a financial burden. 

This year, even though we did not request it, Z was placed on a tree, and received many clothes, books and toys. And when he moves back into his bio parent's house, he'll definitely be taking these along with him.

7. Pray.

Foster care is amazing ... And hard. Rewarding... And hard. Totally worth it ... And hard. 

Cover foster families in prayer. Pray for their marriages, and the other children in their home. Pray for healing of children's emotional and physical wounds.

Pray extra hard during transitions. Pray for God's protection on this family as Satan seriously does not like to see his work go undone. And pray for the bio families as well. 

I'm constantly amazed at the people who have told us they pray for our family. Seriously guys. One of the best things you can do. Loving a child like your own and then letting them go takes a super-human love and super-human strength. It is basically God in us. So pray for us. And pray hard.

8. Provide respite.

Did you know that is some states, you can babysit foster children, even overnight, without being licensed? 

In Washington state, trusted friends and families can care for a child for up to 48 hours without having to be licensed. This is JUST enough time for a couple to get away for a weekend, reconnect, and put some of the stress of foster care behind them ... At least for a while.

When Z was not sleeping (and by that, I mean he was waking up anywhere from every 20 minutes to 6 times a night), friends Jessica and Jamel took Z for a weekend ... So Ryan and I could get some much needed sleep. This was another (Sleep and food are pretty much at the top of my priority list, can you tell?)

You can also get licensed JUST to provide respite. Respite is overnight, state-paid babysitting for foster kids. You don't have to take a child long-term, and you get to decide when, the ages, and how long you want to provide respite ... But this is a HUGE need that doesn't require a long-term commitment. 

Currently, because of vaccination laws, there is a shortage of homes for foster babies under age 2. And this means that finding respite through our agency is extremely difficult, as they have lost half of the homes that were available to these children. 

If you think you could love on some children for a weekend, or a week or two ... Contact an agency and find out how you can become licensed for respite.

9. Donate. 

Some foster parents have extra needs. Like this family here. Meet my friend Shellie. She is caring for 7 children, 2 of them medically-fragile foster kids, in spite of her chronic health issues and crazy busy schedule. In order for them to continue caring for these two children, they need to purchase a 12-passenger van, as Shellie can no longer drive at nights --- making their current system of taking two cars everywhere impossible. 

If you have been blessed with extra, consider giving to a foster family in need.

Or donate to a non-profit foster agency, like Youth for Christ. 

10. Become a foster parent.

Ok, ok. I said you didn't have to become a foster parent to help.  And clearly there are LOTS of ways to help without getting licensed yourself. But you can't SERIOUSLY expect me to write a post about helping foster kids without mentioning becoming a foster parent yourself, can you?

I just want to encourage you to mull it around for a while. Call an agency or DSHS and find out what's involved. Talk to your partner. Look at your house and see if there's room for two more little feet.

I'm not saying foster care is for everyone . . . but that's the point, right? It's not really FOR US.

It's for hurting, abused, neglected kids who need love, security, and a place to call H-O-M-E.

You don't have to have a lot of living space, be the perfect parent, be a stay-at-home parent, have tons of nice things or a huge income to be a foster parent. You need love, and patience, and the willingness to be inconvenienced for the sake of a child.

We all see horrible news stories every night of children that are taken from abusive situations, or have been neglected, sexually abused, and sometimes murdered. We have seen with our eyes ... Even if we didn't want to --- the plight of these hurting kids. 

Yes, they system is far from perfect, and yes, it's hard. (I think I mentioned that a time or three.) But it is worth it.

As part of our family's legacy, we can say that we have taken in a child who was starved for love and nutrition, helped him catch up completely, given him the tools to love and attach to others, and know what it means to have a family. And this legacy is one that our own children will grow up knowing. (Not to mention the fact that one of my own children would not be here of it weren't for us taking the plunge, and deciding to do foster care.)

How amazing would it be for this to be your legacy too? 

You can do respite, receiving care, adoption only, short-term or long-term care ... You can take babies from the hospital or college students who need a home to go to on weekends and holidays. You choose what you are comfortable saying "yes" to.

So before you just say, "I can't do it . . . " I want you to ask yourself, "What if I can?"

No matter which of the 10 ways you choose to help without becoming foster parent  (OK, OK, it's really 9 ways) . . . let's lock arms and start changing these kids' lives one meal, one toy, one outfit, one prayer, and one sleepless night at a time. 



  1. praying for our kids - for anybody - one can NEVER go wrong with that :D

  2. Oh, thank you so much for these suggestions! We have friends at church who foster children, and I would LOVE to help. (I felt myself virtually slapping my forehead at some of the suggestions... duh! )

  3. I shared it on my FB page. It's not practical for us as a multi-cultural family (living in France) to foster, but my family did it once when I was growing up, along with adopting. Your tips are very solid and helpful. And I'm sending so much love/prayers your way.

  4. LOVE it. Thank you. I will share it too. I do have some comments though. Yes, meals and sleep are always at the top of the list!! But, the photos one is critical to me and I think should be stressed more. I learned when adam came that following a bouncy two year old left me with hundreds of blurry photos and took away from my presence in the moment. It was really hard to find anyone free or cheap to take pix, and just as importantly, to get prints from. My brother came and took hundreds of pix and has emailed me six of them. i want an album. I want prints. I need follow through from the session. Also, on the giving items or throwing a shower or helping get a home foster ready, the key is what the home will be licensed for or who the family is looking to foster. For example, I don't need a double stroller since our ages are 2-12 I won't have infants. But, still a stroller would have been nice to be given or borrowed. I have purchased two strollers. We were able to borrow a pack and play. We borrowed a lot from one family at church because we were not so prepared for age two. Respite/babysitting is soooo helpful. I asked a neighbor friend to watch adam during my regularly scheduled dentist visit that I could not easily reschedule. When I had originally scheduled it I didn't know I would have a two year old I needed to do something with. Oh, another good one: offer to mow the lawn or wash their car. I find that the things I used to be able to get done whenever I needed to are now very hard to do. Our lawn looks awful! I either need someone to watch adam while I do it or have someone do it for me. We have hired more services than I care to admit just because I can't do these things as I used to. Oh and also passing on books to the parents on topics of relevance such as toilet training, discipline, puberty, etc based on who they will foster. And the number one thing to pray for, no matter what the child has experienced, is sleep. We have had six foster kids and three of them had serious sleep issues. And for the other three, it is still scary and hard to be away from what and who you know, in a strange home with strangers. Pray for easy and sweet sleep For our kids. Pray they will return to sleep after they awake in terror, and that everyone else in the home can get enough deep sleep, too.