Friday, October 24, 2008

You can't be a foster parent, but you can ...

You've thought and prayed and considered, but the answer is still firmly "no." You are not meant to be a foster parent. It simply isn't your calling--for a season, forever ... who knows?

But still, the notions clings to you. You should be doing something, your heart says.

If you're not parenting foster children, can you still be a blessing? Oh my goodness, yes. If you are praying for your spouse's change of heart, biding your time until a bigger house comes you way, or just plain wanting to participate in the ministry of keeping hurt kids safe, here's a list of some ways you can help.

1. Pass on your gently used items to foster parents in your area. Most foster parents maintain a stash of items for use on an as-needed basis. Your outgrown car seat, infant swing or skateboard could come in very handy for a foster family with a revolving cast of characters. Contact your local licensing office--or an agency--and ask them to pass on the list of items you have available.

2. Offer foster parents a night out. You know that amazing foster family at your church? The ones who never come to service without two infant carriers, a smile a big as Texas, and a gaggle of toddlers? I bet they'd love to have a break. You don't have to undergo a background check to take charge of a foster child for the amount of time it would take a couple to go to dinner and a movie. Offer. Follow up on it. Maybe even make it a regular thing.

3. Volunteer as a CASA or Guardian Ad Litem. You don't have to be a social worker to have a voice in a courtroom. Specially-appointed volunteers spend time with children in care and speak to the court on their behalf. This is a powerful way to be a part of "the system."

4. Participate in an foster care Angel Tree. Do you remember what it feels like to unwrap a Christmas gift and have it be exactly what you wanted? You can make that happen for a foster child. Most foster parents go out of their way to secretly ferret out the details of their foster child's wish list and make them happen. A few extras provided by folks who want to share in blessing these children makes it a lot easier for hurting children to feel like they truly matter.

5. Collect some friends and some money, and head to Dream Dinners. You can actually make a party out of blessing a family who serves in the field of fostering! Ask a local agency for the name of a family that could use a freezer full of meals. Contact your friends, set the date, head out for an evening and come home with a stack of dinners that will truly save the day on nights when a foster family bypasses a home cooked meal so mom can drive an hour each way and pick up a little one with nothing to her name but the clothes on her back.

6. Open your home for appointment-time child care. Dragging a gaggle of kiddos (or even just one who is having a really bad day) through the wringer that is a doctor or dentist's waiting room is something no parent relishes. Offer to host a movie afternoon at your place and spare a foster parent that anxiety as they start to decode what a medically fragile child might need. Keep in mind that new placements equal lots of appointments. That's the best time to offer!

7. Look into becoming a respite provider. Different counties have different rules about this; often, they are far less restrictive than full foster licensing. Check into your local program and see if you can offer a child a temporary getaway for a weekend.


Lindy Lou Who said...

Thanks for the practical tips, I would never have thought of the dinners or anything like that.

blessedmomto7 said...

LOVE IT!! AS a foster parent this would be such a relief! All of our kids are adopted now but these items REALLY would have helped. Thank you for taking the time to list these!

Jess said...

Hey MG- you don't have to post this comment, I just wanted to let you know; I have a really hard time reading your blog on the actual site. I usually read through bloglines, but sometimes when you post on something that I want to come back and read again, I'll pull it up in another window. Inevitably, I struggle to read it and end up closing it out and opening it back up in the crisp black and white of bloglines. Maybe it's all the shades of gray and shadows on it? I don't know; just wanted to mention it in case it was something you'd desire to change. I enjoy reading your blog so much.


Mama JJ said...

Mary Grace,

I really appreciate these fostering posts. There do need to be more foster parents---there is a huge deficit out there---and it is EVERYONE's problem.

That said, I feel that you are not being as clear about the downsides of fostering. (And maybe this is because you take in young children? But I don't know your whole history so I could be wrong about that.) Our system is flawed, and to expect families to be strong enough to take troubled kids into our own homes, is, well, troubling. Not that there is any better way. Not that we have any other good options. But it is hard, hard, HARD, and in many cases wrong. Add to that, inexperienced foster care workers who can not possibly understand (another weakness of the system---it's not the social workers' fault that they lack experience and judgement) the stress that is being placed on the parents and siblings, and who do not always understand the level of work and dedication it requires to work through the child's behavorial problems.

We were heavily involved in the foster care system for a couple of years. My parents also did some foster care (after I left home), and my brother and his wife have done the emergency care. It is very much a concern of mine. But I don't feel that it can be painted or described in simple strokes---the problem is intense and complex.

That said (and now I've come full circle) I do think people should have greater awareness and should be doing more to help.

Something else people can do to help: Sign up to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister through the Big Brother Big Sister program. This program targets kids who are having trouble but are still in their homes---it's one of the only (and a very good one, too) preventative programs out there. The program provides you the space and time to develop, mentor, and challenge a young person (and you will be challenged, too) in a very effective way without being overwhelmed. I've been a big sister for about seven years now...

Best wishes,

Laura said...

A couple of other things crossed my mind. First, prayer support. Not only can a group of prayer warriors pray very specifically for the children, but also for their biological parents who are often trapped in the desperate cycle of drug abuse. Additionally, prayer is needed for the foster family - the ups, downs and in-betweens are tough and supernatural strength is necessary.

We also had very special friends choose to make beautiful hand-made treasures for our little ones. Our first placement left our home with a homemade quilt and pillow from ladies at our church. I wrote small explanations of each for her family ... what a ministry from these ladies.

Lastly, some people desire to write a check. There are organizations who desperately need support. We worked with a non-profit agency in Texas, Covenant Kids, and were blessed by the 'extras' they provided to our family. Not material extras - spiritual extras.

Sorry for this long comment! Keep up your efforts, Mary Grace. People are reading... God is stirring hearts here.


Dawn said...

Excellent post.
Foster care parents are a special group of people.
In my state, South Carolina, anyone that babysits a foster child must also go through the same process that the foster parent did to get approved.
Clothes, toys, gift certificates, are so helpful to these parents. The funding that the foster parents get in no way covers the cost.
Especially remember them at Christmas!

Liz said...

wow! yes. i used to get clothes given to me all the time. all my kiddos wore handme downs. until i started fostering! when you are buying full sets of clothes every few months for a new kiddo, it can be overwhelming. in my state you have to have abackground check done through my agency to babysit foster kids- i wish SOMEONE would offer though! i NEVER leave my foster kiddos. i used to have a mothers helper who came a few times a week-whom i had to pay of course- but my husband and i have not gone on a kid free date but one time since we got sweetpea 8 months ago..can i link to your whole series/??

Kimmie said...

This is great info.
We have adopted 4 out of foster care...3 were a sibling group that we had for 10 days of respite care, while we were waiting on a Guatemalan adoption...but God meant it forever.

Nice to meet you and your family!

mama to 6
one homemade and 5 adopted

mary grace said...

Mama jj,

Thanks so much for your comment. YES--I agree wholeheartedly that fostering has a very real downside. Some kids are so hurt, so damaged and so far down the road of anger that placing them in a family is completely unsafe for both the family *and* the child him/herself. Sometimes the challenges are too much. Sometimes the flaws of the system are too large.

All that being said, I have found that a vast majority of the people who have approached me think that these shortcomings and difficulties are the way it HAS to be. My experience has been different--as has the experience of many other foster parents that I know personally. Granted, we are not the people who provide shelter care for 12 year-old s@x offenders ... but so many people don't realize that foster parents have the power to turn down these referrals!!!

This series was never meant to be an exhaustive dialogue on the topic of fostering. Instead, I hoped to spark discussion and prayer amongst the people who held the assumptions that they *could not* foster.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment! I think that seeing your perspective will add another layer for folks reading these posts!

Mama JJ said...

Yes, Mary Grace, I agree with you. And I think you are doing great work. And I think people need to be challenged more. And... (okay, I'll stop.)


Ps. I like the blog's new look.

The Small Scribbler said...

I was inspired to check out foster parenting because of your posts alas we are up to our limit of children with just our own. But you've given me some good practical ideas here. Thanks.


SmallWorld at Home said...

American Heritage Girls has a program called HUGS in which troops pack backpacks for foster care. In our troop we work with one small foster care program locally. A couple of times each year we send backpacks filled items, from necessities like hair- and toothbrushes to security items like fleece blankets and teddy bears.

Nichole said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm just starting the foster care process and have had some speed bumbs along the way. (my blog explains it) But I've been trying to think of other ways to help since I have to wait a while. I found out that there is a real need for drivers. They bring the children to dr appointments, visitations, court date etc I'm excited to begin!

Overwhelmed! said...

Fantastic list! I'm a foster parent and I can tell you that #2 would be a God-send to us. We don't get out much these days. :)

And we've had friends and family that have done #1 for us and that has been such a blessing too.

Thanks for sharing!