This phrase has been circling the foster care and adoption world for the last couple of years:
"We aren't all called to foster or adopt, but we can all do something."
And it's true. I believed this before we started doing foster care, but I believe it even more now.
The reason why:
Foster care and adoption are very difficult. As foster and adoptive parents, we are carrying our children's pasts, walking through it with them, and fighting trauma at home. Some of us are saying "goodbye" to our kids before our hearts are ready or saying "forever" before we expected to say it. Others are unprepared, dealing with anxiety, or dealing with some secondary trauma that children bring to our homes.
About a year ago I read this article "What if we Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?" and I wholeheartedly agree with the premise. I would have agreed with this article before becoming a foster parent, but after becoming one, I believe it is essential for the church to embrace this and do something about it. Many foster parents work full time and then come home and take children to visits, therapy appointments, and court appointments. Adoptive parents come home to chaos most days of the week. This is not meant to be a complaint, but rather to tell the truth about what is actually happening in our homes.
Many people have asked me how they can best help, so I made a list. Don't think that you are limited to this list, but think of it as a way to start. These are the things that I have received, have wanted, and have needed in the last two years.
1. Make a MEAL TRAIN when we get a new foster placement AND every three to four months.
Many churches, small groups, and organizations set up meal trains for foster and adoptive families when they receive their placement. Receiving a new foster or pre-adoptive placement is extremely overwhelming. It's obviously different than having a baby, but it a huge transition in a different way. A meal train or uber-delivering food to a foster family is LIFE CHANGING.
In addition, foster families often experience an end of a honeymoon period around three to four months (sometimes sooner), and it is quite possible that they will experience more very difficult times within the first year or two of fostering or adopting, as they are walking with their children through their deep pain. Setting up a meal train every three to four months AFTER they receive a placement reminds the foster family that you remember them, that they are valuable, and that you see them. This is essential.
2. Give GIFT CARDS to Target or Walmart so we can take new foster placements shopping without the financial burden
With both of our placements, people from our church provided us with Target, Walmart and fast food gift cards. This allowed us to go shopping for our kids without worrying about the financial burden and in a way that shows our current placement that they are valued and loved. Our church threw us a foster care shower, complete with gifts for our future placements, encouragement, and mini muffins.
Just like the meals, foster families run low on steam. Also, many times their foster/adoptive loves may only have the clothes on their back when they come to them. It would be an enormous blessing to give the family gift cards.
3. Get LICENSED to be a babysitter and/or respite provider.
I'm sure you've heard this before, but foster families cannot have just anyone watch their kids. The babysitters or respite providers have to be certified. This makes the circle of support very small for foster families. Having a solid number (8-10 is AMAZING!) of people who can babysit or be respite providers is an enormous blessing.
Here's an extra way to be even more supportive: OFFER to get certified before they ask you. Foster families often already feel overwhelmed with the paperwork, visits, and therapy appointments. Offering to do this before they ask is giving them a gift that they didn't even know they needed!
4. OFFER to take the kids on outings every once in a while (especially if we don't live near family who will do this for us!)
Many people are afraid of foster families, like maybe there are too many requirements for you to get near them. (I mean it's not NOT true **see above**). However, you don't need to be on the babysitter list to take the children to Main Event or the Trampoline Park for an hour while the foster or adoptive parents can get groceries or get a massage.
5. LISTEN to us.
Sometimes with the emotions that we are dealing with and the everyday issues we face, we just need someone to ask if we can go to coffee and listen to us blabber. I've done this so many times, where I don't even realize that I have all of these feelings piled up and need to get them out. Be a blabber-listener.
6. SAY: "You are doing a great job. Keep it up. What day can I come over to help?"
This phrase is probably the most simple thing you can say to a foster family to encourage them. Don't make foster families overly "saintly." Don't idolize them. Remind them that they're human and offer to come over a specific day to help with whatever they need or just sit with them while they make dinner.
7. SEND snail mail encouragement, email encouragement, text encouragement, ANY encouragement
Enough said. Encouragement, Bible verses, inspirational quotes, little presents, chocolate, our favorite cake. Small is big when it comes to encouragement.
8. LOVE our kids. INVITE us over.
We know we are different, but we just want to be like everyone else. We want to be invited places, even if it means we have to leave early. Support our kids' endeavors. Come to their basketball games. Invite us to lunch or to your house.
9. COFFEE, coffee, more coffee
Starbucks, gift cards, coffee beans, espresso, chocolate covered espresso beans. Any form of coffee is welcomed at all times.
10. ASSUME THE BEST + BE UNDERSTANDING.
We are fighting battles at home that you could not imagine. If our child is screaming, please don't assume because of a lack of discipline. If our child tells you something inappropriate or is rude, be understanding. Many times, foster and adoptive families are just trying to make it out the door, and it's a miracle we are even at an event, at church, or at school. Give us grace, give a smile or a hug, say a prayer, and whisper a word of encouragement.
I have been the recipient of these 10 things in one way or another throughout my journey in foster care, and each time (no matter how small), I have been profoundly grateful. Especially during the first year of having a foster or adoptive placement, we have felt consistently felt discouraged, sad, or underprepared. Having people in our lives who care about us, love us, and point us back to Christ has been the only thing that has kept us going on our journey and helped us persevere during really difficult times.
If you want to start somewhere in helping foster or adoptive families, start small! Small acts of kindness can encourage foster and adoptive families to show up again, which leads to perseverance and endurance, which leads to more stability and security for our kids.
If you want to start somewhere in helping foster or adoptive families, start small!
Security and stability for kids is what eventually leads to happy and healthy homes, where love grows deep and where Jesus becomes the center. Churches, friends, and family can ensure that foster and adoptive families have the support and love that they need by showing up for them and loving them in real and tangible ways. Be the hand and feet of Jesus to foster and adoptive families!