I get asked a lot about how people can help support foster parents. And I love that question because I truly believe that more people would foster if they knew they had a strong support system around them. Being in a crazy season with two preschoolers and living far away from our county offices, I can easily get hung up on the logistics and the emotional toll of foster care. What do I do with my kids while I take my foster child to a 1.5 hour visit twice a week? How can I keep my house clean when social workers are coming multiple times a month? When on earth will we have time for a date night? And can I really emotionally handle adding room for a foster child into my heart? All of these questions and more could easily keep me from doing the thing I LOVE to do – foster children. Thankfully I have a strong support system that helps me carry the burden of fostering. I simply could not foster without these people surrounding me with support and care.
As someone who has fostered twice with lots of help from my community, I’d love to share some tangible ways you can support foster parents.
Five Tangible Ways to Support Foster Parents
1. Gather supplies and throw a shower for them!
A great way to meet physical needs for foster parents is to stock them up on clothes, bedding, cribs, diapers, kids snacks, etc. Make it fun and throw them a baby (or big kid) shower. Gather their closest friends and families and just celebrate what they are doing while gifting their foster children with new, good quality supplies. What a great way to show those kids that they are WORTH having NICE things!
Sometimes foster parents don’t get a lot of notice before a foster child moves in, so a shower may not make sense depending on the circumstance. Always ASK before you plan something so that it’s actually helpful and not stressful. If a shower is too much, gather the supplies and drop it off with no expectations!
2. Provide practical support
Don’t stop at gathering supplies, round the troops and figure out what weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly help your community can offer.
- There are a lot of people (social workers, attorneys, etc) coming into their home – offer to clean their house or get some donations to provide regular house cleaning so that’s one less thing they have to worry about.
- Weekly meals are an awesome way to help. There are plenty of meal planner websites that can assist in scheduling this. Figure out how often is helpful and blast an e-mail out to their friends and family to get them to sign up.
- Offer to babysit. Whether it’s for a date night or sometime during the day so they can get a break. Do what you need to do to be approved (some counties require background checks) and then offer your time.
- If you have kids, you already know how hard it can be to run errands with your children, add a new child who potentially has some unknown behavioral difficulties and it becomes that much more of an ordeal. So, a great way to help is to text a foster mom next time you’re at the grocery store or Target to see if there’s anything she needs. Or again, schedule regular help, this could just be watching her kids while she runs errands, or running the errands for her.
And please don’t wait for them to figure out what they need. Initiate and organize this for them. People don’t like asking for help, so make it happen for them.
3. Provide emotional support
Foster care takes an emotional toll on parents. There’s so much unknown and changing all of the time. Sometimes their hearts get attached right away, other times feeling connected to the child takes time. Sometimes it isn’t clear what is “best” for the child, even when foster parents want so badly to be the best option. Sometimes the weight of these children’s experiences makes it difficult for them to trust their foster parents, and that can be challenging. Check in with them. Be a nonjudgmental listening ear and a crying shoulder. You don’t have to understand what they are going through, you just need to show up and listen.
4. Encourage them, don’t flatter them
Words matter, so be intentional with them. Luck did not bring those kids into their home, tragedy did. So please don’t say, “They are lucky to have you.” Luck has nothing to do with it. And, please don’t say that around the foster child. They certainly don’t feel lucky. I don’t know about other foster parents, but it makes us uncomfortable when people tell us how amazing we are that we foster. I don’t feel like I’m some superhuman parent with an amazing ability to do this. And if I’m having a bad day riding the roller coaster that is foster care, this actually gives me more guilt than encouragement.
A better thing to say is, “Thank you for loving these kids so well in the midst of all that they are going through. What you’re doing is so important. How can I support you?”
5. Don’t ask for specifics
It’s easy to be curious and want to know what these children have gone through and are overcoming. But please don’t put foster parents in that awkward position. Close family and friends are one thing but use discretion. First, that information isn’t theirs to share. Second, foster parents are bound by confidentiality. So please be careful and don’t ask for specifics.
Foster care is important work. It could potentially change the entire course of a child’s life. But fostering is certainly not for everyone and that’s okay. You have an important role to play! Reach out and support foster parents so they can continue faithfully doing the work they feel called to do.