I crafted this list a few months ago for our Vulnerable Children’s Ministry Facebook page. I think it’s worth sharing here, too. These are all practical (and specific) ways to support foster families (particularly if you already call them friends).
#1: Bring food. Show up with dinner or a freezer meal (in disposable dishes), drop off good chocolate for the grown-ups and kid-friendly snacks for everyone else, or send a gift card for take out or home delivery. Sending food is a great way to say, “let me help.”
#2: Take over the chores. Foster families often have their hands full, especially in the first few days and weeks after a new child joins the family: helping the new child settle in, figuring out school enrollment and medical needs and dealing with court hearings and social worker visits and family visits…the list goes on and on. One way you can help is to take over some of the basic, day-to-day chores that are necessary to keep a home and family running:
- Mow the lawn
- Offer to help run kids to appointments or activities
- Tell them to put dirty laundry out on the porch and drop it off clean and sorted and folded
- Plan meals or buy groceries
All of these things allow foster parents to focus on the needs of their kids as everyone adjusts to the new family dynamic. Plus it’s a practical way to say, “I’ve got your back.”
#3: Learn everything you can. Being a foster parent can feel isolating, because your parenting experiences are so different from others. Plus, parenting kids from trauma is a completely different ballgame. Ask questions, read articles from reputable sources – anything about the process of foster care and the court system, attachment-based parenting, or trauma-informed care. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to support friends and family who are in this journey.
#4: Engage with the kids. This one is simple – love our kids. Talk to them, give them extra attention (they need all they can get). They may only be with us for a little while, but jump in anyway.
#5: Make connections. When they say yes to a new foster child, a foster parent is automatically thrust into a brand new world associated with that child – new medical diagnoses, sometimes a new school, new cultural or even language differences, even new interests. Do you have experience with 2nd grade math that might help your friend? Know the IEP or 504 process backwards and forwards? Speak Spanish or know all about gymnastics, or know someone who does? If you know of a possible connection that can help a foster parent get up to speed quickly, offer to make it.
#6: Fill the gaps. Most of us don’t walk around with lots of extra hours in our day, so when a foster parent says yes to a new child, something has to give. Does your foster parent friend serve at church on a regular basis? Offer to take a couple of shifts until they are more settled. Do you work with them, and can you take a few things off their plate? These kind of things can be a practical help, but also emotional, as many of us feel guilty if we have to renege on our commitments or we can’t fulfill our obligations.
#7: Babysit. Offer to watch the kids, and be specific about when. Say, “I’d love to babysit the next time you need to attend a support group or training class.” Ask, “Can I watch the kids the next time you need to go to court?” Even better, sign up to provide childcare on a regular basis. This can be so helpful for all foster parents, but it’s especially meaningful for single foster parents.
#8: Don’t offer advice. Unless a foster parent is specifically asking for advice (“Help! I need ideas for a teething baby!” or “Does anyone actually understand common core math?”), chances are, foster parents don’t need more ideas, they just need to be heard. Parenting kids from hard places is just different, and sometimes you can try everything and it’s still just hard. Resist the urge to solve the problem, and just listen.
#9: Take photos. The make-up of a foster family can change from day to day, and sometimes we’re too busy just getting through life to remember to take photos. But photos are important, both for the family, and for the kids. They need to see their faces in photos displayed around the house. They need to have their time with a foster family documented in photos, because these memories will be so key for them as they get older (no matter where they are). Even if you’re not a professional, take photos when your family spends time with ours – then send us the photos and get them printed. (Just check before putting anything on social media, because that’s usually a no-go).
#10: Give them alone time. Take the kids out for ice cream, or better yet to a trampoline park where they can burn off a bunch of energy. Let me just shower in peace, or take a nap, or sit at a coffee shop and do nothing, and I’ll love you forever.