To Best Help Foster Families It’s Crucial to Know What They Actually Need 

Plenty of well-meaning people ask:

“Can I bring over a bag full of my daughter’s old stuffed animals?” 

“Where can I bring my used children’s clothing?”

“Do you guys collect suitcases for kids in care?”

These are questions we get all the time.  I understand the heart behind them.  People know that foster care is a real situation in their communities and they want to feel like they are doing something to help the cause. There are many organizations that collect new or slightly used items including toys, furniture, clothes, and supplies for children in foster care.  When we get these questions, we direct people to an organization in their area.  

As a foster mom of 15 years, what we really need from our friends and community are the day to day supports that help us thrive as a foster home. I challenge you to do more than drop off items at a clothing drive.  Take the next steps to be an ongoing support to a family that might go from two kids at breakfast to five at the dinner table. 

Here are some helpful ideas:

  • Most foster parents (to a fault) are not going to ask for help.  Instead of being told, “I’m here to help, just let me know,” it’s helpful when someone says, “I’d like to mow the lawn for you this week. Is there a day that works?”  or “I am free on Friday, could I come hang with the kids or run errands for you?”
  • Transportation is often overwhelming for families.  School, therapy sessions, visitations with parents, and other appointments quickly fill a foster parent’s schedule. Offer to drive once a week to a scheduled appointment to give the family a break.
  • Become trauma-informed so you can help provide childcare.  While babysitters may be easy to find, it’s not easy to leave kids from hard places with just anyone.  You can even check to see what the guidelines are in your county to provide overnight care. 
  • Prepare dinner, stock their freezer with meals, or bring a bag full of healthy snacks by their house for the kids.  Providing a weekly or bimonthly meal for the family on a set day can be a huge help to allow them more time to connect or run to appointments. 
  • Get to know the resources in your area (including the foster care closets) so when a friend or family member gets a new placement, you can go pick up the needed items for them.  Having one go-to person communicating about their needs and then asking for and finding them is way more helpful than having ten people reach out the day a new placement arrives.
  • Check in with them!  Don’t let them feel they are doing this alone. Be a listening ear and don’t offer unsolicited advice (unless you’re a foster parent yourself and even then, be a good listener).

Fostering is hard work both physically and emotionally.  A strong support system is key for even the most experienced foster homes.  Try doing some of these things for the foster parents in your circle—I know first hand how thankful they would be!

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