Foster Caring: How to care for foster children without becoming a foster parent
One of the most freeing verses for anyone who feels burdened to care for orphans, but isn’t in a place to bring orphans into their home has to be James 1:27.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” James 1:27
“James 1:27 is a beautiful verse about religion, about following God by loving others. The verse can be found in any Christian resource about adoption or foster care and is widely known as “the” orphan care verse. James 1:27 isn’t necessarily about adoption or foster care, though. It’s not necessarily a call to adopt or bring orphans into your home. James 1:27 is a call to VISIT orphans. It’s a call to spend time with, to play with and hug and feed and serve and know and care for orphans.” (Yes, I just quoted myself from a former post. Let’s just ignore how horribly pretentious and lazy this was and move on.)
If you have a burden for children in foster care but can’t be a foster parent, maybe you’re meant to be a foster “carer.” (Yes, it’s a real word. No, do not look it up.) Here are some ways you can become involved as a foster “carer":
Help another foster parent care for their foster child.
I’ve already written a post on this one, so I’ll just leave this right here and call it a day. “VISITING ORPHANS - CARING FOR FOSTER CHILDREN BY CARING FOR FOSTER PARENTS”
Mentor a youth in foster care or a young adult who has recently “aged out” of foster care.
This was my first foray into the foster care system. My husband and I were praying through how exactly God was calling us to care for orphans, but I felt extremely burdened for foster care specifically. This was a way I could get involved with a foster child until we reached our answer. I was connected with a 20 year old girl who had aged out of foster care and was living in transitional, independent living. For our first meeting I told her to show up hungry and tell me where she wanted to eat. You can safely assume that a 20 year old who has never been properly cared for or taught life skills is sustained solely by McDonalds and Ramen noodles, so when I picked her up, she said, “I don’t care where we go, but I want steak.” Steak it is. (I'm a vegetarian.)
A few minutes into our dinner, she began to weave her family’s tale for me: “homeschooled” (read as: forced to stay home and denied education), imprisoned in her room for days at a time, starved, and beaten regularly. She related it all to me in a nonchalant, matter of fact way and then moved on to all the foster parents, siblings, and homes she had throughout her years of care. She was 20, had the maturity of a 12 year old, and had experienced things no one should have to experience in a lifetime. My times with her were spent chatting and laughing, listening to her heartaches, gently challenging her decisions, praying for her, and sharing about The Father who loved her and wanted to rescue her.
A mentoring situation like this is such a meaningful way to affect the life of a current or former foster child. The relationship can be an opportunity to show love and care to someone who’s maybe never experienced it, tell of the great sacrifice of Jesus with someone who’s maybe never heard it, share wisdom and life skills with someone who’s maybe never been taught them, and possibly even be a stand-in family member to someone who's maybe never had anyone.
This role is perfect for someone who is relationally-oriented and enjoys listening, talking, and spending quality time with others.
Tips for finding organizations that facilitate mentoring programs: If you live in South Jersey, look no further. Robin’s Nest is an organization I volunteer with, and it’s just the greatest. Their mentor program will connect you with either a youth who is in a group home, a youth who’s been reunified with family but is still l in need of a stable adult figure, or a young adult who lives in one of their independent-living transitional homes. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is another option to consider. While the program isn't specifically oriented to foster children, it reaches at-risk children and youth. Of course, you can also search the programs in your area. Google is your best friend. I literally found Robin’s Nest by searching “foster care mentor program.” Another tip is to use an internet search as if you’re looking for the services yourself (think words like: family services, youth program, family success center, etc.).
Become a CASA.
Being a CASA is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wants to make a difference in the system. A CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is a legal advocate whose sole intent is to advocate for the needs of a foster child in court. The numbers for this program just speak for themselves. Kids with CASAs spend an average of eight months less time in foster care, are more likely to be adopted, are half as likely to re-enter foster care, are less likely to be bounced from home to home (Check out CASA’s Evidence of Effectiveness page for more official numbers or the book “Three Little Words” for a moving memoir that powerfully demonstrates the impact a CASA can have.). Unlike the more unofficial, relational role of a mentor, a CASA is appointed by a judge to an “at risk” foster child to advocate before the court in the child’s best interest. Check here to learn all that’s entailed, but the general requirements are an initial 30 hours of training followed by about 10 hours a month visiting the child, writing reports, and attending court.
This role is perfect for someone who is task-oriented and would enjoy being involved in legal proceedings and more detailed-oriented work.
Bless foster children.
Besides the more obvious lack of a home and family, foster children often miss out on the small comforts, privileges, and special occasions that "typical" American children enjoy. Here are some more practical ways you can get involved in helping a foster child feel cared for or comforted.
- Collect Christmas presents for kids in foster care. In NJ, you can do this through FAFS’ “A Holiday Celebration for Every Child" (most states have a similar foster parent association). Nationally, you can provide Christmas presents for children with incarcerated parents (most of whom are being cared for by family or foster parents) through Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program or for foster children through One Simple Wish's BEnefactor program.
- Collect suitcases or create “journey bags” for kids entering foster care. When most foster children are removed from their homes, a social worker throws as many of the child’s belongings as they can easily gather into a trash bag. The child’s entire life is reduced to a garbage bag of clothing. Donated luggage can bring a little more dignity to the process and journey bags are a small way to comfort a new foster child with something that is “theirs.” You can purchase a set of luggage for a foster child for just $40 through One Simple Wish (as they put it: to show a foster child they can "carry on." I'm a sucker for a good pun.). To make your own journey bag, simply fill a duffel bag for a child with a few items like a stuffed animal, book, reusable water bottle, coloring book/crayons, notebook/pen, snack, etc. Another option is to check out Together We Rise to participate in their “Sweet Case” program.
- Renovate your agency’s parental visiting room. My kids spend hours a week with their bio parents in these rooms (at one point my two girls had a combined six visits a week). When I saw one of the rooms, I was shocked. The room was clinical and dirty and had a few beat up toys. I texted my BFFs/partners-in-crime. We cleaned out our kids' closets, got some storage bins, dropped a few bucks on fresh craft supplies, and made good use of a few (much needed) Lysol wipes. Good as new. Another option is to look into The Forgotten Initiative’s Project Sunshine.
- Financially support an organization that gives foster kids the special things they often miss out on. A reader recently introduced me to One Simple Wish. One of the (many) great things One Simple Wish does is connect you with a foster child and let you know how you can meet his or her specific "wish". You can fund everything from guitar lessons to new sneakers to a bike. Most of the kids in foster care are having their basic needs met, but many of them are missing out on these "extra" things that my kids and your kids get to enjoy, these sweet memories of childhood. I’ve also heard about local programs that help fund foster kids’ senior trips, proms, and special activities (Google!). I once learned about a girl through Together We Rise who had just entered college (only 3% of foster children graduate from college) and needed a laptop to be able to keep up on her assignments. It was such a privilege to be able to empower a young woman in her pursuit of higher education (If education is a particular burden of yours, you can help fund a student’s education or even send a care package to a foster college student through Family Fellowship or Foster Care to Success).
This role is perfect for someone who is an organizer and would enjoy planning projects and involving others.
Tip: Most of these ideas require you making contact with someone from either a local private office or state agency. Think of anyone you know who may have a connection to someone within an agency and get ahold of them directly. When looking for help, I’ve contacted the social workers I’ve built relationships with who I know would be willing to go above and beyond to help work something out. If you’re not sure who to talk to, try to get in contact with the resource supervisors of your agency who are involved with actually placing the kids in foster homes.
I’m so very tempted to end this post with a bumper-sticker-worthy-but-horribly-corny-inspirational-quote. I almost can’t resist. I give up. “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
People tell me all the time how much they would love to be a foster parent but aren’t able to for one (often very valid) reason or another. The reality is that not everyone is able to be or called to be a foster parent, but every follower of Christ is both able and called to “visit orphans” (James 1:27), “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and “use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). So maybe you’re not meant to be a foster parent, but maybe you are meant to be a foster carer.