May is National Foster Care Month! At CarePortal and The Global Orphan Project, we want to acknowledge and thank all those who open up home and heart to children and their families in a time of crisis. Even if you’re not in a place to foster children or youth yourself, there are so many ways to wrap around foster families with support.
So let’s get practical: Here are 10 ways you can support foster families in your church or community. We challenge you to choose at least one for this month, then keep the support rolling throughout the year!
1. Bring food.
You can always start here. A hot meal can bring a whole lot of comfort, even in the midst of a whole lot of chaos. You can serve a family by delivering a hot meal, assembling a few freezer meals or packing a basket of full of yummy snacks. Everyone’s schedule and abilities are different, so don’t feel pressure to be the next Rachel Ray — show up in the right moment with a mocha latte for a foster parent with a new infant placement, and they just might do a happy dance!
2. Organize a meal train.
Consider taking #1 to the next level and making sure the family has a steady stream of yummy support coming their way. This is especially important in the first couple of weeks after a new placement arrives. MealTrain.com and MealBaby.com are just two of the many websites available to make this process efficient and helpful for a family that deserves a little extra love.
3. Gather supplies when a new placement arrives.
Before and after a new placement arrives, be proactive and ask what the family needs. Maybe it’s diapers and a baby gate? Maybe it’s bunk beds and backpacks? Especially if a family fosters children of varying ages and genders over time, the supplies they need start to add up — both financially and space-wise. One way you might be able to help is offer to store supplies for them!
4. Welcome a new placement.
When an infant, toddler or teenager arrives to a new foster home, this time can be loaded with different kinds of emotions for everyone involved. Help the parents, and possibly their own biological children, welcome the child into their home. Talk with the foster parents about how you can help with the transition. You could deliver a gift or activity that the family could enjoy together that first evening or week. Depending on your relationship, you might bring over some ice cream and initiate a game night. Maybe you could help the family create a new tradition by joining them for a monthly neighbor and family night!
5. Become a primary supporter for a family.
Every foster family needs at least a few people to step up into their primary support circle. Two key ways you can help in this way is by regularly providing transportation and/or respite care.
Children in the foster care system often have a significant number of additional appointments, so providing rides for visits, after-school activities and appointments can be a huge blessing. Providing respite care — whether it’s just during an afternoon of errands, letting a couple get a quality date night, or caring for a child for several days — is a tremendous gift to foster parents and children. Ideally, your friends would know you’re committed to providing this support even before they get licensed to accept a placement.
Laws vary state-to-state, but this may require a background check or special certification from the foster family’s licensing agency. Be proactive to find out what you need to do, and then follow through. Try to make this support regular, because your consistent presence could have a powerful stabilizing effect for both the child(ren) and the family.
This is a big one. Foster parenthood (and parenthood in general), and the busyness and complexity that comes with it, can often leave foster parents feeling isolated or unknown. Regularly and proactively check in with your friends to see how they’re doing. Grieve with them. Laugh with them. Pray with them. Finally, try not to give unsolicited advice; be with them and listen.
7. Tell them specific ways you want to help.
You can bless a family by simply letting them know you’re available to help with day-to-day chores and errands. Then follow through! Most foster families feel awkward asking for specific needs but would gladly accept help with household tasks.
Say: “I’d like to mow your lawn this week. What day works best?” Then follow through.
Ask: “Could I help with your laundry this week? I will pick it up on Thursday and bring it back clean and folded on Friday.” Then follow through.
Other ideas: Offer to grab their week’s grocery list and deliver their groceries, provide transportation for foster and/or biological kids (see #1), or just ask them what errands you can help with.
8. Invite the whole family over for dinner or playdate
As we mentioned in #6, foster families — parents, children in temporary care and biological children — can feel isolated. Invite the whole family over for dinner or a playdate. Warmth and hospitality, welcoming a child into a bigger community, is a powerful way to show Christ’s love to both the child and the family.
9. Gift them a membership or day passes.
Sometimes you need to get out of the house! Gift the family a day pass to a nearby water park or activity center. Offer them a membership to the zoo or the city pool. This could be such a fun and unexpected way to brighten up life for a family — and could be a great choice for a family in your church or neighborhood you don’t know as well but want to serve.
Finally — and firstly — pray. There are battles going on that we can’t always see. Pray for the child. Pray for their biological families. Pray for their foster parents. Pray for the biological children of the foster parents. (See Jason Johnson’s powerful post from 2015: “Foster Care is Spiritual Warfare”.)
Remember, you don’t have to do everything. Start with one small yes.
“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.”