Have you ever considered being a foster parent to a child, but for whatever reason, could not make the type of commitment this relationship requires? Even if you are unable to take a child into your home, there are still many ways you can help kids in crisis and the families that care for them.
For vulnerable children, a foster family can be a lifeline offering a stable environment during an uncertain season of life. Currently, the demand for foster care parents in Ohio is at a record high. “The need for loving, nurturing foster parents is greater than ever, as the opioid epidemic has dramatically increased the demand on the foster care system,” says Brian Forney, Director of Focus on Youth, a non-profit, faith based foster care and adoption agency in West Chester. “It has become a common occurrence for children to be placed in the emergency protective custody of children’s services and then have to stay overnight at the children’s services offices until an appropriate foster home can be located because of the limited number of families available to meet the current need.”
While becoming an actual foster parent would serve the most pressing need, for those not in a position to take on this responsibility, it is still possible to offer much-needed support to foster kids and foster families. Here are a few practical ways to get involved.
Offer to organize a meal calendar for a new foster family.
When a new baby arrives, friends and neighbors often rally to coordinate meals for the busy parents. Consider offering the same kind of support to foster parents occupied with the needs of making a new foster child feel welcome.
Katie Pawlack of Mason vividly remembers the initial struggle of adjusting to life with their new foster son who was placed with them at three weeks old. He was struggling with withdrawal from his mother’s substance abuse during her pregnancy. At the time, the Pawlack family had two biological daughters at home ages 5 and 3. Katie says their life was turned upside down for several months before establishing new routines and settling into life with three young children.
“Just as when a new baby is born, new parents of foster children spend a lot of time and energy adjusting and helping their other kids through the adjustment,” says Katie. “Our foster son was a very high needs baby who needed to be held all the time which made dinner prep very difficult. We received meals several times a week for a few weeks and it was a lifesaver! Another idea would be to host a freezer meal workshop on behalf of the family and fill their freezer with meals ready to go.”
Pitch in with errands.
Foster children may arrive with very little clothing or toiletry and personal items. Offer to make a trip to the store to pick up essentials for the new foster family. Helping with tasks like lawn mowing or house cleaning can ease the burden for foster parents busy attending to their new family addition.
“I think really practical help at the beginning is the most beneficial so the foster parents can just focus on what is most important: helping the new child/children to adjust to the new home, developing trust, bonding and helping biological children adjust,” says Kerry Garvin, a foster parent from Landen.
Be able to babysit.
Foster children may not be able to be left with a babysitter unless the sitter has had their background checked and is certified in CPR. This can create an obstacle for many foster families in need of a sitter. Consider taking these steps so you can step in as a sitter when the foster parents need to attend appointments, or just need a break.
Bob and Jessica Groves of West Chester foster through Butler County Children’s Services. Jessica is thankful for the people in her community who took steps to ensure they would be certified to legally babysit her foster children. “Community is key. There was a friend who offered to babysit our foster son for a night so I could have a break from sleepless nights with an infant going through withdrawal,” she says. “Having people who are truly in it with the foster family is invaluable.”
Offer respite care.
Respite care providers offer short-term child care services to foster families, giving them an opportunity to rest and recharge.
“Respite care is a great way to provide services to youth for those families who are unable to make a long-term commitment to foster children,” says Forney. “It is a vital resource for our foster parents and helps prevent their burnout. While providing respite care you can form a long-term relationship with foster youth and serve in a mentoring capacity. You can be a part of a youth’s larger story and share your life experiences with them.”
Encourage your children to reach out.
For kids new to a different foster family, school and community, a friendly face of someone their own age can help make their adjustment a little easier. Talk with your children about the importance of making all kids feel welcome and ask foster parents the best way your children might be able to connect with kids in their care.
Become a court appointed special advocate volunteer.
Court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers are empowered by the courts to advocate on behalf of a child in foster care. Volunteers for CASA collect information from key people in a child’s life such as foster parents, teachers and social workers and use that data to make a recommendation to the judge concerning the best long-term placement for the child. There are several CASA organizations in the Cincinnati area; visit www.casaforchildren.org to find out more.
As many parents know, becoming a mother or father often makes one feel an empathy for all children – not just your own. If fostering a child is something you are considering, please take the time to find out more about the process. As Forney says, “If a family wants to take the first step to learn more, they can contact any foster care agency and ask for an inquiry packet which will give more information about that agency as well as the requirements for becoming licensed as a foster parent. A family can visit our website at www.focusonyouth.com for more information on our agency, or they can visit www.hckids.org/foster-parenting/cfcc/ to learn about a collaborative of foster care agencies in the Cincinnati area dedicated to working together to find qualified foster parents.”
If you are unable to become a foster parent but still feel compelled to help, the time and energy you spend supporting foster kids and families is valuable, appreciated and instrumental to their success.