A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Ways to Help Foster Children Without Becoming a Foster Parent

They say that no one escapes childhood unscathed, but for foster children, the saying takes on new meaning. Over 400,000 children are in the foster care system in America. Not everyone has the ability to become a foster parent, but this shouldn't stop you from helping these children. Here are some ways you can help foster children right now.

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Offer to babysit

Foster parents can get overwhelmed with parenting just like anyone else, and they need a break too. One easy way that Irene Clements, Executive Director for the National Foster Parent Association, recommends that others help is to offer to babysit. It provides parents with time to reconnect with one another, run errands without having to take the children with them, and take a break from the stress that so often accompanies daily parenting. They can then return to their children refreshed and ready to provide the love and energy their kids need from them. You can even take it a step further and provide the parents with a gift card to use for dinner out, or create a date night gift basket for them to enjoy. If you don’t know of a foster family personally, contact your local foster agency to find one that might be in need of some extra child care support. Need a sitter for your own kids? Find out 12 ways to find a babysitter you trust.

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Celebrate with them

Part of what can make foster parenting an isolating experience for some is lack of support from family members that fear becoming attached to children that may or may not become permanent members of the family. While the children are placed in a foster home, it is important that they are treated as any other child in the family would be, and this includes celebrations for birthdays and other holidays. You can support a foster family by celebrating birthdays and other milestones with them, and buying birthday or other gifts to help lighten the load for a foster family. Find out what specific things the children enjoy to make sure your gifts are tailored to them. Too often foster children receive gifts that are not purchased with their own preferences in mind, and it’s the little things that go a long way in making a foster child feel special and loved as an individual.

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Be an emotional support for foster parents

Lauren Johnson Jambon is an adoptive mother of two and a foster mother to one. She’s been through a lot as a foster parent, and says that the emotional support she received from others during her first fostering experiences is what helped the most. “In the beginning we had visitations with the birth parents of our daughters weekly, which was traumatic for them and for us,” she recalls. “I would sit in the parking lot and cry, knowing the fear our girls experienced every week.” When her husband couldn’t go with her to the visitations, friends and family stepped in. “They held us together,” she recalls. Find out other things parents of young children want you to know.

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Help the family when plans change quickly

When the Jambon family had been planning for a school-aged little boy to join their family as a foster child and then received two little girls instead, their community jumped in to help them. “People we didn’t even know donated beds, swings, and clothing,” Jambon says. The donations just kept pouring in and it really helped for the months to come.” Plans can change quickly for foster families, and it’s vital that they have the supplies they need to respond to any situation. You can help foster children by donating clothes, toys, furniture, and supplies to local foster organizations, that can distribute them as needs present themselves. Donations are tax deductible, as well.

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Volunteer to tutor a foster child

Another way to help foster children is to become a foster care volunteer and help kids with their homework after school, suggests Clements. Foster children are often moved from school to school, and may have trouble keeping up with curriculum and concepts during all the change. Providing an extra bit of help to a foster child struggling with school can make a difference for the rest of his or her life.

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Throw a baby shower

For foster parents that don’t have biological children, a baby shower to welcome a new child to the family, whatever the age, can go a long way in making the family feel supported. For some, it might be the first time they experience the joy of being the guest of honor at a baby shower. Jambon recalled the time her church surprised her with a shower, saying, “Our church family threw us a “blessings” shower. We were never able to conceive our own children and I always thought I would never have the opportunity to have one. I was so blown away at how beautiful the shower was. It meant everything to me. Flowers, friends, and cake all there because of how much they loved our new family.” If you don’t know of a family personally that is fostering children, consider hosting a community shower that benefits a local foster agency and provides them with the necessities to help first time foster parents.

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Become a court-appointed special advocate

Children in foster care need impartial advocates who can speak on their behalf to ensure they receive the services they need. Becoming a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) to forever change a foster child’s life for the better. A CASA volunteer undergoes a 30-hour training course and a background check, which then enables them to be assigned to a foster child’s case. They gather information from all individuals associated with the child, such as teachers, medical and mental health professionals, and family members, and then provide this information to the court, making recommendations regarding the child’s best interest. There are no professional requirements to become a CASA volunteer, and they welcome people from all walks of life and backgrounds. You can find more information about volunteering with CASA at casaforchildren.org.

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Donate to organizations directly linked to foster care

Look for organizations that make their mission of helping foster youth clear, such as Together We Rise, a non-profit organization that provides duffle bags to foster youth to carry their belongings. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and foster children deserve their own village of supporters, willing to give in whatever way they can to make sure the life of every child is full of love, happiness, and the chance to succeed.

Jen Babakhan
Jen specializes in psychology, wellness, and human-interest stories. She has interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life, from Holocaust and 9/11 survivors to media personalities, and in addition to Reader's Digest, her work has appeared in Guideposts and other national news outlets. Jen's first book, Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey from Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom, ignited a love of serving readers through personal stories. She is currently writing her second book, a nonfiction title for adults with a terminally ill parent.