Do you know a foster family in your church, school, or community? Have you wanted to come alongside a youth and/or family and didn’t know what you could offer? We believe you are uniquely and perfectly positioned to engage today, right where you are, with the gifts, talents, resources, and passions you have to impact your community.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and with over 407,000 youth in foster care across the country, the needs are many, but so are the opportunities! The range of ways to come alongside foster youth and families is only limited by your imagination. We want to encourage you that it doesn’t take starting a new organization or initiative, a large budget, or more time than you already have. There are ways you can simply enhance what you are already doing, come alongside those already serving, or even fill a gap.
To get you started, we have listed 10 ways to become involved that explore how you can make a difference in the lives of youth and families in foster care in your church, school, neighborhood, and community.
- Celebrations. Do you love creating fun and special memories? Many times, youth in foster care don’t have anyone to celebrate them or their milestones. With graduation season quickly approaching (if it hasn’t already), honoring the hard work for youth is imperative, as is celebrating the families that helped them achieve that goal. It doesn’t have to be a big party, but a thoughtful gesture of balloons, cupcakes, or a special gift can make a world of difference by helping a child or youth to feel seen and helping a family who may not have the means to provide a celebration.
- Food. Whether you love to cook or are really good at pick-up groceries, these are practical ways to bless a family with a good meal or alleviate the time spent running out to pick up groceries. Coordinating with a foster family for one night a month or picking up groceries when you are already out is a helpful way to come alongside a family and be part of the highlight of the day – mealtime.
- Life Skills. Learning how to create a budget, grocery shop for healthy foods, or understand car maintenance are all opportunities to educate youth so that they can excel when they are on their own. Equipping youth with skills they may not know they need to know – or skills they already have than can be improved upon. From cooking to interview skills to gardening, consider what you love to do and explore how you can share that with the youth in your community. You may be just the person to introduce them to this new skill!
- Sponsorships. When school lets out for summer break, having something to look forward to can be hopeful for both foster parents and youth. Consider how you can sponsor a summer camp or activity for a foster family, providing an experience they will never forget. Connect with a local community or recreational center, social worker, or community advocacy group to learn how you can offer a membership or sponsorship to a family for a specific event, camp, or activity such as theater, art, or sports. Covering a registration cost can allow a family to have all their children participate and create lasting memories.
- Respite. Every parent can use a time to refresh and rejuvenate. Serving as a respite parent(s) can be a way to keep a family strong so they can continue to pour into the lives of the youth in their home. That may look like caring for children for an evening or weekend while your church or group offers a parents night out with free babysitting, a gift card for dinner, or a group outing to a movie.
- New Placements. Being part of the joy and anticipation of a new placement is a valuable part of celebrating a foster youth. Whether it is a welcome dinner or gift box with special items for the child/youth, these are ways you can be part of a foster youth’s first experience with a family. Preventing a new placement from feeling daunting, overwhelming, and scary can be a unique opportunity for you or your group to create an environment of joy, love, and support. Allowing foster youth and families to see and know you are there for them can keep them strengthened.
- Check-In. Phone calls, texts, and notes can be an opportunity to let a foster family know they are seen, supported, and cheered on. Often, needs can go unmet because we don’t ask. Waiting for a family to raise the flag when in need may be too late and may discourage a family from continuing to accept placements. Identifying the foster families in your church, school, and community and checking in can be the boost of encouragement they need to not feel alone or overwhelmed.
- Repairs. Every home and car need repairs at some point. Coming alongside a foster family and meeting needs that help keep a home and schedule running is an opportunity to be a trusted person they can contact, alleviating the stress and burden repairs can bring. This service also involves you in keeping the youth safe and the family strengthened. Consider the various home repairs that are often necessary (electrical, plumbing, carpentry, renovation, yard, etc.), as well as auto (oil changes, new tires, inspections, etc.), and consider where your skills may be an opportunity to serve.
- Mentor/Tutor. Children and youth may struggle academically when moving schools, fall behind, or simply lose motivation. Offering to meet with a student to tutor them in a specific subject can be the intentional support they need to regain academic confidence in order to flourish in ways they didn’t know were possible. Additionally, you may have insights and experiences that can be vital to youth in their formative years. Having a consistent person in their life who can be a safe person to listen, offer advice, or celebrate with them can be transformative. It may seem foreign to them but can be rewarding for both the youth and the mentor.
- Family Supports. Coming alongside the entire family is just as important as supporting foster youth and parents. Celebrating the blending of a new family is a perfect way to bring joy and encouragement. Consider providing dinner, a fun outing, or a creative bonding opportunity that allows everyone to come together – this presents a practical way for you to be part of the momentum that starts the family off on the right foot.
These families are often right in our midst and have needs that we can be the answer to. We just need to ask. Knowing about foster care isn’t enough; we have to know how to apply that knowledge so we can be activated to be change makers. These are just a few ways we suggest you can be part of the amazing journey of caring for kids in your community. We hope this blog helps illuminate ways that you can take the knowledge you have, apply it, and be activated in your community.
If you are looking to be connected with foster families in your community, connect with your local department of social services and share your goal to come alongside youth and families to keep them strengthened and encouraged. You can also contact your local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) office to learn how you can support youth in their care. Find out if your community is connected with Care Portal and be alerted to tangible and practical needs you can meet.
Miracles can happen, we’ve seen it. Let us know how you have engaged and the impact you have experienced!