May is National Foster Care Month and a simple slogan conveys a profound mission: “Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families.”
I admire those families that provide care to the over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
Foster families have answered the call to not only provide care for kids with nowhere else to go, but to further strengthen the biological families of foster kids – many of which will regain custody of their children at a later date.
The commitment of foster families is incredible – certainly worth much more than a month of national adoration.
I must say, though, I feel odd talking about foster care advocacy. I’m not a foster parent.
I don’t see a clear path for me to become a foster parent any time soon.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t help.
National Foster Care Month is not about me – it is about far too many children stuck in a system that is too often only spoken about in a negative light.
It’s about over-worked case workers and a stressed system that struggles to keep up.
May is about the foster families that are both heart-broken and hopeful as the child they have loved is reunited with a biological parent or family member.
I may not be ready to foster, but I can help change the dialogue – we all can.
The truth is, I can help kids in foster care in a number of ways that stop short of being a full-fledged foster parent.
Helping children in foster care is not an all-or-nothing scenario. In fact, here are the five actions I can take today, if I so choose:
(1) Find and call an agency in your community.
Rest assured, there is an agency in your community that needs help to serve the needs of local foster children. A cold call into a nearby agency is easy – beginning by saying that you’d like to help and ending with asking what is needed.
If you don’t know who to call, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway for a directory of agencies near you.
Make time to learn about programs like the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids or read the about national resources from AdoptUSKids. There is much work to do and so many worthy organizations doing it each and every day.
(2) Become a CASA (court appointed special advocate) volunteer.
A CASA is tasked with gathering information about a foster child’s life for the purpose of helping a judge formulate a decision about a child’s most appropriate permanent home.
Being a CASA requires no special skills – a CASA need not be a social worker or lawyer. The passing of a 30-minute class and a background check is all that is needed to step in and help.
(3) Provide respite care to foster families.
Foster families need time away from time to time – for a date, a long weekend or a trip outside of the local area.
They can better do so only if their foster kids are cared for my individuals qualified to provide the respite care needed.
Requirements for becoming a respite care provider for foster families varies, so please contact an agency in your area to explore this option.
(4) Donate to community programs that benefit children.
Give consideration to providing resources to the organizations that are serving your community via a cash donation or through giving of school supplies, back-packs or clothing items.
Organizations like Together We Rise take donations to fund the delivery of bags to hold the belongings of foster children as they enter and exit a home. Without such organizations, foster kids would be given a trash bag to carry valuables from home-to-home – a terrible thought.
(5) Talk about kids in need – even to your kids.
Talking about adoption and foster care starts in our homes, with our kids and permeates outward into the communities in which we reside.
All kids will encounter a foster child as they grow up – at school, on the baseball team or in the march band. Foster kids are normal and great – trying to do the best they can just like all of us.
The subject of foster care is not taboo, and certainly not negative.
During May, lets re-read the slogan for National Foster Care Month, “Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families” often – as many times that is takes to propel us to action.
After all, there are over 400,000 kids that deserve this simple gesture from each of us.