A sweet couple announces they are having a baby. Yay! Celebrations abound. First there’s the gender reveal party, then the baby showers. Ultrasound pictures are shared. The couple spends several months decorating the nursery and preparing for their little one. The big day arrives with much anticipation, and soon a meal train is set up so the new parents can place their full focus on their little bundle of joy. Friends deliver flowers, food, and all manner of gifts. The new family is celebrated with much love and excitement. It’s wonderful how we rally around new parents to show our love, support, and encouragement. I remember being that overwhelmed new mom and how vital it was to have the support and encouragement of friends and family.
Have you ever thought about what it looks like when a new child enters a foster home? I hadn’t either, until I was the mom of that foster home. I quickly learned that it is nothing like the much-anticipated baby described above. Imagine this scenario: You get a call from social services asking if you will take two babies. You had no idea you were getting a call that day, but you quickly rearrange your plans and begin to prepare for the new little ones, who will be at your house in about three hours. That’s right, three hours. Not three months or three weeks or even three days. You have three hours to prepare a room, pick up some diapers of various sizes, and take a quick inventory of what you have. You haven’t had a baby at your house in 12 years, so you have no baby toys, bouncy seats, or swing. Literally all you have is a changing pad, a few baby blankets, and one unassembled crib you purchased just in case this day came. But even then, you were prepared for one baby, not two. The room you want to place them in currently has two twin beds, which had been occupied by the previous foster children in your home. You’re wondering when you’ll even be able to get the room arranged enough to put these little ones to bed tonight.
That is pretty much what preparing for a foster child looks like. No fanfare, no congratulations, no meal train, no gifts. Just some foster parents hurriedly scraping together as much as they can to try to welcome these precious children. Sometimes those foster parents are even less prepared, because they receive a call about a child who is a distant relative in need of a home. Foster care wasn’t even on their radar, yet they agree to completely rearrange their lives to welcome a little one who they never anticipated. God bless the people who do that.
Of course, welcoming a foster child into your home is unlike the couple welcoming a new baby they’ve dreamed of for months. The fact that a child is removed from their home for any reason is not cause for celebration. They are leaving all they’ve ever known and entering a home with strangers. Many times, these sweet, traumatized children cry themselves to sleep, wondering where they are and why. However, that family needs as much support as, or even more than, the family welcoming home their just-born biological child.
How Can You Help?
Are you wondering what exactly these foster families need as they start the journey with a new child? First consider the pregnant couple excitedly preparing for a baby and think about what you would do for them. Offer to bring them a meal, ask them if they need anything, ask if there’s anything you can pick up from the store, offer to babysit. The needs are different for each family, so if you know a foster family you want to help, ask them.
Here Are Some Ideas
- Bring a meal. When we welcomed our latest foster baby last year, I had two friends offer to bring meals for us. It was such a blessing. One even brought a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings! That was so amazing and such a welcome sight after we’d been surviving on whatever I could throw together for dinners. If you’re not a cook or don’t have the time, have a pizza delivered. Anything helps a busy family, especially the first few days when they are still getting their bearings.
- Babysit. Every county and state has their own rules, in fact my county recently changed theirs, but babysitting for foster children can be complicated. You may need to get fingerprinted, have background checks, and even take some classes. Because of this, babysitters are hard to come by. Our family had to go out of town for an emergency shortly after our two little girls came, and we learned how difficult it can be to find care on short notice. Every respite provider in the county was called, and none were willing or able to take them. Oftentimes, foster parents end up asking each other for help, but that is not the best-case scenario as their plates are already full. If you are a person who cares about children in the foster care system but you aren’t able to be a foster parent right now, I urge you to look into becoming a respite provider. Or if you just want to bless one or two foster families that you know, ask what you need to complete to babysit for them, and then offer to watch their foster kids on a regular basis. We have one friend who has done that for us, and she has been the biggest blessing! She loves our kids so much, and they are always excited when she comes over.
- Pray. This sounds simple but it is invaluable. There are a few people I message when a new child is on the way, asking them to pray. We have no idea who is coming or what to expect, what kind of trauma they have endured or what exactly they will need from us. Prayers make so much difference in the first few days as we are getting to know each other and sorting everything out. Ask foster families you know how you can pray for them.
- Donate Supplies. We were so blessed the first few weeks with our baby girls, as my husband’s coworkers began donating baby supplies. We had no baby toys or furniture at first, but he came home almost daily with something. Even now, he occassionaly comes home with loads of clothes and toys for our girls. I am certain that most foster families don’t have an automatic support system like this. If you know a foster family you would like to help, ask them what they need. Or ask if they have need of anything your own children have outgrown. If you are in the Minneapolis area, check out my friend’s organization, The Heart Of Foster Care. They collect supplies and put together bags that can be given to foster children when they arrive at a new home. Often children come with nothing of their own, and knowing that someone cared enough to put together a package with some personal hygiene items, a blanket, and a few toys or books can be such a comfort.
Those are the supports that have been most valuable to us as a foster family. Of course there are many ways to show your support, and the needs are different for each family. Here are some other ideas I’ve heard: transportation, car maintenance, attend court/appointments with them, lawn care, groceries, house cleaning.
Hopefully by now you’ve figured out the answer to the question in the title of this article. What’s missing in foster care? It’s you! Your support can make all the difference to a foster family navigating life with traumatized children. No family can do it alone. They need moral support, hands-on support, and prayer support. Please reach out today to a foster family you know and ask them how you can help.