Stating the Obvious: Being a Foster Parent can be Hard.
We all know that being a foster parent is hard. Each of us points to a different part of the experience that we relate to when we define the difficulty of it. (1) We may point to the expense of paying for the clothes or activities of another child, because we know that the stipend we receive won’t cover all the things any child needs. Maybe we consider the confounding path of disciplining a child who has known trauma. What can we do to steer this child toward a good outcome for them? How different will it be from steering my nephew or daughter, and how will I know if I got it right? Some people get overwhelmed by the system itself. Just trying to keep track of how many social workers and specialists need to invade your home and your life and your business can be dizzying.
It is no wonder that every state, everywhere has a shortage of homes for foster children.(2) Many foster parents get trained and then don’t continue after the first placement.(3) Some foster parents adopt or have their own children and don’t have enough room in their house to legally foster any more.(4) Then there are the low rates at which the system has been able to attract parents. (5)
What Does a Lack of Foster Families Mean to Foster Children?
All of this leads to children being shoved unnecessarily into group homes, or even put up in hotels.(6) Children are missing out on stability, but also the support of a parent to advocate for them and catch the things that might fall through the cracks. If the adults in a child’s life know them mostly by reports and statistics anything could happen before the first signs are noticed. It is hard enough to monitor the needs of children solidly within a family, let alone those who breeze through housing situations sometimes through no fault of their own. (7)
Could Support for Foster Families be Part of the Answer?
What if, when a foster family does get successfully recruited, they have community support engulfing them to meet their needs and keep them encouraged in their efforts? Studies are starting to show that support groups can keep foster families in the game longer than those families who only have a busy licensing worker making a harried stop by a few times a year. (8) One such support group leader is Lauren. She is the Missions and Ministry Director of Vintage Church Downtown in Raleigh, NC and leads the foster care and adoption ministry there. (9) Her directive is to normalize foster care and adoption in her church and support foster families there and in the broader community.
“In regards to supporting families, we try to provide tangible support through things like free babysitting. We have people that will take the kids out to the park for the afternoon or come over and give the parents a date night for free. We try to provide every foster child their own mentor that will take them out and do special outings with them. We do these events that we call ‘Kid’s Night Out’. It’s like a free date night for the parents but then we organize different activities for the kids and we’ll feed them based on what time of year it is. We’ll do a Christmas party or a Valentine’s party or something like that. Then there are random other things we offer, like we have we have guys that have provided free lawn care for families. We try to help connect them through resources, like counseling. We have a support group that meets once a month to give parents space to talk about what’s going on and just a space where they’re with other people who get what they are going through.”
As Lauren has made foster parenting a known variable in her congregation she has found that others are willing to participate.
“We have two families that have been doing it for a while. One of them has five kids currently and they’re planning to adopt their current foster children. Then the other one has had most of the different placements. We also have three couples that are finishing up training right now to become foster parents so a lot more families are stepping up. We have a single woman who’s going through respite care training, which I think is really amazing. And so I definitely think when it comes to church ministry, it’s kind of a ripple effect. Actually my community leaders were fostering and two other couples in my community group are now in training and I think a big reason why they are is because they saw first-hand their community leaders doing it. And I got to know the kids and fell in love with them and things like that. So I think it’s definitely a ripple effect.”
What Can Support Look Like for Foster Parents?
A church offers a built-in community of people who may be predisposed to help each other, but they are not the only group that can seek out and help foster parents. Schools are another group that may have a built in community to draw from. Then there are individuals who have skills to start a group in the community. Foster parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, anyone who has been touched by foster care or adoption could take the initiative and start a group to help fill the needs of foster families.
Just because you come from the adoption community, doesn’t mean you inherently know how to connect to the families who could use support, or know what to do when you do meet those people. Don’t worry, there is help out there for you. The North American Council on Adoptable Children is one step ahead of you. They have put together an entire training manual about organizing a support group in your area to support foster parents. The training is complete with an “If you have organized a birthday party, you can organize this,” pep talk. (10) Information is available on the types of groups you can establish, how to get the word out and how to run your meetings, along with checklists so you don’t forget to make an agenda for that first get-together. The guide follows you all the way through getting past the ice breakers at your first meeting to helping your happy, healthy group decide to become a non-profit to broaden your influence and fund-raising ability, should you choose that route. If you are still at a loss, the council has staff at the ready at their offices in Minnesota you can call for advice and support.
You can be a Part of the Solution to Provide Stability for Foster Children.
When you look at your calendar and realize that you have exactly two seconds to consider organizing a group like this, the responsibility for supporting foster families is still not off your shoulders. Maybe you and your 2.5 kids and the dog tucked in behind your white picket fence feel far removed from the unpredictable and sometimes horrific world of making sure children from tough backgrounds get the security you and your kids have. You are in a position to seek out an organization around you and give your money to donate, or your time to help with babysitting one day. Making sure children have homes to live in is not just their problem. Foster children who don’t find stability are more likely to end up in prison or worse.
If we can make sure foster families are there for children we can affect our entire community (11). Whether we try to ignore foster care and poverty, we complain that someone should do something, or we are actually in touch with the pulse of the kids in our community who need stability, we all need to step up. Whatever we can do to help foster children and the families that house them won’t just help those kids. The whole community can reap the benefit, including your own family. The connection could come in ways you don’t expect. Making sure foster families feel loved, understood and supported might mean that the foster kid you didn’t even know sat next to your kid in school is being less distracting and getting better grades. All of this might be happening because they know they have somewhere to go home at night that isn’t going to disappear.
(Photo by August de Richelieu)
Listen to the Podcast:
Building a Foster Parent Support Group with Lauren
Morin, Amy. “The Unique Challenges Foster Families Face.” Very Well Family, 7 June 2020, http://www.verywellfamily.com/the-unique-challenges-foster-families-face-4779821.
DeGarmo, John. “THE FOSTER CARE CRISIS: THE SHORTAGE OF FOSTER PARENTS IN AMERICA.” American Society for the Positive Care of Children, americanspcc.org/the-foster-care-crisis-the-shortage-of-foster-parents-in-america/.
DeGarmo, John N. “Foster Parent Retention Revisited.” Foster Focus, edited by Chris Chmielewski, http://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/foster-parent-retention-revisited.
National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning. Limitations on Number of Children in a Foster Home. 2007, http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/downloads/policy-issues/Limitations_on_Number_of_Children.pdf.
Wiltz, Teresa. “As Need Grows, States Try to Entice New Foster Parents.” Pew Trust, 1 Mar. 2019, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/03/01/as-need-grows-states-try-to-entice-new-foster-parents .
Whitehead, Sam. “High-needs foster kids sometimes have to sleep in hotels or offices. The pandemic made the problem worse.” PBS North Carolina, Kaiser Health News, 31 May 2022, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/high-needs-foster-kids-sometimes-have-to-sleep-in-hotels-or-offices-the-pandemic-made-the-problem-worse.
Abramo, Allegra. “Foster care ‘on the cheap’ — Washington’s recipe for failure.” Crosscut, InvestigateWest, 6 Apr. 2017, crosscut.com/2017/04/foster-care-on-the-cheap-washingtons-recipe-for-failure.
Williams, Sarah Catherine, and Elizabeth Bringewatt. “Support for foster parents means better lives for foster youth.” Child Trends, 9 May 2016, http://www.childtrends.org/blog/support-for-foster-parents-means-better-lives-for-foster-youth.
Spiering, Charlyn. “Building a Foster Parent Support Group with Lauren.” , Adoption Uncovered, 2022. http://www.adoptionuncovered.com/episodes/building-a-foster-parent-support-group-with-lauren.
Jerve, Janet. “Starting and Nurturing Adoptive Parent Groups.” North American Council on Adoptable Children, Oct. 2002, nacac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/starting.pdf.
“WHAT IS THE FOSTER CARE-TO-PRISON PIPELINE?” Juvenile Law Center, 26 May 2018, jlc.org/news/what-foster-care-prison-pipeline.