I find that these posts are easier to write when I’m feeling a little emotional. Maybe that takes the edge off some of my cynicism or something, I dunno.
They’re also easier to write when I’m enjoying a beer and/or a stogie on the back deck, but that’s another story.
This evening I have the benefit of both factors, so buckle your seatbelts! [Disclaimer: Please do not read blog posts while driving.]
The reason I’m feeling a little emotional is because I got to share in the celebration of Adoption Day for Thomas by my co-conspirator/blogger Zach and his wife. After they returned from the court hearing this morning and had lunch and bowling with Thomas’ now-official grandparents, we went out to the lake on my boat for some tubing, then came back to my house for pizza and a home-made cake. (From scratch, I might add. Also I’ll add that I was the one who baked it. Dominos made the pizza.)
The cake was a surprise, but we had great fun pulling Thomas’ leg telling him ahead of time that the reason he needed to save room after pizza was for the “Broccoli Surprise” that I had made, saying it was a traditional celebratory food in my family and I was excited to share it with them. The look of relief on his face when he saw it was a cake, and not broccoli, when I lifted the cover was very obvious.
Now that you know why I’m feeling a little sappy, I’ll get to the point of the post. My desire to bake a celebratory cake came from a conversation between Zach and myself along the lines of, “What do you do to celebrate the adoption of an older kid? Everything I can find seems geared toward little kids.” I suggested cake, and then offered to make it. Which started me thinking about ways to help foster families through the journey. And now, finally, the point of the post: Fostering or adopting kids may not be for everyone. However that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to help out. Here are some ideas of practical things you can help. This means that much of this post is geared toward folks who aren’t necessarily foster dads (or moms), but toward those who know and care for (or at least kinda like) them.
But before I get to that, a word to the foster dads out there. I’ll speak from experience that it can be very difficult to ask for help. So I’m going to tell all your buddies some things they can offer to do–but when they ask, you need to be willing to accept the offer! I’m so thankful for a work friend who several years ago asked me, and then pressed me, for an answer of something she could do.
Many of the ideas are from things I personally found helpful, but when I did a quick survey of other foster/adoptive parents, the themes seemed to ring true.
Number One on everyone’s list: Food!
When my friend finally was able to get an answer out of me, I said that some pre-prepared and frozen meals was at the top of my list, followed closely by restaurant gift cards. A common theme among those I surveyed was “Please bring a pizza over once in a while!”
Everyone is busy, but on top of the normal things any family has, there is a lot more to plan for with children in foster care. These include a plethora of visits with workers in the home. (Each kid has one or two workers, plus the family also has a worker. Most of the time the kid’s workers need to see them once a month, and the family worker has to come anywhere from once a month to weekly. So if the family has multiple foster children, it can quickly add up to a LOT of case workers.) Many kids in foster care also need mental health treatment, so you may have to add therapist and mental health case manager appointments to the list. In my state, (and probably many others) any new placement is supposed to go for a medical checkup, a dentist check, and eye check within a couple weeks of placement. All of these things take so much time, so having something quick and easy to prepare for dinner is incredibly helpful. Especially within the first few days of taking a new placement, but really any time.
Number Two: Understanding
Life can quickly become crazy when you are trying to care for a kid who is, uh, “colorful.” So please be understanding when the house is messy. Or kids are screaming and your foster dad friend is ignoring it when you think the kid needs some kind of discipline. Or you notice that the police are at the house more often than normal. Those sorts of things are very normal in the life of a foster parent.
We appreciate it when you join us in accepting that this life is weird and roll with the punches.
Along these lines, a “what not to do:” Please don’t ask the family why the kid is in foster care or what their parents did to have the removed or anything like that. The kids aren’t a trainwreck to be observed. The problems that led them to be in foster care are their own. And the families are also required by law to keep it private. So don’t do it!
Number Three: Time and Talents
This one comes in a lot of different ways. Multiple foster parents who responded to my “survey” indicated that something they would love is to have someone come help clean the house. Indeed, once a friend came and cleaned my house as a Father’s Day gift. I’ve had others help out with this a couple other times and each is wonderful!
Perhaps cleaning isn’t your forte. That’s fine. Maybe you know how to change the oil in the car. Or maybe you at least can drive the car to the local “Kwik-E-Lube.” Or maybe you can pick up groceries. Or babysit. Surely there is something you know how to do that is generally a pain in the ass or a time suck that you could offer to help out with. Get creative!
Along these lines, maybe you have access to some fun activity that you can invite the foster family to do with you. Or provide gift cards for them to be able to go out somewhere. A day without a planned activity can be terrifying!
Number Four: Come Hang Out
Here’s the deal. Taking care of kids you didn’t make can be ridiculously difficult at times. And sometimes I need to have some kind of adult conversation or “man time.” But due to the circumstances, I can’t necessarily leave the house. I can think of more than one time where I/we was/were invited to a friend’s house to watch a game or have dinner or whatever, and the kid didn’t want to go. All of a sudden I have to weigh whether I want to go over there and fight the kid to get there (which means everyone is frustrated), or if it is even worth it at all. There have been times when I either had to decline an invitation or cancel because the argument with the kids is just so arduous that I can’t make it.
Offers to come over to drink a couple beers or watch a game at my place vs. making me have to figure out how to leave the house are immensely appreciated. (And to the wives who do whatever it takes to allow their husbands to do this, thank you too!)
Number Five: Babysit/Respite
In my little survey, this was another big area of need. One of the reasons I choose to primarily take older kids is because, generally, they are allowed some amount of “self care” time (i.e., time when they are allowed to be by themselves for a little while). For me, babysitting is less of an issue. However, in my state no child under 12 is allowed self care time, so that means there are a whole lot of kids who do need babysat from time to time!
Several people mentioned specifically needing babysitting while they attended court hearings and such for a kid, but really, we all know that everyone needs to be able to get away for an hour or two.
For me, the bigger thing was having someone to provide a little bit of longer term respite care. Having a person or family who is willing and able to come and stay at my house for a couple nights while I left town for work or took a much-needed long weekend trip is a huge blessing.
Certainly I can request official respite through the foster system, but around here that nearly always means that the workers are begging another foster family to take the kids for the weekend. (I know, because I’ve taken a kid for this a few times.)
That is all well and good, but I see a couple of huge benefits from having friends do this instead. First, the kiddos (usually) get to stay in the home, so there is less disruption in their lives while I’m away. Second, most likely the person I’m having stay in the home is someone they are already familiar with. So all around it makes everything go a little more smoothly. And, frankly, I’ve found it can be much simpler to arrange respite like this anyway.
For someone who is willing to do this, in most locales, being approved is usually as simple as having a background check done (possibly to include fingerprints) which will then allow you to be placed on the “Approved Persons List” for your friend’s foster family. If you know a foster family, offer to be on their list. If you are willing to do this for ANY family, consider becoming licensed and just sign up to provide respite (see note below.)
For foster dads who are thinking, “Wow, that would be great to have someone like this! But I don’t!” I encourage you to simply ask! Think of people you know who have shown interest in the kids. Or maybe someone you don’t know as well from church or a co-worker. For me personally, I’ve had success asking younger co-workers I’m friends with who don’t yet have kids of their own. But I imagine that another great resource would be a recently-retired or empty nester couple. Families with kids can certainly help too, though in all practicality you’d probably have to have your kids stay at their homes. I’m sure you know someone who would be happy to help–they are just waiting for you to ask!
Note: I am not intending to disparage respite through the foster system though. I know that there are homes that cannot take long-term placements but are licensed so that they can provide respite, and I know that many times these homes see the same kids over and over and do develop relationships with the kids. If that is you, THANK YOU! You are providing an incredibly valuable service too!
Number Six: Prayer
Just in case it hasn’t been clear before: even though I may be a little crass or cuss every once in a while, I am a Christian. And as a part of that faith, I very much believe in the power of prayer. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we’d hope for whatever reason, but I’ve seen the effects of prayer too much to believe otherwise. I believe all of the more hands-on things I’ve outlined above are very important, but prayer is too and it is something that anyone can do at any time.
So pray for the families who are providing foster care. Pray for the kids who are in foster care. Pray for the parents who are working to get their kids back from foster care. Pray for the parents who aren’t working to get their kids back, that their hearts would soften. Pray for the teachers, therapists, case managers and anyone else who works with the kids.
Pray for patience and wisdom for everyone working with the kid or trying to help them. Pray for a softened and receptive heart for the kid who has been hurt by all of the trauma that they’ve endured. Pray that they will be receptive to the good things that others are trying to show them. Pray for more people to help the system, in every capacity. Pray about what YOU should be doing (and then listen!).
Now that I’ve gotten past that appeal, here are a couple pro-tips on how to do it.
At least for me, I know that I am guilty of telling someone, “I’m praying for you” but not really doing it. I think that is just human and can be a way we tell others that we care. But the tip is to actually pray for them! If your friend is telling you about a particularly rough day with their foster child(ren) take a moment to actually pray for them. You can do it in person of course, but you can also write it out and text them or whatever. When people have done this for me, every time I find it deeply meaningful and helpful.
Another is something I learned a very long time ago from a “Junior Church” teacher. (Shout out to Mrs. Rogers!) Sometimes it seems like we completely randomly think of someone. It’s just like, for no reason at all, their name pops in our head out of the blue. Without trying to be “super spiritual,” perhaps the reason you thought of that person is because of a prompting by the Holy Spirit to pray for them. So go ahead and do it. And then let the person know you did it! I’ve gotten (seemingly) random texts from people telling me they prayed for me/my boys in the past, and WOW is that ever meaningful and always just what I needed at that time. And even though it may feel a little awkward, it is just as meaningful to be the one sending the message.
Hopefully this post finds itself to a few people who have thought about how they would love to help out with foster care and adoption, but just aren’t sure what to do or how to help. If you are one of those people, then I’ll give you one last plea to think of ways you can help out, and then go offer to do so! If you are a foster dad (or mom!) and could use a little help, please don’t be afraid to ask (or be afraid to accept).
What have I missed? What are some things you’ve found incredibly helpful? Please let us know!