Not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can make a difference in the life of a child.
We consulted the experts (actual foster parents) and came up with a list of tangible ways you can support your friend, family member, or Coyote Hill Home Parent in their fostering journey.
Julia and Chris Halsey have been foster parents for over four years. They currently have four children in their home, ranging in age from one to five years old. Jolanda and Lorenzo Scott were Home Parents at Coyote Hill from 2009-2011. For the last seven years they’ve had a few kinship placements. In 2016 they adopted their teenage son.
If the family is fostering multiple children (more than half of children in foster care have siblings in care, too) offer to take one child to the park or out for lunch with your family. Consider swapping childcare with them. Watch their children for an evening, then they can watch yours another evening. Both couples get a date night.
Under the Missouri Normalcy Act it’s much easier as a family friend to babysit children in foster care. Background checks for friends are unnecessary for sleepovers, visits and riding in cars.
“Some of the most rejuvenating moments were having someone come in and hold my newborn baby while I made Thanksgiving dinner. I felt supported. I felt seen.” — Jolanda
Text your friend, send a handwritten card or an email to say, “I’m praying for you today.”
“Knowing that someone is praying for you is huge. If you know anything about the foster care system, specific prayers for a court date or FST (family support team) meeting is extremely encouraging.” — Julia
As a church, volunteers in children’s ministry or even door greeters can make a lasting impression by taking notice of the foster family. Helping them get to their classrooms, or giving them a little extra attention while they are there really helps children feel welcomed into a church.
What may seem like small moments are actually some of the greatest gifts to a foster parent. Instead of trying to get your friend out to a coffee shop, which requires them to find childcare, try going to their home and looking for small ways to bless them.
Grab a broom and start sweeping. Or casually say, “I’d like to fold some laundry, or do your dishes while we talk.” Rather than asking them to come up with an idea of what needs done in their home, take the initiative.
“It’s always time we need. It’s not a monetary thing. It’s sitting and chatting on the floor. It’s saying ‘I see your dishes aren’t done. I’m going to do them. You are going to sit and talk to me.’ It’s ten minutes. It’s a moment. It’s those little moments that are so big.
“Also, don’t be afraid to be an introvert for a person. Don’t feel bad about being the person who just sits next to the mom or dad who just needs to sit. You are a gift to them.” – Jolanda
Offer to meet a foster parent for a walk with the kids or meet at the park.
Offer to chop/prep their food for the week. Do it together or do it while they take a shower or rest. You can really love a foster parent by going to their home and serving them in the mundane tasks of the life.
What you say to a foster parent matters. Some well intentioned words can actually be more discouraging than you think.
“I had so many people come up and say, ‘I couldn’t do what you do.’ or ‘It takes a special kind of person. You must be a saint.’
“But I’m not. I’m just a regular person. Hearing so much of ‘well this is why I can’t do this…’ can actually make me start questioning myself. Am I doing something weird, am I doing too much? Those thoughts can then lead me to pride or doubt, like maybe I am supposed to be tired. Maybe I’m not being normal?
What should you say instead?
“I can see light in you. I can see that Christ is working through you. What can my role be in this? How can I walk with you?
“Some of the best moments happened when people listened and told me it’s okay to be a mess. I need to hear it’s okay to be a mess, because Jesus is there to clean it up. You are just the facilitator. You don’t need to be spotless.” – Jolanda
5. Gifts of Stuff
Foster parenting costs families money. Utilities go up. Activities have monthly fees. More food, diapers, car seats, etc. are needed. Yes, there are reimbursements from the Division of Children’s Services, but on average that reimbursement rate only covers 45% of the actual cost of raising a child. Also, the payment from the state always comes after a child is placed in their home, often a full month later.
Take Them A Meal: One of the best things you can do when someone gets a new foster placement is to set up a meal train for the first month. Invite friends and family and other church members to take the family a meal.
Walmart/Amazon help: Julia said, “One of the best texts or calls you can receive as a foster parent is ‘I am at Walmart, what can I get for you?’ Or send practical gifts directly to their front door via Amazon.” (Coyote Hill’s Wish List). Small care packages for each person in the family are a blessing. An example of a Mom’s care package may include: a snack just for her, pair of leggings, book, nail polish, and chapstick.
Give A Month of Activities: Foster parents are often excellent at enrolling their children in activities for the first time. Most children, regardless of age, haven’t participated in a school activity, taken swim lessons, or played a sport in the summer.
Julia says, “Gymnastics are helping our children with their physical therapy needs. It’s become part of our routine. A month of gymnastic lessons or swim lessons would be a real gift.”
Some families may qualify for a scholarship opportunity through the Day Dreams Foundation.
Whatever way you step in to serve, do it authentically and with a desire to be in relationship with them. Foster parenting comes with unique challenges, but if families know they are supported, it helps them to continue fostering, and more families will become foster parents. Ultimately, more children will have a safe place to be a child.