When a friend or family member becomes a foster parent it can be really exciting! But it’s also a time when their life is being turned upside down. You want to help but you don’t want to intrude.
Items that don’t expire and can be used for a variety of things are really nice to have. You don’t know the exact age, gender, or number of foster kids they will have over time and it is nice to have flexible resources for today’s need.
- Gift Cards: Big-box retailer cards are helpful to have on hand for a family that might suddenly need to buy new clothes or toys to tide them until their clothing stipend is available. Common fast-casual restaurants or food delivery services are great too and can simplify organizing dinner when they are in a rush.
- Photography Session: While not all foster placements are long-term, having a way to remember those times with professional photos is a great sentimental gift. You can search for local photographers that can do on-location, mini-sessions too which can feel more casual for older foster kids. (Note: Be sensitive about how “family photos” may feel to an older child. Younger children or siblings might enjoy getting their pictures taken, but older children might feel resistant to the idea. Don’t force it.)
- Babysitting: Offering to coordinate a babysitter or to be a babysitter gives the foster parents a much needed break. Placements can happen quickly and it can be very hard to sit back and relax during all of the commotion. Getting an afternoon or night off is the fastest way for a foster parent to recharge.
- Yard-work or House Cleaning Service: Most foster families overlook the additional responsibilities of appointments and phone calls that come with fostering. Before you know it, keeping up with housework falls off the priority list. Coordinating a service to take over these tasks frees up their the parents’ time for the things they need to do.
Supporting a New Placement
When kids are moving in there is so much going on in a foster parent’s home. Taking on coordination roles with their support system is a huge lift off the parents and lets them focus on the main thing: the kids. You can set up these networks in advance so once that phone call happens everything is ready to roll.
- Organizing a “meal train”: Meal prep and clean-up came be a big time suck. Having a couple meals delivered each week is great. You can use the site MealTrain which is very customizable and has free options.
- Coordinating material needs: Foster parents can’t have everything for every situation on hand in advance especially when they are open to a large age range. Having a network of people they can borrow items from based on the need really helps. Coordinating these resources for a family takes the logistical burden off of them if you can do all the pick-up and drop-offs without the foster family needing to be involved.
Once the foster kids settle in there might be targeted areas the family can use help from others. Maybe the caseworker wasn’t aware of these details or maybe these are new needs for the child. If you want to pursue these options keep in mind the child’s needs and situation. If they have experienced lots of trauma or are having a hard time coping with their situation prepare yourself in advance by learning about these emotional needs. If you are directly providing this service or make sure the person you hire for this role is able to accommodate those needs.
- Tutoring: Academics can be a major stressor for kids and having a separate adult take on this role can reduce the friction the foster parents and foster child have to navigate. An outside voice can support the encouragement the child is receiving and be a good outlet for them to release their frustrations more freely.
- Mentoring: One-on-one relationships are great resources for kids to have and build confidence through. If you have shared experiences with the child (divorced parents, child of a parent with substance abuse, adopted or former foster child, learning disability) you could provide them an excellent sounding board and support pillar that the other adult authority figures in their life can’t relate to.
- Translating: There likely aren’t day-to-day translating needs for the family but there could be bio-family trying to connect with the child with a language barrier. If you can provide that role to help with scheduled calls or translating written communication it can bridge a gap back to their bio-family that can be very comforting and reduce the feeling of starting over the child could have.