If you read last week’s column, you know the dire shortage of both traditional and kinship foster families in Oklahoma. Numerous state officials are pleading with Oklahomans, just like you and me, to consider opening their homes to foster children. There are children in our community in need of a safe, nurturing home where they can grow, play, learn and sleep without concern.
So who is a foster parent or what does that look like? Many of the foster parents we know did not spend years dreaming about caring for children without safe homes. They simply saw the great need, opened their hearts to the possibility and reached out to help. They are few and more of them are needed.
But you may be reading this and know that foster care is not the best option for your home right now. Foster care is not a decision that can be made lightly and may not be right for everyone – and that is more than okay. Because, you see, there are still ways you can help. You are still needed.
We reached out to foster parents and caseworkers to learn how friends, family, neighbors, churches and our overall community could best support them. As one foster mom describes, “Scrambling to pick up everything needed before the child arrives is difficult and changes each time depending on the age of the placement. It’s hurry and wait, and coping with high emotions, new babies, new behaviors and settling into a new normal can be exhausting.” So, to help ease the exhaustion and show our thanks, here are some of the ideas to help foster families:
- Bring a meal or organize a MealTrain when a foster family receives a new placement.
- Offer to babysit so foster parents can have a break. When you have expanded your family, it can be hard to find and afford a babysitter.
- Ask the child’s name or the name he/she will be going by then be sure to use that name. Avoid referring to the child with labels like “the foster kid”.
- Donate clothes or essentials if you know a family recently welcomed a child. Budget cuts have eliminated clothing vouchers for foster children, often leaving them coming into custody with only the clothes on their backs. In our new facility, Ray of Hope will proudly house an emergency clothing closet to help defray the foster child’s immediate needs.
- Gift diapers, formula or a few small toys. Remember, no vouchers mean zero upfront assistance with baby essentials.
- Local entertainment venues could consider a “foster day” to help make it more affordable. Some families care for multiple foster kids, so activities such as bowling, movies, zoos or trampoline parks are very expensive for everyone to enjoy together.
- Don’t ask why the child has been removed from his/her home. Foster children have already lost so much of their privacy, and most of that information is privileged and not to be shared.
- Not for the weak of heart, but don’t be afraid to help when things get nitty-gritty. For instance, if a child comes to a foster family with lice, grab some gloves, a comb and offer to help with the treatments.
- Offer to carpool or drive kids to activities. For example, if a foster family has two biological school age kids and a school age foster child, they all may have soccer, baseball or dance lessons on the same night. If there is a new foster baby, offer to drive older kiddos to school.
- Sponsor a summer camp fee or activity fee. Foster families can be strained to pay for numerous camp, sports or dance sign ups, but foster children still deserve to participate and develop like all kids. When you offer to help defray the costs, understand that placement changes may mean the child can’t complete the year – but the opportunity to participate is important.
- Do ask the foster parent, “How are you doing?” Many people remember to check on how the foster child is adjusting, but taking a minute to care about the caregivers is important. Maybe send a thinking of you or “thank you” card. Throw in a gift card to Starbucks or bring a Frappuccino to foster mom or dad at football practice.
- Consider becoming OKDHS approved as a “respite home”, which is for an overnight stay. This can greatly help foster parents who need to go out of town or are sick because foster children can only stay overnight with OKDHS approved care.
- Keep the family and children in your prayers regularly.
- Don’t ask how long the foster family will have them. Each case is different and foster parents don’t usually know how it will play out. Their answer will usually be, “As long as they need us.”
Kayla Bean Tur is a native Bartian with experience working with foster children. When asked about her experience fostering she said, “Many people have this idea that foster kids are all troubled kids who are hard to handle. There are indeed difficult kids. But kids in good stable homes can be difficult too! The 12 kids I’ve had in my home have all been ‘normal’ kids who are sweet, scared, confused, sad, loving and desperately needing to just be kids. They need to have fun, be loved and be safe. Don’t tell [foster parents] that we are heroes or super human because we aren’t. We are just doing something that needs to be done. If we don’t do it, who will? We are not special. We get heart broken, we get frustrated and we get exhausted! We are normal moms and dads who need your help!”
Kayla, like many foster parents, does not consider her selfless care and love heroic. But to be clear, someone please send her a cape – along with food, diapers and a few hours of free Saturday babysitting.