Week three of our Gospel Justice in Suburbia series addressed the subject of caring for orphans and widows. As mentioned in that sermon, one of the primary ways that Christians in the American suburbs can live out this biblical command is to get involved in the foster care system. For many people, the idea of getting involved in foster care sounds daunting. So, in an effort to help people see how they might be able to contribute, here is a list of twelve ways that people can get involved in foster care or adoption.
1. Become a licensed foster parent
Obviously, this is a significant commitment, and one that should be approached prayerfully and carefully. To become an officially licensed foster parent, you can go directly through the state licensing process or you can go through a private agency such as Olive Crest. If you want to hear from experienced foster parents about this process, please come to our Foster Care Interest meeting on Sunday, November 13.
2. Adopt from foster care
This is an even bigger commitment than simply fostering. In the state of Washington, there are thousands of children waiting to find their forever home. This step should not be taken lightly either, but the reality is that many children who age out of the foster care system without finding a permanent home end up homeless or having significant challenges in adult life.
3. Become a respite provider
A respite provider is someone who is officially licensed by the state to care for foster children for longer periods of time than a “normal” babysitter. Children in foster care have to get permission to leave the state and they’re never allowed to leave the country, so if a foster parent needs to travel for some reason, a respite provider becomes necessary. This is a great mid-level commitment can meet a very practical need.
4. Support existing foster families
This is an easy way to serve that anyone can do. There are already many families in your community who are doing foster care, and practical support is incredibly valuable. You can provide meals, babysit, donate supplies, help with home/car/lawn maintenance, go to court with them, and (most importantly) pray for and with them.
5. Volunteer with Office Moms & Dads
When children are taken into protective custody, they are then brought to an office where they have to sit for hours and wait for the social worker and placement coordinator to make phone calls trying to find a home for them. These children are left sitting in a strange place where they are alone, confused, and scared. Office Moms & Dads spend time at the office with these kids offering to talk to them, play with them, or simply just to be there while they wait. This program has been very successful in Seattle and now the Lynnwood DSHS office is attempting to get enough volunteers to start it up here. Specifically, they are looking for a volunteer to coordinate this program. If interested, contact Mandy Neill from Union Gospel Mission, or visit www.officemomsanddads.com.
6. Become a CASA
A CASA, or court-appointed special advocate, is a person tasked with assessing the familial situation of the child, the child’s opinion, and ensuring they have adequate representation in court. Children in foster care can often feel voiceless and the CASA provides a voice for the child to all relevant parties in the case. For more information on the CASA program in Washington, visit http://wacasa.org
7. Get educated
It’s important to remember that when a child is removed from their home, it’s due to trauma—either abuse or neglect. Even the process of being removed from their home (even an unhealthy one) is in itself traumatic. This trauma can lead to emotional or behavioral issues. Certainly, not every child in foster care has major behavioral issues, and even the ones who do aren’t “bad kids,” they are precious children in need of love, support, and help. By getting educated about trauma, control issues, sensory integration problems, developmental delays, behavioral special needs, depression, and other mental health issues, you will be able to better care for foster children, whether they’re in your home, the home of a friend, or in our church’s kids’ ministry. Which leads me to...
8. Serve in Kids Ministry
Help in Kids Ministry so the foster parents can enjoy their time in a church service knowing their kids are being taken care of well. It may be daunting for a foster parent to send their children to Kids Ministry on Sunday, knowing that it’s just another change for them. You can provide that loving and stable atmosphere that lets the parents and the kids know that everything is going to be okay. Foster kids may not always behave appropriately when brought around large groups of kids they do not know. Serving in Kids Ministry while learning how to interact with the many traumas and related behavior issues that may follow is an excellent way to help that child feel loved and secure.
9. Assemble welcome backpacks/boxes for children entering care
When children are taken into custody, it’s often a very quick process leaving them with only minutes to grab some essentials before they are taken to the office. Many children are left with nothing more than the clothes on their back and the shoes on their feet. Children in the foster care process can often feel a sense that they have nothing. For a child to come to a new, strange home, it can be comforting for them to be able to receive a bag or box with some necessities or small gifts to help them feel loved and that they can call something “theirs."
10. Volunteer with a local agency or support group
There are many organizations in the north Seattle area who are doing great work already in the foster care community. For example, Hand in Hand Kids in Snohomish County does amazing work with some of the most difficult cases in foster care, including group homes, crisis support, and educational programs. They even do fun things like starting a soccer team for kids in their group homes. By giving of your time, you could enable the staff to focus on the most critical needs of the day or week. Other agencies or support groups are Olive Crest, Fostering Together, Treehouse for Kids, or Safe Families.
11. Give donations to a local agency or support group
Perhaps volunteering isn’t an option with your current schedule or stage of life. Consider donating money or supplies to one of these groups. Each organization typically has a list of needed supplies on their website, so with a little browsing you should be able to find the relevant information.
12. Give to families who are working towards becoming licensed
When a family is going through the licensing process, there are several key items that they need in order to become a licensed home such as age appropriate toys and clothes, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and locked medicine containers. These items can mean an upfront, out-of-pocket expense to families pursuing licensing. By giving these items, you can be a blessing to those families entering into a new and challenging season of life.