As a foster parent of 13 years, I have found that there have been those moments, and even those days, when I have felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and unsure if I could go on caring for children in need in my home. Quite simply, I felt worn down.
During these moments, I needed help; I needed someone to help my wife and I before we experienced burnout. It is no wonder that the retention rate of foster parents is difficult to maintain.
Let there be no mistake: Not everyone can be a foster parent, for a number of reasons. But everyone can help a child in foster care in some way, while at the same time, help foster parents as well. With roughly 450,000 children in foster care in the United States on any given day, it is clear that the need is strong.
To be sure, this is America’s next great mission field. Perhaps there is a church or faith-based organization in your area that is looking for a way to minister to others. Maybe your own church or faith-based group is seeking ways to reach out to those in need. This mission field is in our nation, in our states, in our cities, and in our own neighborhoods. There are a number of ways churches and faith-based organizations can help both children in foster care, as well as those foster parents who care for them.
Hosting a local foster parent association and support group is one such way a church can serve foster parents. Another way is serving as a location for family visitations. Churches can provide a safe, consistent, warm, and inviting atmosphere for children and birth family members to meet during visitation sessions.
Indeed, not only can this be a form of outreach for a church, but the message of love and forgiveness is also being practiced, as well; a message that may resonate with those birth family members who have also suffered abuse, neglect, and rejection.
There are those times when foster parents will require a short-term break from their foster child. This break may be the result of foster parents traveling on vacation, a temporary move into a new home, a funeral or wedding, illness in a family, or that the birth children in the foster home require some much-needed time with their parents.
This break is often known as respite care. Respite care may also be used simply because some foster parents are trying to prevent burn out, and need a break from the responsibilities of fostering a child. Other foster parents are often used for respite, as they are officially licensed to look after foster children. Even more, volunteers from faith-based organizations can be trained and equipped to serve as respite providers.
For older children in care, a black plastic bag is in hand, holding all of their possessions and belongings when placed into a new home. This black plastic bag can be an embarrassing symbol of all that is wrong in their life. Later, when a child in foster care moves, whether it is to a new foster home, an adoptive family, or reunited with his birth family, the gift of a new suitcase can be a sign of pride, respect, and love.
Faith-based organizations have the opportunity to help young adults after they have aged out of foster care. Chief among these is that our church members can act as mentors to an aged-out foster child. There are many organizations across the U.S. that offer opportunities to serve as a mentor. Mentoring will allow these former foster children not only a listening ear as they discuss the many challenges that they face, but wisdom and guidance during times of struggle.
For those church members who are business owners and wish to assist aged-out foster children, discounts on services and goods are most helpful. Whether it is clothing, groceries, a computer, phones and other electronic devices, medications, and even legal and financial services, discounts on these can help former foster youth who are struggling financially. Those who own a business or service may also wish to consider hiring former foster children, and train them with the skills that fit the particular business or service and helping them develop workforce skills.
Other ways some churches have helped foster parents and their foster children include:
- Collecting new or donated clothing, toys, bedding materials, and other necessities.
- Hosting foster children who have aged out of the foster care program, and are no longer living in a foster home, or helping to pay for rent and accommodations for the teen.
- Donating school supplies and backpacks for foster children.
- Donating to a foster parent fund, helping to support local foster parents.
- Helping to pay for summer camps and field trips for foster children.
- Setting up a fund in order to aid former foster children in their college and post high school education.
With the help of the church and faith-based organizations, children in foster care can finally find the help, support, and love they so desperately crave, and so very much deserve, and foster parents can find a partner and a helping hand.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including Faith and Foster Care: How We Impact God’s Kingdom, as well as The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home. He can be contacted through his Facebook page or at his website.