10 Ways to Support
Foster and Adoptive Families
May is National Foster Care Month — an initiative of the Children’s Bureau in which “we take time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections. We use this time to renew your commitment to ensuring a bright future for the more than 391,000 children and youth in foster care, and recognize those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.”
As a former foster parent and current adoptive parent of three children who are former foster youth, I want to acknowledge National Foster Care Month and encourage you to do the same.
Fostering can be very strenuous and isolating. Foster children have trauma, and trauma responses are often difficult and overwhelming. The same can be said of adopting, because, as much as we might like it to be, trauma cannot be magically fixed by adoption.
Foster and adoptive families need ongoing support, but they might not always realize or ask for it. I’ve put together a list of ten easy ways you can help foster and adoptive families that range from very simple and free to requiring more time, effort, and/or money — check them out below!
1. Check in
It seems like such a simple thing, to check on someone. However, I speak from experience when I say that fostering/adopting can feel very isolating for a lot of reasons. On the surface, things might seem okay. They might even say they’re “good” or everything’s “fine.” Check on them anyway! Let them know you’re thinking of them, that you’re there if they need to talk, and that you support them.
2. validate their feelings
Emotional validation is crucial to building trust, opening the doors to honesty, and helping us to maintain healthy relationships where we feel safe and secure. Foster and adoptive families find themselves in the trenches of trying to heal trauma, which is a long, straining, and overwhelming process that can often result in secondary trauma (when someone experiences emotional duress while hearing about someone else’s trauma or while dealing with difficult behaviors of trauma responses). Remember that foster and adoptive families are human. Their feelings are valid. Reassure them that what they are feeling is okay.
3. respect their boundaries
Boundaries are so important! As a foster parent, I was told regularly by my oldest’s therapists that setting clear and concise rules, limits, and routines is key, and that holding those boundaries is just as fundamental. So when you are with or hear about a foster/adoptive family’s boundaries, respect them! You don’t have to like the boundaries — maybe they aren’t the same boundaries you have or would have for your own family — but they should be recognized and followed. Save the judgment, too! Most boundaries are put in place in response to an action or incident, rather than the parents just being “uptight,” “overbearing,” or “too strict.”
4. drop off coffee
Life and, certainly, parenting is exhausting in general. The requirements for foster families within the system adds a lot to the mental load, and trauma parenting can be draining. Asking for a foster/adoptive parent’s go-to coffee (or tea, etc.) order and dropping it off to them on occasion is simple, yet thoughtful. A few of my friends have even “sent me a coffee” by gifting me a digital Starbucks gift card! I thought it was such a sweet — and very appreciated — gesture.
5. make/send a meal
Building off of the idea of the tiring physical and mental nature of fostering/adopting, another way to help a family out is by making a meal and dropping it off or using a delivery service to send a meal. I specifically don’t say “offer a meal” because some families may not ask or accept help easily (which really goes for any of these suggestions). This is something people often do during other difficult times/transitions, like a birth of a baby or death in the family, so why not to help a family living in a state of constant stress?! Be sure to take note of food allergies, sensitivities, and preferences (as food can also be triggering for some children of trauma).
6. give gift cards
Gift cards are one of the easiest ways to contribute to a foster/adoptive family if you’re unsure what they might need, are hesitant to ask what they could use, or they decline your help in other ways. Any time is truly not a bad time to give a gift card to a foster/adoptive family, but new foster placements/new adoptive arrivals is a great time, as well as for special occasions (i.e. holidays, birthdays, etc.). The possibilities are endless for what type of gift card to give. Here are a few ideas: a card to a store for essentials, grocery card, gas card, coffee shop card, or a card to a local experience like a trampoline park, pool, zoo, or art studio.
7. shop for/pick up groceries
Time is of the essence, especially for foster/adoptive families who have full schedules with appointments (including therapies, specialists, Birth to Three providers, or other potentials outside of the usual well-child and dental check-ups), visits, court dates, meetings, LOTS of paperwork, etc. in addition to everything else they have on their personal plate (or those of their biological family). Simply pitching in with some of the time-consuming but necessary tasks or chores, like grocery shopping or picking up their grocery order, could be so helpful. This can go beyond just groceries, including things like yardwork, laundry, providing transportation when appropriate, and more. This might not be the easiest idea for those who are private, afraid of being judged, or not quick to ask for help, but they can make a difference to those that are open to it.
8. become trauma-informed
Being trauma-informed, in its most simplistic definition, means that you understand an individual’s experiences (a.k.a. trauma) and respond with that in mind. There are a lot of resources including books, podcasts, and social media accounts that can provide insight to someone wanting to be trauma-informed. There are also more in-depth trainings available. A trauma-informed person recognizes that a foster/adoptive child needs to feel safe, and felt safety is different than actual safety. To establish and maintain felt safety, they need to feel trust, connected, and empowered by those caring for them. There is a lot more to being trauma-informed, but doing to basic research then having an understanding when you’re with or around a foster/adoptive family is very helpful. It can also help you to understand their parenting strategies/boundaries and validate the foster/adoptive parents’ feelings and experiences.
9. MAINTAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
One of the most difficult things for me, personally, while fostering was the distance that formed with some friends. I don’t blame any of those people that I’m no longer close with. My priorities changed, but I can also admit that after bringing a child (and eventually multiple children) into our care, I was often too tired and overwhelmed to do anything “extra” for myself and felt guilty for leaving my husband or in-laws alone with the kids to socialize. If I’m being honest, that is still the case. We also had the pandemic working against us. I needed that support system, though. I needed friends that would be there for me with or without children. I needed those friends to weather the storm with me and be there for us all when the skies cleared.
So, speaking from personal experience, maintain your relationship with foster/adoptive families. Invite them to do kid-friendly things, like go to the movies or play mini golf or even just to have dinner. Let them know you’re not running scared from their lives just because their lives changed.
10. provide respite/babysit
This is probably the way to support foster/adoptive families that requires the most effort but could make the largest impact, at least in my opinion. Providing respite means that you are able to provide short-term relief for a foster family. State requirements will vary, but in the state of West Virginia at our agency, we needed at least one respite provider of our own but also had other respite providers available to us. To provide respite, providers needed to complete paperwork, go through fingerprinting, and had a background check. Again, that may vary between states. If we wanted to go on vacation or needed to travel out of state (i.e. for a funeral or wedding), but did not have permission to take our foster child, we would need to utilize a respite provider. It goes beyond out-of-state trips. Respite could be helping a foster family for a weekend to give them a chance to physically and mentally recharge. You could also help with things like transporting the child to/from school, for example (at least in WV). A lot of people feel more comfortable leaving their foster placements in the care of someone they know, but that sometimes isn’t possible. To help make foster families you know feel more comfortable utilizing respite care, you could become a respite provider.
On the other side, adoption doesn’t require respite providers, but, again, having someone you know and trust to babysit would be monumentally helpful. My husband and I don’t have date nights out of the house but for once or twice a year because we have a lot of difficult behaviors/trauma responses in our children and feel like we can’t leave them with just anyone.
If you know foster and/or adoptive families, I encourage you to find a way to support them. You can even reach out to a local foster and/or adoption agency to see if they need volunteers or donations.
I’m thankful for so much support we got as a foster family and continue to get as an adoptive one.
I would love to hear your thoughts and see your ideas for ways to support foster and adoptive families!
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, I encourage you to do some research and learn more about the processes in your state. If you are located in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, or Louisiana, I’d like to recommend our foster agency: National Youth Advocate Program.