“Everyone I know has a big but!” -Pee Wee Herman
Any time I talk to anyone about what Jessica and I are doing (and it’s often), it seems that I almost always get the same reaction: “We would foster, but. . . ” or “We’ve thought about it, but . . . “
This post is not a post trying to talk anyone into doing it that doesn’t want to, but if you’ve been considering it, I highly recommend you get beyond the “but.”
Here’s a stat:
Nationally, as of Fiscal Year 2013, the number of new children entered into foster care was 254,162. That’s a lot of kids. The number was down over 2012, but that’s not the point. The point is that more than TWO HUNDRED FIFTY FOUR THOUSAND children found themselves taken out of their homes in 2013. That’s a quarter of a million children, folks! A quarter of a million children living in limbo. UGH!
They say the number is rising and reports show that foster parents are retiring which is creating a shortage of homes for these children to enter. I can tell you from our experience, we’ve already had at least one instance in which the agency called everyone from within the State and outside of the State of Wisconsin trying to place ONE child. If you think being a foster parent sounds like work, imagine being a case worker who’s job is to find placement for these children only to be told that there’s no room anywhere.
Foster Care is not forever
The system is set up in such a way that the whole idea behind it is to reunify the children with their parents. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. So, in many cases, the kids go back to their parents after the parents have fulfilled the requirements of the states. It doesn’t always work. In fact, more often than not, it doesn’t. But it DOES work at times.
We would foster, but. . .
So, you’ve been thinking about it, but you’re not sure that it’s for you. You worry about the freedoms you’d give up. You worry about the patience you’d lose. You worry about the emotional investment you’ll have into the kids. Life’s hectic enough, right? I get it. I really REALLY get it. But did you know that there are ways you can be involved with foster care without giving up your life? I suspect that many people do not realize this. They think of it as a long-term commitment. It doesn’t have to be. Here are a few ways to get involved:
- Respite: There are times that foster parents need a break, or want to go on vacation. Many times, the children placed with them would not be allowed to go for a variety of reasons. During this time, those children need a respite home. This is typically a pre-defined amount of time, and generally pretty short. It could be as little as a couple of days or as long as a week. This is typically planned out ahead of time and is something you can put on your calendar. The good news is that if you set yourself up as a respite and you find some kids who click, chances are, you’ll be first on the list as a respite resource next time around, so you’ll get to see those kids again. Who knows? You might even make new friends with the long-term foster home parents!
- Emergency care: A child has been found to have been abused by a biological (or, in rare cases, the foster) parent and has to be pulled out of the home immediately. The agency has to act fast and they need someone right away. They have to make phone calls until they find the family that can take them in, usually within a matter of hours. Typically, you’ll be given an estimate as to the amount of time needed and, also typically, this is simply placement until a more permanent home can be found (usually within a few days). The primary focus here is to get the child (or children) into a safe environment as quickly as possible, and it’s a tremendous need.
- Long Term: This would be us. We’re in it for the long haul. Our goal is to make every child a part of our family, despite not knowing how long they’ll be with us. They shared a part of our lives and they’re a part of us. Plain and simple. It’s not for everyone, to be sure.
Oh – and by the way, you can always say “no” when they call! Ask questions. Lots and lots of qualifying questions! If, after you’ve asked the questions, you don’t feel comfortable with the answers, simply say “no.” They won’t try to talk you into saying “yes,” because they don’t want the kids to go into a home where the parents are not comfortable.
Also, when you fill out the licensing information, they drill down pretty hard on what you’re looking to do. From type of foster parent you want to be to age, race and color of the child’s eyes, you get get to be in control. The agencies want to work WITH you because they know that (unfortunately) there will be more kids and there will be the right match/fit at some point in time.
So, let’s say that none of the three above suit you, but you’d still like to do something. There are other options.
- Financial: There are several organizations that are set up to work with agencies. Some work with them to offer support services in cases where adoption occurs. Some work with them to provide support for the foster parents. Some work with them to provide medical care. Each state and county is different, but almost all of these are non-profits which means they rely heavily on financial donations from people.
- Donations directly to foster families. I’m not too proud to say that we’ve taken donations, both financial and in the form of goods from generous people. Many times kids show up with nothing but a trash bag with a few of their things. We’ve since collected enough clothes and toys and other things, that we have a storage room full of things when kids show up. It gives us the opportunity to give them something they can call their own when they get here. There are also organizations that collect these things in order that the kids can show up with something of their own.
- Volunteer: Many of these non-profits need volunteers. Pick up the phone. Look up a website. Send an email. See what you can do to help! The commitment is based upon what you can give up time-wise, and once again, you get to control it. Every little bit (no matter how little) helps! Don’t think it doesn’t for a second!
Lastly, if none of these appeal to you, there IS something you can do that involves the most minimal of effort. Should you meet a child who is in someone’s care, don’t look at them as “foster kids.” Don’t think of them as something other than simply, “kids.” Because that’s what they are. And kids are some pretty amazing people.