I’ve talked about how hard it has been to be a foster parent to our babies, but what about the older kids? Oh my, where to begin. This world is hard enough to deal with as a rational adult, but can you imagine having your entire world turned upside down day after day after day? When I think of childhood, it should be filled with happy memories, carefree times, lots of playing, and dreaming along with the “normal” growing pains of trying to find yourself, where you fit in, what your talents are, what your boundaries are, and so forth.
But for kids in foster care, what put them in that position was a slow ride into a pit of darkness. Can you imagine being 5 years old and being found by a neighbor going through his trash so you could get some food scraps to feed yourself and your siblings? What about being so afraid to sleep because daddy likes to visit your room at night? Or how about not knowing where you were going to sleep that night because you’re family has moved 20 times in the last 40 days?
Kids that suffer these abuses live in a very out of control situation and they’ve learned at an early age that they simply can’t trust adults. Their early lessons of love mean getting smacked, beaten, abused, verbally berated, starved, abandoned. They learn that they can only trust themselves, and that they are the only ones that will ever take care of them. They have been raised in chaos, and chaos is all they know.
Even after years of living in a safe, stable, loving environment the children still don’t trust or feel safe. Their brains have become hardwired to protect and look out for themselves and not let anyone in. Therapy, love, commitment, and security only go so far. What happened when they were younger lasts decades (if not an entire lifetime) and is extremely difficult for them to overcome.
As I said before, being a foster parent is tough. Being a kid in this situation is tough. Being a social worker is tough. Not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent, no one wants to be one of the kids in these situations, and social work in grueling. But you can help in other ways.
*Become a mentor. Do you have a special skill (leather craft, artist, seamstress, etc) or a hobby (knitting, fishing, hunting, etc)? Spend time being a big brother or sister (or aunt or uncle) to a child in need. Teach them a skill or hobby that will last a lifetime and help them feel like they are worth it. Contact your local social services or a foster parent you know to obtain permission first.
*Become a tutor. A lot of the kids in these situations find themselves behind in school. The very act of being in survival mode makes learning 2+2 completely irrelevant. Teachers can only do so much so tutors are so incredibly helpful. Contact your local school to see if there is a way you can help.
*Volunteer at your local children’s shelter. You may not think there is one around you (and there may not be) but we were shocked to find out that nearly every place we lived had one. They do generally have a paid staff, but the kids always loved it when other people came to play with them.
*Become a CASA volunteer. CASA workers are Court Appointed Special Advocates. They are trained advocates appointed by a judge, who fight for the rights of the children. A CASA worker may be asked to appear in court to tell the child’s side of the story, may be asked to talk to medical professionals to let them know what is happening with a child. A CASA worker bridges the gap between foster parent, school officials, attorneys, doctors, you name it.
*Become a respite care provider. Sometimes foster parents just need a night out or have family emergencies that need to be dealt with out of the state and can’t always bring their foster kids with them without all kinds of special permissions, or sometimes not at all. But, foster kids need to be in the care of state approved adults, so respite care is often called on. It might be for a date night or a weekend, but helping out this way relieves a lot of stress that can build up in a foster family.
The above ideas take time. You may be required to submit to background checks, finger printing, or even special training. If that’s something that isn’t something you can do right now here are a few other ways to help.
* Donate to your local shelter or social services office. Call and ask their needs. I know that we’ve benefited from people donating toys. Foster kids still have birthdays and celebrate other holidays as well. One child we brought in had a birthday the very day we got her. Because the lateness of the day, I didn’t have time to go get her presents and make sure she had a proper celebration, but because of the generosity of others, toys were provided to the shelter and all we had to do was wrap them up and then have our party after dinner. Another time we brought in a little boy who was very large for his age. The clothes we had on hand didn’t fit. Because a church group got together and made boxes of love, I was able to get one of these boxes that had 3 days of clothing in there in his size. Perfect. Foster kids often leave their homes on an emergency basis and older kids don’t have the ability to get school supplies. So maybe paper, pencils, and spirals are needed. Again contact your local agency and find out what their needs are.
*Send a foster mom or dad or a social worker out for a spa treatment or some other special pampering event. We like to feel special too sometimes.
*Don’t automatically assume that the parent dealing with a screaming child in “stuff-mart” is a bad parent. They might be dealing with a foster child that they just picked up or one they’ve had awhile and that child is putting on a show. Offer an encouraging smile to the parent, a pat on the back (if even from a distance), or just know that they might be dealing something far greater then you can imagine.
*Pray. Lift up the foster parents, the kids, and their workers to God. We need them to continue working on behalf of the children here.