Friends Who Foster: How to Help

So you want to support your friends or family members who have just gotten a new foster care placement.

Firstly, realize that every new kid is a big deal to a foster family. Even those who have been doing this for years know how much one new child changes things. Remember, they said yes when they could have said no to this child coming to them.

So, follow their lead, but in general, be excited with them. Ask about the child and respect any vagueness about the details. In foster care, confidentiality about a child’s story and history is key, but just like anyone who knows a kiddo, foster parents like to brag on kids. Ask about your friend’s thoughts, feelings, worries, and excitement – both before when the child is a possibility and after the child is a reality. 

And then LISTEN, listen a lot. What people need most is simply a listening ear for all of the ups and downs of a new kid. Listen and remember they are a foster parent on purpose and knew what they were getting into. At this moment, they do not need, your insight into what all 4-year-olds are like, advice on what to do when they misbehave, etc, etc. Wait until asked to share your wisdom, what they need is a friend.

It can be hard to articulate what you need as a foster parent. I don’t know what I need. Just come show up! … It’s very hard for me to just directly say, “we need a meal” or “I need someone to come watch the kids so I can have one hour of quiet.”

Kaley


So what can you do to help?

Buy groceries.

I say bring groceries and not a meal, because while making a meal is great, many kids in foster care are coming out of chaos where meals were the easiest, fastest thing available (think McDonalds), so a delicious healthy, organic, midwest casserole might not be up their alley. So buy and drop off groceries. Stick to easy, basic kid food – milk, bread, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, fruit snacks, apples, bananas, grapes, etc.

Run an errand.

Ask if they need to to run any errands for them: running to the post office, picking up something specific at the store, a pack of diapers, etc. There are a lot of “things” that are needed while you are getting a new kiddo settled, either that they didn’t bring them with (like a tooth brush) or your friends don’t have at their house already (like a specific size of clothes).

Do Laundry.

Come to the door and ask if NOW is a good time to wash some dishes or fold (and put away) the laundry, if you call ahead, chances are, they won’t know when a good time will be, because they don’t yet know the kids schedule. And if they’re not home, call and ask if they will share where the hide a key is and do it while they are out.

Come say hi.

Stop by after bedtime just to say hi. Your friends are still your friends, they just have more kids in their lives now, they still need socializing and friends – especially if they feel stuck at home until the kids get comfortable. When kids are getting settled, a lot of extra faces can be overwhelming, so keep come by yourself, but come (and bring chocolate, at least if you’re coming to visit me).

Keep Siblings In Mind.

Ask if there is something the other kids in the home need (transportation to/from school events, church functions, etc). Most likely they will want to keep the newest kiddos the closest for a time, so help with the other, more settled members of the family might be more readily accepted.

Help with Outdoor Chores.

If your friends own a house, and/or is single, think about what might be hard doing with a child literally attached to your hip, or running away at mock ten (both possibilities in those first few weeks), and offer to help with that. Shoveling in winter, mowing the grass in summer, cleaning out the car, weeding the garden all come to mind, but I am sure there are others.

Learn about Foster Care.

One of the biggest things my friends did to support me was to be interested about fostering and what the experience was like for me. So if you are here reading this blog, kudos. In the links there are more ways to learn about how to support foster parents. You can also read about the experience of The First Night in Foster Care and also Foster Parent Grief and Debriefing, to support your friends when the kiddos that are new now – eventually move on.

Now, go support your friends! Whether this is their first placement or 200th, lives are changing, one little person at a time. Show them with your actions and your listening ear just how much you care.

**More ideas from my readers in the comments below. Add your own.**

Resources:

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

Tips for the friends, family, and community of foster parents, for new placements and when kids leave. Help support your friends and family who foster.

Published by Alisa Matheson, Attempting Agape

I’m Alisa Matheson. Previously a foster parent, an educator, recruiter for teens aging out of the foster care system. I became a full-time contractor and photographer in 2019. I love coffee, deep conversations, snuggles with my kid and justice on the street. I welcome you to share in my journey.

7 thoughts on “Friends Who Foster: How to Help

  1. My kids always came without any clothing, so I think it's helpful to buy a few outfits, pj's, pair of shoes to help them get through the first few days with a new child.

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  2. I found your blog after following links from a few others, and have since spent a while reading backwards through your posts. I would like to link to this on my blog… such a straight forward helpful list! Thanks for thinking it through!

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  3. The children always need socks, underpants, brush & comb, toothbrush, pillow and blanket, not so much generic but ones that fit the child, like a race car or princess theme depending on that child's specific taste.

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  4. Whenever foster children left my care, I sent almost everything with them (toys, puzzles, books, etc) so, if you have or know a child of similar age, some toys that child no longer wants would be helpful. Coming over at homework time to help would be AWESOME! Going with the foster parent to the grocery store to help with the kids or staying with the kids and the foster dad while mom goes grocery shopping would be appreciated.

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  5. For older kids in foster care, it's great to have people who will just come by and take them to get a soda, or to a movie, or whatever… We have a few people who do this with our teen girls. They – and we – love it!

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  6. Having someone experienced with ethnic hair help us was hugely appreciated. Also, if a kid has an interest or talent the foster family doesn't necessarily share, finding someone who had that on common who can be a good influence or mentor is priceless, especially if that child is struggling to feel he/she \”fits\”. Meals that have been prepared are immensely helpful to me, whether delivered hot or something we can freeze for later. And most of all is attempting to understand that foster care, while parenting, just isn't the same in a lot of ways, due to the repercussions stemming from the trauma in the child's life. Implying that what the kid is going through is normal or that typical child rearing practices will work (when they often won't) just makes the foster family feel more alone and less supported, even if that isn't the intent.

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