Monday, March 14, 2016

Ways to Get Involved with Foster Care

I love being a foster parent.  

Although I’m still relatively inexperienced (I’ve had one placement for about 18 months) I know it’s something I want to continue doing. Not only because I am passionate about working with children and families, but because there is such a tremendous- and often unnoticed- need in our country.
 In the United States, over 400,000 children are in foster care (in 2014, 650,000 children spent time in the system), and more kids enter than leave each year. The average “length of stay” for each child is about two years.

It's true. And it can’t be ignored- those numbers are a call to action. 

Unfortunately, though, oftentimes people don’t get involved with foster care because they don’t know where to start. It may seem like it’s an all or nothing kind of thing- you become a foster parent or you don’t. But choosing to foster is just one of so many ways people can help; there are a number of others that don’t require such a high level of commitment. As much as I love fostering, I realize it's not for everyone. So in an effort to highlight other opportunities, I've compiled a list of ways people can get involved- in big or small ways, across long or short periods of time, with a lot or just a few resources.

If you are interested in getting involved with foster care on some level, I hope it’s helpful- and I hope it opens your eyes to new ways to care for children and families in your community! If you have or want to try any of these things- or if you have questions about them- I’d love to hear them, so please feel free to leave a comment below!

·    Be an advocate
  • If you have limited time and resources, you can still be involved! Get informed about foster care, and share the information you learn with others! Whether it’s conversation around the water cooler or phone calls to state representatives, advocacy is important. Encouraging awareness as well as involvement is powerful- and it makes a big difference!

Support biological families
  • Most biological families involved with foster care are working hard to be reunited with their children, but the cards are sometimes stacked against them. (I wrote a little bit about this here.) Parenting is hard in any circumstance, but when you’re facing a lack of resources and support, it can go from being hard to seeming impossible. Because of this, it is imperative that we make efforts to support biological families. This looks different everywhere, though, so connect with a local foster care agency to find out specific ways you can help in your community. Here are a few potential options, though, to get you started. You could…
    • Help with a parenting class or support group (by providing snacks, transportation, space, your skills/knowledge, etc.)
    • Provide a meal for a reunified family (or toys for birthdays/holidays, clothes, etc.)
    • Provide respite care for parents (like any parent, sometimes they need a little break!)
    • Help with household tasks
    • Volunteer to lead a class on job skills, financial literacy, etc.
    • Invite families to community events
    • Provide encouragement! A few kind words really can go a long way.

Support youth aging out of foster care
  • This is a huge issue many people don’t know about, but in 2014, over 22,000 children “aged out” of foster care- meaning they never found a permanent home, but were now too old to remain in the state’s conservatorship. Apart from suddenly losing their main source of emotional and financial support, aging out leaves many kids without the skills, experience and assistance they need to achieve their college and career goals. More than 20% will become homeless, and 25% will be involved with the justice system within two years. The statistics are shocking, but here are ways you can help turn those numbers around: 
    • Help sponsor a scholarship for a student heading to college.
    • Sponsor a care package for a student who made it to college.
    • Knit a scarf, if that's your thing!
    • Donate things like interview outfits, grocery store/restaurant gift cards, or furniture, bus/transit passes used computers, etc
    • Provide job training and skills
    • Offer an apprenticeship to a youth transitioning out of care
    • Volunteer to tutor/mentor youth who make it to college

Support youth in care
  • When kids are placed in foster care, they generally don't have a say in the matter. They're removed from the home, people and environment they know- and no matter what is going on within that place, there is grief involved with leaving it behind. They enter into a life of uncertainty- they're suddenly living in a house with people they don't know, and they might not have any idea as to when or if they'll see their family again. Every story is unique, but they are each complex and layered. But as difficult of a transition as it can be for kids, there are ways to help make it a little smoother:
    • Be a mentor
    • Donate school supplies
    • Donate suitcases/bags- Kids oftentimes come into care with very few things- or nothing at all. Sometimes their items are thrown into garbage bags for easy transport; gifting new or gently used luggage can provide them with a little more dignity at a time when they feel voiceless and powerless.
    • Donate gently used toys, clothing, blankets, etc
    • Donate things like zoo or museum passes or tickets to local events. A few months ago, someone donated tickets to the circus to the agency I work with, so Little Man got to go for the very first time! (He slept through a good chunk of it, but I think he still loved it!)
    • Help sponsor a child’s fees for something like summer camp, sports teams, music lessons, etc.
    • Donate your skills. Are you a talented pianist? Maybe a computer genius? Or perhaps you know how to sew/cook/skateboard/any other things a kid might want to learn how to do. Offer to give a child lessons!
    • Are you a good photographer? Volunteer to take photos of kids in care! Many children in foster care don’t get an opportunity to have professional photos taken the same way other kids might- any many foster parents can’t afford to have this done for every child in their care- so this is such a wonderful gift to give! It helps document a time in a child’s life that might otherwise be lost. As a foster parent, I’ve been told that I’m the “memory keeper” for kids in my care. It’s a huge responsibility, so any help I- and other foster parents- can get is so appreciated!
    • Tutor a child- whether you help with a specific subject or provide help with SAT prep, academic supports are always important!
    • Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers are empowered by the court to advocate on behalf of a child in care; it’s their responsibility to get to know a child- as well as the child’s biological family, foster family, teachers, social workers, and other people who interact with the child regularly, so they can help inform the court. Full disclosure- this opportunity is definitely time-intensive.  It requires upfront training, and regular meetings (you have to get to know the child, after all), and you do commit to see a case until permanency is established, which can sometimes go beyond a year. But, again, if you have the time for this, I definitely encourage it. It’s so, so needed, and can make a huge and important impact on a child’s future.

Support foster families
  • Foster parents have a lot to juggle. On top of jobs, families and friends, they make room in their schedules for things like home visits (from CPS workers, case managers, inspectors, etc.), visitations with biological families, a variety of appointments (for example: doctors, dentists, and/or therapists), court appointments, and so much more. From personal experience, I can say that having support from others is the difference between me juggling everything like this:
and juggling it all like this:

Okay, I might not be this good, but still- we're talking next level juggling.
Here are some ways you could support a foster family:
    • Help with household chores- mow a lawn, help with dishes, cook a meal… Personally, I know I’ve been so grateful for people’s help in this area. It gives me an opportunity to take care of something else on my unending to-do list- or, more importantly, gives me a chance to spend more time with my son. Honestly, this one is huge- especially when families receive a new placement. A friend arranged a meal train for me with Little Man arrived, and it was a lifesaver- I don’t think I would have eaten without it. So if you don’t know a foster parent, but you want to help- reach out to a local agency to get connected!  
    • Donate things like: diapers, baby formula, gently used children’s clothes, gently used children’s furniture, toys, etc. Again- from personal experience, I can say this is invaluable. Foster parents typically have very little notice about the arrival of a new placement. I was lucky and had two days, but sometimes it can be a matter of hours. As you can imagine, it’s hard to be prepared in so little time, so help a foster family stock up so they can be ready for anything!
    • Become a licensed babysitter! As a foster parent, I don’t have the same babysitter options as other families. Anyone who babysits my son has to have completed a background check and CPR/First Aid certification. So, admittedly, this option requires some time and effort.  But if you have the time and energy to do it, I am confident you could find some grateful foster parents! (Shout out to my team of babysitters- I really couldn’t have made it this far without you!)
    • Become a licensed respite care provider! This one is like becoming a babysitter, but more intense because it’s longer term (3+ days). Respite care exists to provide foster families with a break- to do anything from travel, deal with a family crisis, or just have a few days of self-care and recovery time. Respite care providers are essentially licensed as foster parents, but can choose to only provide care on a short-term basis.

Support organizations

If you are interested in learning more about specific ways you can get involved, I’d encourage you to contact someone from a local foster agency. You can find one (or many) agencies in your area here.

If you have any ideas other than the ones above, please feel free to share them in the comments below! I'd love to hear more about what others have done or hope to do!

The foster care system can seem like a daunting thing to tackle, but there are so many ways to make a positive impact. Whoever you are, wherever you are- your skills, knowledge and resources can make a huge difference in the lives of children and families in foster care! And who knows? Maybe it will help pave the way for a day when we don't need a foster care system at all! 


  1. First of all, I'm pretty sure I look like Honey Boo Boo as I'm trying to juggle everything. LOL!

    I love this post! You've given great ideas. When this baby was about a week old, one of my friends volunteered to spend the night and stay up with the baby, so I could sleep. It was AMAZING! Such a thoughtful thing for her to do.

  2. Great information Kaley and given in a clear and understandable way for those of us who aren't sure how to help. Thanks and looking forward to seeing you tonight on HGTV!!!

  3. Thank you for posting this! I began working with adolescents in foster care a year ago and I just love everything you had to say in this blog! There are so many misconceptions about foster care- almost a stigma in some ways. Thank you for taking the time to enlighten others. I am sure you have reached many with a simple, yet thoughtful post. You're awesome!

    1. That's so kind- thank you!! Through this whole experience, I've felt pretty passionate about sharing with others. I want people to get a glimpse of what fostering is like, what children in foster care are like, what biological families are like... etc. I hope that it does inform people- and maybe encourages others to get involved, or at least see things in new ways!
      Thanks for reading and reaching out!

  4. Thanks so much for all of this very helpful information! We hope to foster in our family!

    1. That's awesome! I love it (which I think I've already said twice), so I get really excited when other people get involved! :)
      Thanks for reading! And best of luck as you embark on the journey!

  5. You are a legit ROCK-star! Love that you are using your experience to educate! Going to look into a few of these!
    Keep that island born baby boy smiling! 💙💙💙

    1. Thanks, Sarah! It's been such an honor to have this opportunity- I love talking about foster care, and sharing my experience with others!
      If you wind up trying anything from the list- or getting involved in another way- please be sure to let me know! :)

  6. Ok, I'm jumping right in and have to say this: I hope the fact that I'm even here on your blog doesn't come across as stalker-ish!

    I saw your Fixer Upper episode and was just so touched by your story, and something made me look it up, which then led me here. Are you a social worker, too?! I am, so perhaps that was part of the connection I felt watching the show! Anyway, I just wanted to send you and your foster son hugs from St. Louis. :)

    Rebecca Mercurio

    1. Social workers unite! :)
      Thanks again for reading, Rebecca! Not stalker-ish at all- I love hearing from people!

  7. Well, ok. I've now read a bunch of posts and am so, so glad I've found my way here! I want to keep reading, but I must be off to bed. XO

  8. Hello from Canada! Kaley, I also saw you on Fixer Upper and just loved your story. We live in small community which has a large number of foster parents and children. We have been providing respite for a few years to one family - grandparents who are raising their granddaughter and who is a friend of my daughters'. We love her and are so grateful that she has amazing people to raise her and that we can be a part of providing her with a stable, loving childhood. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas of how to become involved. You are doing wonderful things. I look forward to following along on IG and through your blog.

  9. Hi! I don't have access to fixer upper on TV because I live in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, but I bought all seasons on Apple TV and watched your episode just now. Cried sooo much. You are such a special person. Sending all my love from half across the world! We like to say here in Brazil (hope it makes sense in English): "thanks for existing"! You make a difference.

  10. Hi there! What are the chances of being able to adopt through foster care? Is it something that should not be in the forefront of your mind when you enter fostercare? I know it happens, but how often?

  11. Holidays can be a natural part of your family life and taking foster children with you can be encouraged as it can be a way to build the trust and bond relationships as an inclusive member of the family. So this can give foster children the opportunity to experience things they may never had before.
    Childrens Home


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