Every year in North America more than 460,000 children, foster parents, volunteers, mentors, child welfare professionals, and policymakers take part in the foster care system. The kids come from all ages and backgrounds, and they are likely sad, ashamed, and fearful. The adults, who help them find permanent homes and connections, face these kids’ reality and work with them to break the cycle of brokenness they’ve been included in, by no fault of their own. Fostering is an amazing act of love and kindness, but let’s be honest, it is not for everyone. Maybe, as you read these words you realize you have a soft spot for these children, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to becoming a parent, either permanent or temporary. May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, and we encourage you to keep reading and learn new ways in which you can be involved and become an ambassador for foster care.
Ambassadors act as representatives or promoters of a specified activity. In our case, becoming an ambassador for foster care entails understanding the fostering dynamics:
Let us imagine for a minute that you are at a playground: kids laughing, parents cheering, dogs are barking… you get the picture. Now let us imagine it all on mute, you see everything but cannot hear a thing, suddenly this picture-perfect moment becomes colorless and lifeless. That takes all the fun away, right?
That is the experience a child in the system gets to live every day. Due to trauma, their physical bodies have an age but emotionally they are babies, numb and unable to process the childhood experiences around them. Whether that child is an infant or a fifteen-year-old teenager, they need to be born again emotionally to be able to experience things according to their age. Believers in Christ can relate to the “born again” principle because we also had been given a second chance to start over, to erase our past, to be loved and graciously equipped to move forward. This is the dynamic that everyone should know about, the process every child and adolescent goes through once taken into the system. They are angry, confused, and surviving their circumstances. And amid it all, you have the foster parents trying to meet their needs and help them overcome the statistics. As ambassadors, we can use our voices as a tool to let everyone know this reality and value the efforts of the foster families. Therefore, these are some tangible actions you can take to do so:
- Make sure children have childhood experiences:
Identify foster families in your community or church and allow them to be part of a fun activity, whether that is swimming, dancing, soccer, you name it. You can help provide the resources for them or you can volunteer to teach them this activity or even drive them to it. Parents will appreciate any effort to promote the fun in their foster kids, while they work on other needs.
- Assemble welcome “efforts”:
Once a child is placed at his/her foster home, there are some material needs. But beyond that, there are other actions equally needed and greatly appreciated: mowing the lawn, babysitting, preparing them a meal, running errands, or helping on house projects. Though, the ultimate welcoming effort is to be present and pray with them as they embark on this journey.
- Offer respite care:
Respite care is like being a trustworthy backup parent or friend for a foster kid when an emergency arises. This entails being cleared by the state, acquiring a foster care license, and offering yourself as an extra pair of hands when a foster family is overwhelmed. This could mean going over to a neighbor’s house to look after their foster kid or hosting the child in your home for a while.
- Provide Honest Work
For some older foster children, nothing could be more encouraging than a work opportunity. If you can offer a foster child an honest job or internship opportunity, you would be making a major difference in their life. Kids in the foster care system often have a hard time finding work due to the stigma attached to their situation. By reaching out to these kids and giving them a chance, you would be encouraging them and building them up.
- Educate and Advocate
As an ambassador, a great way to help is by learning more about the foster care process and keeping updated on challenges vulnerable families are facing in your community. Educating yourself and sharing with those in your circle spreads awareness. Did you know that in South Carolina there is currently a great need for sibling placement? Did you know about the foster care age disparity in our state? Only 47% of foster teenagers (13 to 18) live with a foster family, which means it is likely that they will age out of the system without ever experiencing what’s like to be part of a family. **
Helping someone else is never done in vain, and even the smallest actions can make the biggest change. Whether you choose a more hands-on approach to helping foster care kids, or something with a bit more distance, but just as much love, you will be truly impacting the foster care system. As Christians we are called to be a helping hand for the needy, to care with compassion and love, and to follow Jesus’s example. Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
If you feel the calling to become a Foster Care Ambassador please contact us at 864-268-4357 or visit us online
**Percentage based on SCDSS data. “Placement Types for Youth in Foster Care on June 30, 2019”.