Foster parents can be a safe harbor for children who are lost and drifting.
No one wants to break up families. But sometimes it's what has to happen.
Although most social services programs work hard to keep families together, sometimes they have to remove kids from dangerous homes. Many children enter foster care confused, angry, and with literally nothing to their name.
There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States.
That's 400,000 disrupted lives. 400,000 questions about when or if they'll go home. 400,000 different stories.
Some of those kids will stay with their foster families for only a few days. Others may never go home. Around a quarter of them are eligible for adoption, but only about 10% will be adopted.
While the kids are in safe homes, their parents receive support services to try to make their home safer for the children, including drug rehab and parenting classes. Around half of the kids who leave foster care return to their parents.
The good news is, there are lots of great families welcoming these kids.
About 23% of them are relatives or close friends of the children — these "relative placements" help kids maintain ties to their birth families. Of the kids who end up being adopted out of foster care, over half were adopted by their foster parents.
The great news is, even if you don't have the resources to be a foster parent, you can totally help foster kids.
- Mentor foster kids and teens. Young adults aging out of foster care are more successful when they have an adult they can trust to guide them through their first steps out on their own.
- Serve as a special advocate to keep foster kids from getting lost in the shuffle of the legal system. You don't have to be a lawyer or a social worker. Anyone with good common sense and a desire to help kids can volunteer and receive training.
- Volunteer for respite care, which is like being a foster parent but just for a couple of days at a time. Kids would come to you when their birth, adoptive, or foster families need a break. Think of it as a chance to be the fun aunt or uncle for a kid who could really use one.
- Support political initiatives that keep families together and reduce stress on parents, like increasing the minimum wage and providing health care services for children.
- Donate items to or fundraise for social work organizations. They need clean clothes in sizes from preemie to adult, safe infant equipment, and toys in good condition. They also need luggage because these children move around a lot; not having to use garbage bags gives them a little dignity.
The actors in the video below show the story of two children who have to leave their home in the middle of the night with nothing but their pajamas.
The next day, their foster parents take them to a distribution center run by Georgia-based Foster Care Support Foundation, where they can choose what they need from an array of donated toys and clothes. Cue all the good feelings. It's an example of how a community can come together to help children when their lives are turned upside down.