She buckled into my car, having only known me three minutes. As we drove, she drew in her notebook chatting happily about the fish and mermaids emerging from her pen. She told me about the teeth she’d recently lost and the new ones taking their place.
In the waiting room, we sat side-by-side, while she waited for the therapist. Even the fish in her drawings were losing teeth and getting grown up teeth.
She may want to be an artist, like her mom, when she grows up. Her mom draws pretty roses. She also might cut her long hair and mail it to her family so they won’t forget her.
Each week her foster mom has multiple appointments for the children in her care, resulting in many hours of missed work. Monday she stayed at work while I did a little driving; it was a small task for me and eased a burden for her.
As much as I would love to do foster care now, our family isn’t quite ready, but we want to help.
This leaves me with a question, how do we come alongside foster families in our communities?
As an adoptive mom with children from “hard places,” I’m no stranger to the demands of kids with hefty trauma backgrounds and special needs, but there are differences between parenting adopted children and foster children.
In particular, foster placements are often sudden and very little is known in advance. What size of diapers does the baby wear? Does the toddler wear pull-ups? What kind of formula for the infant? Older children have unique needs too.
It’s not likely that a foster family will have a wide stock of diapers, clothes, shoes, etc. in every possible gender and size, which results in many errands being run in the first days of placement. This is the time when children, and foster parents, need calm and stability.
There are many unique demands on foster parents.
- Medical Appointments
There are time requirements for doctor, dentist, and eye doctor appointments. In some states, a full physical has to happen within 7 days of placement and a dental exam within 14 days. There may be multiple follow-up appointments due to minimal prior care. These must be done by Medicaid providers who often have wait lists; it may take many phone calls to schedule appointments.
- Parental visits
These visits are usually twice a week. Foster parents transport the children to and from visits. If the parents of the children are not living together, and both have visits, the number of visits may increase. These visits are emotional for the children and stress is high afterward often resulting in acting out and disrupted sleep each time.
- WIC visits for younger children
These must be done in person with the children present.
Therapy is often required once or twice a week.
- More Visits
Monthly social worker visits. Guardian ad litem visits every one to three months and monthly CASA visits. If the foster family works with an agency, there will be a monthly visit with the agency social worker as well.
Each state requires a specified number of training hours for foster parents. For example, Colorado requires 32 hours of training each year, 16 must be in-person classes with no kids present. This means finding childcare for training, when the parents might really rather use it for respite.
These demands place a heavy weight on foster parents who are caring for children with significant needs.
Our communities and churches are filled with people who can help – we need to mobilize them. I dream of a team of women driving children to appointments, and of college students (trained and background checked, of course), babysitting for foster parents, allowing them a much needed, and free, date night.
How about an on-call team running last-minute errands for families needing diapers, formula, clothing, or school supplies for newly arrived children?
Could we deliver meals or even pizza to foster families once a week?
The options are endless – we need to ask foster families what they need and connect them with folks who will meet that need. Let’s not make it more complicated than it is.
As I pray with my children each morning, we simply need to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Next Monday, I’ll pick this sweet girl up from school again. This time, I’ll know her name, and I’ll remember to ask if her wiggly tooth fell out.
She has one more person who knows she is precious and prays for her, and her foster mom has two more hours to work each week. Hopefully there are more ways I can help and we’ll figure those out as we go.
As for me, I’m not a foster mom yet, but I get to serve a child in a tiny way, and that is good for my heart.