May is National Foster Care Month, making it a great time to focus on ways we can all help the more than 400,000 children and youth in foster care. People may think they do not have the time to dedicate to becoming a foster parent, but what many do not know is that there are other ways you can help. Those who have never known anyone involved in the foster care system may also have a lot of questions about how it all works or maybe have some assumptions about the system. I have not been a foster parent for very long, but I have learned a lot from others along the way and these are some of the facts that foster parents want you to know.
- In a country where thousands want to adopt, over 20,000 youth “age out” of foster care every year. This means the system was unable to reunite them with family or find them a permanent home. When they turn 18, they “age out” of the system without a family or many of the skills they will need to get by in society. Some do not graduate high school, attend college, and are at a higher risk to become homeless. The Casey Family Programs’ Raise Me Up Campaign is a public awareness campaign to help the general public understand some of these issues. You do not have to be a foster parent to help these youth. You can help through programs like Foster Care to Success, which helps foster youth through college or The Purple Project that assists in building life skills.
- Another way that people can help, without becoming a foster parent, is by becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). In order to be a CASA volunteer, you simply have to have a love for children and a desire to help. You must pass a background check, complete 30 hours of training, and when you accept a child’s case, you must agree to follow through until the case is complete. Your job as a CASA is to communicate to the judge what the child’s needs are and what you think is best for them. You do this by getting to know everyone involved in the case, documenting your findings, recommending services, and monitoring the case. You can find out more at CASAforChildren.org.
- You can also choose to become a respite care provider for foster children. Respite care providers offer a place for foster kids to go for short-term child care when foster parents need placement during emergencies, when they need to go out of town, or even just for a break. Find out more by visiting your state’s foster care agencies.
- Foster children often come into placement with very little. School supplies, clothing, and toys are some of the items that you can donate to your local foster care agency for those kids in need. Many people have the misconception that foster parents profit from taking foster kids into their home. In reality, the amount spent each month on the care for the child often exceeds the monthly stipend so any donations to foster care agencies or foster families is a great help.
- Many people think for a variety of reasons that fostering is not for them. Maybe you think you could not handle it emotionally or maybe you’re not clear on how it works. You do not have to be a stay at home mom. You do not even have to be married. You DO need to have a stable home environment and be willing to advocate for a child in your care.