Not everyone can be a foster parent. It’s a huge commitment. So this week we explore simpler ways to get involved with the foster care system. Lindsey Hesketh, creator of Care2Foster and passionate foster care advocate, explored the 5 simple ways you can advocate for children in foster care (without fostering) on #FosterFridayLive and now you can read them here.
Lindsey started with DSS as an adoption worker and quickly became captivated by children in foster care. As she was meeting kids in care she became captivated by the work and wanted to do more. While working for DSS, she had a large caseload of families hoping to adopt from foster care; she spent time walking them through the process to become approved and licensed, and would help with the matchmaking. She loved what she was doing there but eventually moved into full time recruitment. She would meet with people to talk about the need for more foster families. After leaving that role to begin schooling for her Masters in Social Work, she dreamed up Care2Foster, a model for foster parent recruitment and support. In the state of South Carolina we need 1,900 more foster families today. So, if Care2Foster can help meet that need and help families feel encouraged and supported, that’s what we’re here to do. Lindsey is thrilled to be a small piece of helping children in foster care. Today she wants help you see the simple ways that you might consider joining the system as well.
Foster parents, this is more for community members, people who aren’t already connected; the goal is to help new folks to join into the work that we are doing. First, she shares three barriers to advocating for children in foster care.
Barriers to Advocating
- I don’t know who children in foster care are!
People in the community may not know any children in foster care. But in fact, you have probably seen children in foster care when you drop your kids off at school or take them to the doctor. There are 4,500 kids in foster care in the state of SC. You’ve probably seen them out and about and just not known they were in foster care. They are everywhere, but we can’t always tell because they don’t wear a sign that says that they’re in foster care.
Foster parents are charged with the responsibility of keeping and protecting the confidentiality and privacy of the children in their care. So often times you don’t even know who foster parents are unless you have a personal relationship with them. For example, Lindsey shares, “the other day, I was driving down a street in my neighborhood and I saw a yard sign for Heartfelt Calling promoting fostering. I had no idea this family was a foster family and they literally live right down the street from me.”
So, we don’t always know who these children are, which is a great thing because it protects the children, but it makes it challenging to advocate for them. You may even notice that families who foster are more cautious about what they post on social media to protect the children.
2. I don’t know where to find them
If you want to get involved with foster care, but you don’t know a foster family personally, it can be hard to know where to find them. Where can you go to connect? How can you get involved? What can you do? It can be really challenging, so that’s another barrier.
Many foster parents are part of their county Foster Parent Association. You can find the contact information for the county president in your area here. They may be able to connect you with a family or two or help you understand the local needs.
3. I don’t have a lot of time!
If you don’t know children in foster care it will take time, intentionality, and extra effort to get involved. And let’s be honest, we are all busy people. We all have things going on so it can make it that much harder to get involved.
So those are the barriers, but there are simple ways that you can get involved with the foster care system if you’re not ready to be a foster parent.
Simple Ways to Advocate for Children in Foster Care
- Meet a child– get to know a child in foster care. Lindsey says, “that’s how I initially became involved. As a caseworker, I met the children, I became captivated.” There are numerous ways that you can do this through numerous organizations in the state.
A couple of things you can do:
- Tutor a child in foster care. There are different ages, different subjects. Kids in foster care can benefit from tutoring. Especially when the older youth get around college age they can really use the benefit of tutors.
- Mentor a child in foster care. Children 12 and older need mentors. Usually youth in foster care have so many people that come in and out of their lives. Case workers change constantly. There are numerous case wokers. Caregivers change too. The average child in foster care will have many placement homes, many caregivers. A mentor is usually that one stable relationship that stays with the child as they move and the case workers change. This communicates to the young person that they matter, that they are valuable and that they are worthy of the time and attention and energy and love they are receiving. You can do this through Fostering Great Ideas at fgi4kids.org
Watch this short video on the impact of mentorship on foster youth from Fostering Great Ideas.
- Volunteer at a Group Home. There are numerous group homes across the state and many of the group homes are dependent on help from volunteers. So you and your family can bring a meal. Go and volunteer your time- provide a craft or play with older children. Reach out to any group home and ask what their needs are, how you can help as a volunteer. Not only will you be serving youth, but the relationships that you build are really life changing.
The number one way you can advocate is to get to know a child.
2. Support a foster family– Fostering is the hardest thing that we can ask a family to step forward to do. They are caring for children that have experienced many difficulties and obstacles in life and they are also advocating for that child and it’s a very, very challenging role. So not everyone can be a foster family, but many of us can support foster families. And foster families that feel supported tend to feel more fulfilled in their fostering and they foster for longer. So that is a very simple way that you can get involved and you can help.
What does supporting a foster family look like? Well, it can look differently for different families, but I can tell you for foster families in my life, offering to babysit the kids so that if it is a couple they can have a date night is a great thing. You can offer to take the child in foster care or their biological kids that you have a relationship with out on an ice cream date, spend some time with them, give them some one-on-one time.
Biological children in foster families sign up to foster when the parents sign up to foster and it is a commitment for them too. And they are sharing their parents with these children that come into their home so giving them one-on-one time is a great way to love on a foster family. So if you’re connected with a foster family just ask them what you can do. I have found that asking is sometimes cumbersome as the family may not know what help they need.
So just tell them, “I’m going to do this for you. When can I take your son and daughter out for ice cream?” or “When can I babysit your kids so you guys can have a date?”
But if you’re not connected with a foster family there are many churches that provide support to families. So if you’re involved with a church, reach out and see what they offer. And if you’ve tried those methods and you’re not connected, message us. You can go to our website and Live Chat and we’d be happy to connect you with a church or some foster families in your area.
3. Show your Support– So many of us can advocate for foster care without being a foster parent.
Promote the need for foster families on a regular basis to your networks. Purchase a SHAREfostering t-shirt- for $20 you can get one in teal or sunset. Wear them out in public as an invitation for someone to approach you and want to talk about fostering. Or maybe someone doesn’t have a connection to fostering and they say, “Oh are you a foster parent? I’ve always thought about doing that one day.” It’s a great conversation starter to chat with people about the need and break down some of the myths that people believe about fostering. Buy the shirts at Care2Foster.org/sharefostering. All the proceeds go straight back into finding more foster families and supporting foster families.
Another thing you can do is to be very active on social media. When people share their stories about fostering, share those stories, comment on their posts, engage them on social media about fostering.
4. Host an event– You do not have to know anything about foster care to host an event to share the need with others. So, if you are moved by children in foster care and you want to do something, maybe you have a little time to give, hosting an event can be the perfect option. You can request information from Care2Foster for packets that we will send to you with all the information you need to host the event. We can also try to connect you with a foster family or two to share their story.
Maybe you’ll have people in your home for drinks. You can do a wine and cheese night; you can do a breakfast and coffee or speak about it at your church. Request a packet and we’ll send you all the materials you need. Our staff will nurture you throughout the whole process and make sure you have what you need to have a successful event.
5. Become informed– read about stories of children in foster care. Lindsey recommends “Three Little Words: A Memoir,” an inspiring true story by Ashely Rhodes-Courter who was in the SC foster system as a child. It gives you a real picture of what it’s like to be in foster care. It’s heartbreaking – but it is engaging and it’s real. It’s an easy read.
When you read and learn about fostering, your heart is captivated. It’s a simple way you can become involved in the system. You can really become an advocate by learning about the needs of these children. If you’re looking for other great reads, check out our blog for book reviews of other books about the foster care system such as White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
Take one active step to do something positive to advocate for these youth! Please join us next week for Foster Friday Live at noon. Be sure to tune in! And tell us one simple thing you will do to advocate in the comments below. #SHAREfostering
Watch the full interview with Lindsey on Youtube.