by Valarie Edwards
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. Established in 1988, National Foster Care Awareness Month celebrates those whose work and dedication enhances the lives of children and youth in foster care.
This year, the theme for National Foster Care Awareness Month is “Building Blocks to Permanent Families.” Of the 400,000 children in foster care, approximately 117,000 are waiting to be adopted. Deciding to welcome a child into your home by becoming a licensed foster parent or bringing a relative’s child into your family is a big commitment. And, while not everyone may be able or willing to commit on that level, everyone can be a foster care volunteer in some capacity and do something to help children in foster care.
There are probably a million ways to get involved. Check local organizations to find out what’s needed. Here’s a “baker’s dozen” to get you started.
- Advocate. Volunteer to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. This national organization trains volunteers to advocate on behalf of at-risk youth in the classroom and in the courtroom. CASAs are respected members of the care team, who are trained to make decisions in the best interest of the child. To volunteer as a CASA, visit www.NationalCASAGal.org.
- Get creative. If you can crochet or knit, you can help a child feel more at home when moving from place to place with a handmade blanket. Choose your own yarn and design a unique pattern or purchase a kit at www.myveryownblanket.org.
- Send a care package. Holidays can be the toughest time of year when youth in college are living in dorms and may have nowhere else to go. Foster Care To Success connects volunteers with students in need at www.fc2success.org/programs/student-care-packages.
- Provide comfort. Entering foster care can be scary, but a few comfort items can go a long way to ease fears. You can put together a little box that may include Crayons, coloring books, character toothbrushes and small stuffed animals. Age-appropriate comfort boxes may make those late-night emergency placements less stressful.
- Organize. Needs-based community drives are a good way to help. Too many youth in care transition to the streets when local safety nets fail or are unavailable. Consider hosting a drive at your community center, house of worship or other neighborhood gathering place. This ensures donations match residents’ needs. Covenant House, www.covenanthouse.org, supports youth facing homelessness nationwide, while Care Portal, www.careportal.org, connects churches with biological, foster and kinship families who need support.
- Donate or raise funds. Nationwide, nonprofit organizations need your help to fund their missions, keeping resource families updated with timely, useful and relatable information. Go to www.money.usnews.com for tips on finding legitimate nonprofits in your community.
- Educate. If you or someone you know has been impacted by foster care, speak up! Let your local, state and federal lawmakers know that young people need and deserve more than a plastic bag and boot in the bum when they turn 18.
- Encourage. Extended trauma can erase or alter young memories. Encourage a child’s artistic or literary side and help them remember the good times with the gift of a diary or memory book.
- Volunteer for date night. Some agencies and foster parent associations host movie nights giving licensed caregivers a night out on the town while kids munch on tasty treats and are cared for in a safe, friendly environment.
- Get the kids involved. Who doesn’t love to celebrate a birthday? Now you can send a birthday celebration in a box to kids in foster care. This is a great group project for youth groups to make a difference. Check out Team Celebrate’s birthday box program at www.teamcelebrate.org/birthday-box-program.
- Lead. If you can cook, change a tire or balance a checkbook, consider sharing your knowledge with a skills workshop for teens in foster care, helping them prepare for adulthood. Help young people develop marketable skills, like resume writing, completing an employment application, dressing to impress, and interview techniques.
- Mentor. A mentor can change the trajectory of a young person’s life. Organizations like BigBrothers/BigSisters of America, www.bbbs.org, and Foster More, fostermore.org/take-action/become-a-mentor, need people committed to ensuring positive outcomes for youth in care.
- Support. Respite care providers give resource families a temporary break when emergencies arise or for just a few well-deserved days away from children and family responsibilities. Respite families also help children build good relationships with other caring adults and families. Talk to your local child protection agency about how you can become a respite care provider.
To find out how you can support youth in care and celebrate National Foster Care Awareness Month, visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/about/.