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Children across the country are heading back to school rooms, going shopping for new school clothes with parents, and choosing classes that will give them a bright future. It’s a happy time full of excitement, goal-setting, and a rekindling of old friendships and the start of new ones. But for foster children the beginning of a new school year can be fraught with uncertainty, fear, and sadness. These children, who have been removed from their familiar surroundings and family relationships, are often attending schools they have never been in before, with people they have never met. It’s a scary place to be. Agape Village Inc. is a community organization dedicated to recruiting and training families and individuals to provide loving, supportive foster homes for children in this vulnerable position. Their work is helping children to find a more stable today and a better hope for successful tomorrows. You can help when you donate your car for their charitable works at Donate A Car.
How to Befriend a Foster Child
Whether you are a foster parent yourself, are considering fostering, or know of a foster child in your neighborhood, there are things you can do to help befriend the foster children in your area and be a support group for the parents who choose to foster.
#1 Remember Foster Parents Are Just People Too
Foster parents are often frustrated by being called “saints” or “angels” or anything else that makes them out to be anything other than an ordinary human being. For them, fostering is normal and needed. They do it because it needs to be done, because they can, and sometimes because they feel pushed to do it by family circumstances. If fostering was seen as more normal, instead of only an option for the saintly or the perfect, then there would probably be more foster homes open to the many, many children who still need homes. When fostering is seen as a normal, good choice it is easier for a foster parent to ask for the help they need, and accept it when it is given.
#2 Don’t Speculate Out Loud
Foster children are acutely aware of what is said around and about them. It is important for their neighborhood support system to not make assumptions about their past, speculations on their future, or to ask for private information. Foster children are first and foremost children. They need to be treated with compassion, kindness, and respect. Foster parents are not at liberty to give out private information about their foster kids’ situations, so please don’t ask.
#3 DO Ask the Child About Their Interests
There are lots of things that you can ask a foster parent and child, questions that the child can answer for themselves. Favorite food, color, activities, etc. Showing an interest in them directly can help them integrate into a community.
#4 Don’t Badmouth Their Family
No matter what situation they came out of, a child’s family is still their family. Foster parents do not see birth parents as the “enemy”, be careful that you don’t say hurtful things or downplay the importance of the foster child’s parents. Many of them are working hard to overcome difficulties to get their children back. Be respectful if you must speak about their families.
#5 Avoid “Separator” Words
When you are interacting with a foster parent and their children, be careful to not use words that draw lines between “real” children and “foster” children. Those are “children” in that house and although those words may not be meant to harm, they can bruise already tender feelings and further alienate children who feel out of place.
#6 DO Invite Them to Participate
Remember to invite foster children to participate in community, school, church, and neighborhood activities. They are not “temporary” children. Avoid thinking of them as someone who will “go back” to some other place in the near future. Treat them as a permanent and important part of the local community. Foster children often deal with feelings of loss, abandonment, and insecurity, inviting them to participate and showing them that you want them around can go a long way to helping them to feel more secure in their surroundings.
#7 Don’t Ask About Adoption Proceedings
Not every foster child ends up being adopted by their foster parents, not every foster parent can adopt, many kids go back to their birth parents, and speculation can emotionally difficult. No adoption proceedings can even begin for at least a year, sometimes longer. Asking about it, especially in front of the foster children is inappropriate.
#8 DO Offer to Help
Foster parents are often low on lots of things: time, money, and extra hands to do the work. Foster parenting is not a money-making opportunity no matter what urban legends you’ve heard to the contrary. Most foster parents must use their own funds to take care of the foster children they provide a home for. The small amount they receive is supposed to be a reimbursement of expenses, but it barely covers the basics and is nowhere near enough for most children. If you want to know how you can help a foster parent, just ask. They are usually more than willing to tell you what they need. Be willing to babysit, do dishes, run an errand, or just drop by for a visit. Foster parenting isn’t easy, and they have bad days just like everyone else. Sometimes just being a friend with a listening ear is enough.
#9 DO Volunteer Your Time
There are many reasons for the need for foster parents. You may or may not be able to foster yourself, but even if you can’t be a foster parent there are many other ways to help children in your community. Volunteer your time with local anti-poverty groups, food pantries, homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters, and education programs. Poverty is the root cause for many of the social ills that lead to children being removed from a home. Helping to prevent those problems is a great way to help foster children.
#10 DO Teach Your Children
Teach your children the things you have learned about befriending a foster child. Most foster children didn’t ask to be taken out of their homes. They have had to leave behind everyone and everything that was important to them. They don’t feel lucky to be in a home where someone takes care of them. They feel alone, scared, and uncertain. Teach your children to be good listeners, to avoid judging, and to be kind. Having a friend can go a long way toward making a foster child feel more secure.