It’s so exciting when someone you know welcomes a child into their lives, whether by birth, adoption, or fostering. You want to celebrate this sweet family, give them your best wishes, and support them in this brand-new chapter of their story. And while you may come across three million baby shower ideas online, you may not have great luck finding ways to assist and celebrate the foster families you know and love.
That’s where we hope to help. Being a good friend to a foster family comes with its own unique considerations, and we’d love to empower you to be amazing at it.
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There are so many ways to be helpful to a family welcoming a child of any age. We’ve got a good list here.
Pro Tip: Rules for who can babysit foster children differ by state and agency. If you’d like to help with childcare, check with the foster parents and do your homework to learn what’s allowed.
Being involved with foster care is an emotional journey for everyone—foster parents, biological parents, and children. Recognize that feelings may differ from day to day, and let your friends know you’re there for them through the good times and the challenging times. The best things you can do are listen and affirm their experience. Call, text, and send cards. Check in regularly to show you care.
Consider doing something special for:
- Foster parents becoming licensed providers: They’ve put in a lot of work to reach this milestone. Send them a congratulations card or give them a bottle of something to “cheers.”
- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day:
- For foster parents: Send them a card with a special note recognizing what good parents they are.
- For foster kids: Consider that these holidays may bring up difficult or conflicted feelings. If you are close, be a listening ear.
- Foster kid’s birthday: Get to know their favorite things (foods, hobbies, characters, shows, etc.), and give a gift that shows you know and care about them. If you live nearby, offer to help plan a birthday party.
- Adoption Day: If a foster placement results in an adoption, send flowers, balloons, or special gifts to commemorate the day.
Keep in mind these special considerations for safety and privacy:
- Do not post photos, names, or personal information of foster kids online.
- Do not ask details about the child’s court case. It’s confidential.
When Talking with Foster Parents…
- DON’T say:
- “Do you think you’ll love them as much as your own?”
- “Are you afraid they’ll be damaged?”
- “Aren’t you worried about how it will affect your own children?”
- “I could never foster…”
- “Those kids are so lucky.” Foster kids have been through the trauma of being separated from their families. No matter the circumstances, be mindful that their experiences can be painful.
- Anything bad about the child’s biological parent(s).
- DO say:
- “I’m so happy for you.”
- “You’re really good at this.”
- “I’m here to support you however I can.”
- “I’m looking forward to getting to know __________.”
When Talking with Foster Kids…
- DON’T say
- “You’re so lucky to have foster parents like these.”
- Anything bad about their biological parent(s).
- Anything that assumes you know their story.
- DO say
- “It’s so nice getting to know you.”
- Anything that shows you’re interested in them as a person, not as a foster child.Less. Listening is a helpful way to show you care.
The reasons people become foster parents are as varied as the people who foster. Some simply want to give a child a home who may not otherwise have one. Some wish to be a temporary support to families who will eventually be reunited. Others are motivated by a personal experience with the foster care system. Still others opt to foster after dealing with infertility.
The foster parents in your life may discuss their reasons with you, or they may not. The important thing is that you are supportive of their choice.
If all we know about fostering is what we’ve seen in the headlines, we’re sure to carry around some unhelpful stereotypes. The truth is often much less sensational and much more nuanced than what we see in the news.
The truth about foster kids
- They are not irreparably damaged. Many kids just need consistency and a safe environment in which to process their trauma.
- Many have biological parents who love them and whom they love, no matter what their circumstances may be.
- They don’t all want to be adopted.
The truth about biological parents with kids in foster care
- Most are not abusive. Many become involved with the system because of neglect, which can be a result of poverty and other environmental factors.
They love their kids, even when they can’t provide a permanent home for them.
The truth about foster parents
- Most are not trying to make money off of the system. Fostering is not a lucrative endeavor.
- They are not trying to take people’s kids away. They are trying to provide a safe, caring home for a child in need.
You don’t need to become an expert on every acronym, but learning these few terms will help you know what your foster friends are talking about.
Permanency—The goal of every case with a child in state custody—to find a safe, loving, permanent home that can meet the child’s needs. Permanency might mean going home to a biological parent, being adopted by relatives, or being adopted by a foster family.
Kinship placement—A child is placed in the home of a friend or family member they knew previously, as opposed to with foster parents they didn’t know before.
Reunification—A child returns home to their biological parent(s).
Respite care—Short-term supervision of foster children by a trained provider, meant to give foster parents and children time apart to recharge.
CASA/GAL (court-appointed special advocate/guardian ad litem) —A trained volunteer who, along with an attorney, represents the child’s best interest in the case. Especially for younger children, a CASA/GAL is the child’s voice in court.