I care so much about adoption, foster care, and child abuse/neglect. If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you already aware of this. This week I posted another story about another child being abused by another adult in their life and I realized that I’m only giving everyone half the story. Because you are the other half. It has been my experience time and time again that most people want a way to help. They see a need and don’t know what to do to meet it. So, let’s get practical.
The fact is, time and money are of great value in life. If you care about something you will give in these ways naturally. My proposal here is to decide you care about foster care and adoption. Decide it matters to you. And then DO SOMETHING about it. There are reports of child abuse and neglect EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It is estimated that five children die every day in America from child abuse. There are currently over 460,000 children in America in foster care. What does that mean? That means those kids, for some reason regarding care and safety, cannot live with their families. They are displaced and put into other families who care for them until the time they can be reunited with their family or can be adopted by a permanent family. Foster care has replaced orphanages in the U.S. Almost half a million kids in our country are living this way, displaced, in turmoil and without a permanent family.
Additionally, there are millions of kids all over the world who are orphans; living in buildings without affection or love, in poverty and starvation, without medical care or simple amenities. Literally millions.
I would love to say that all or most people are called to adopt. But I simply do not think it is true. What I can say is true is that we are all called to be aware and to make a difference, we are all called to be involved in this. What that means is understanding child abuse, it means caring about how this is happening in your town-country-world and knowing what to do to combat it. It means understanding that THIS IS EVERYONE’S PROBLEM and not just a select few. It means we need the voice of the masses to make a difference for these kids, we need the hands and feet of all the community to change the life of kids who have been abused, who are neglected, who need safety and love and a permanant family.
Here are 12 ways you can get involved (I promise there is something YOU can do):
1. Foster a kid. Just LOOK at the information, if nothing else. Note that you can be single or married, a homeowner OR a renter and various forms of wealth/age/status to be a foster parent. Ever seen those commercials about how you don’t have to be perfect to be a ‘perfect’ parent? I love those. What kids need is a loving, PERMANENT parent. Just look into it, open your mind. (Fostering does NOT cost you money. States pay a daily rate for the children to cover their expenses for food, clothes and room and board. Do not let that be a reason to hesitate.)
This is the link for TN, cause thats where I live. Search for your state’s site. It is like a .gov site. http://www.tn.gov/youth/fostercare.htm
Realistically, many people can’t foster right now or maybe ever. Perhaps you have totally legitimate reasons it will not work for your family. But don’t let that stop you- there is more you can do to support foster care and adoption. So much more. If you believe in adoption and want to make a difference, read on- I promise you’ll find something you can do.
2. Get the training for ‘Respite Care.’ This is basically a step-down level from fostering and also very important. You can help out other foster families by watching after their foster kids for a weekend or a week, etc. This is a need for whatever reason, sometimes to give them a break or so they can go out of town…may be beneficial to foster families who don’t have a big support system, could be that they are fostering a difficult child or situation. It’s a great way to find out more about foster care and get involved on a smaller scale.
This is a great ministry because it provides the foster child another family to view and it can give them another person that cares about them. Think about this: what if a kid’s ONLY exposure to family is their family of origin? We know most of the time, when they are in care, that their life has had an episode of chaos, perhaps abuse or neglect. In many cases, there has been turmoil in their lives. It is possible they’ve never known a stable family, adults who have conflict in healthy ways, family members who give to one another or simply talk kindly. Being a respite care family you could provide a foster child a glimpse into a life they’ve never seen before. You could become their friend, or maybe like extended family to them, you may meet a child who is meant to be in your family, perhaps you’ll only ‘babysit’ them once and that’s it. But it’s a valuable service and worth a thought, a prayer, a call to your local DCS office to find out more. (You do not have to worry about financial strain with this- when you provide respite you can be paid to cover the child’s food, expenses for the timeframe, etc.)
The national info on that can be read here: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/service_array/respite/
Again, search your state .gov site for more info and contact info for your local DCS office. In TN you take the same training course as foster parents so the contact info for Respite Care is the same as Foster Care.
3. Support Adoptions. If you are not adopting but believe in adoption as a positive, family-building institute or see it as a way to rescue families and children, then support it. We ‘support’ many things in our lives in many ways; financial, verbal, giving time and attention,, mental, prayerful etc. If you believe in adoption, then find a way to support it. It is likely that someone you know is in the process of adopting or fostering. It’s a growing trend (hallelujah!) and unlike in years past, is no longer a taboo subject. How do you help? Be practical! Support their adoption fund. Most foster care adoptions DO NOT COST the adopters a thing in legal fees (the states pay the court/attorney fees for them) but domestic, international and agency adoptions DO cost- a LOT. If you believe in adoption, put your money where your mouth is and give. Giving to an adoption doesn’t mean you pay for the whole thing, folks, just give what you can; $5, give $50, give $500, I can almost promise that your support means the most, regardless of the amount.
Other practical ideas: make the family a meal, buy their kids new pajamas just for the fun of it, offer to babysit for them or pay a sitter for them to go on a date, TELL them that you think their kids are awesome and how you are blessed by their adoption, talk to them about their experiences, express your joy for their growing their family in this way, learn how to talk about it (see #4) so you don’t mindlessly say offensive things, pray for their family and their children, talk about how awesome and beautiful their kids are like you would with any family, ask them if there are ways you can help them out and that doesn’t have to mean financially unless you want it to, and share with others your love and support for adoption (help us other adoption-fanatics create awareness for the real stories, the real kids, the real families with incredible stories of adoption).
The greatest way to support adoption is to be a fan of it. Once you do, other positive actions will follow.
4. Give Respect. First of all, learn the lingo. I can say from experience that there is little that is more frustrating than giving your heart to these kids and having other adults say things like “where/what/who is their REAL mom/dad?” Learn how to converse with people about fostering and adopting, give respect to the hard job foster parents are doing by knowing what to say, what not to say and why. Foster parents know they aren’t the the birth parents of the children they are parenting. Trust me when I say they are reminded constantly at every family meeting, court hearing and visitation they have. They know everytime they have to get permission to have a child’s hair cut or medication changed. Fostering is a hard job because in many cases you do love the child like your own. Many times, foster parents aren’t planning on adopting the child but that doesn’t change your need to be respectful of their role. They don’t need you to remind them that the child is actually “not their own.” they know way more than you do about that fact. Adoptive parents know they didn’t give birth to their adopted children. Trust me when I say they are always researching, always praying, always preparing for the big conversations with their children about their past and their future in regard to their birthparents.
Most importantly, think about what you say in reference to the CHILD (if they could hear you, how would you say it?)….consider: if your mom isn’t your “real” mom, does that make you a “fake” child? If you aren’t their “own” then who do you belong to? In many adoption cases, the child knows no other mom- perhaps they have come from an orphanage or were adopted in infancy or toddlerhood. Or like my oldest son, he came to us through foster care at 5 months old. He wasn’t adopted until he was 2.5 but when he hears the word “mom” he thinks of me. When someone asks where his “real” mom is, he points to where I’m standing. He knows he is adopted. But “real” moms and dads are the ones who rock you to sleep, who teach you to love, who take care of you when you’re sick, who hug you when you are feeling sad, who put together Lego towers for you, who are there every day to give you attention and love and permanence. Think about children who are older, who are 5, 7, 12 who are being adopted through the foster care system. What do you think you’re doing when you classify the parents they cannot live with any longer due to abuse or neglect of all variations as the “real” ones? Don’t you think they are wondering if their adoptive parents can love them like their “own”? Don’t add to that fear!!
How about we agree in 2014, we all learn the language and stop causing unnecessary harm to children and families who have been through enough already. Call adoptive parents THE parents. Call birth parents (in every situation) BIRTH or BIOLOGICAL parents (Yes I’m serious. I even use this terminology when describing that I have two adopted children and two biological children- not two of my “own”…because they are all MINE). Be extra cautious about little listening ears. Give respect.
5. Donate NEW pajamas and socks to your local DCS office or other local adoption centers. Where I live you could contact Omnivision, Holston Home for Kids, Frontier Health or Camelot as well. Foster parents DO receive a stipend for children in their care- but that doesn’t come usually for the first month or so. Many times, kids must be removed quickly- sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes they didn’t own much to begin with or perhaps their belongings couldn’t be found or packed. Sometimes, kids are taken in extremely traumatic situations.
Imagine getting a call at 10:00 pm and a caseworker bringing you a group of three siblings. They are frightened, tired, confused, emotional. They have only the clothes on their back, maybe a little trash bag (see #6) of items. You scrouge together some items for them to sleep in, big t-shirts and baggy pants and put them all to bed. Foreign clothes in a foreign bed with strangers. Nothing that belongs to them and they feel they belong to no one. And you wonder how you’ll get to the store tomorrow with all of them to get clothes and socks and underwear and pajamas.
There are times in traumatic placements where taking the foster kids to the store the next day for a new wardrobe may not be possible, emotionally or physically. There are many, many times the kids and family need a few days to be together, to bond a little bit, to build a little trust. Might just be that life is crazy- hello, you’ve just added a whole new person or people to your family dynamics. Or the foster parents maybe not be able to afford to buy them a new wardrobe until their stipend check arrives. Therefore, donating the real simple things can be a big help and picking up a package of socks or pajamas isn’t going to break your bank- it could just make a foster parent or foster child feel really supported and remembered. There’s a ministry where I live that stashes TONS of items like this you can donate to them and they’ll donate to the families.
Also, talk to foster families you know and ask them what they may need or what they expect to need if they get a placement. I know when we were planning to foster we spent many months gathering clothes from garage sales, hand-me-downs and buying things so we would have a pajama and an outfit for every age 0-8 for both boys and girls. That would give us at least one day and night before needing to get somewhere to buy them clothes. This turned out to be a great idea because we had three little boys all in a row, all different sizes. One of them was very traumatized- at two years old, he had been abused, spent several days in a hospital, photographed and documented his abuse there- he was physically wrought, then was placed in a foster home and taken to a foreign daycare (which didn’t work out and that is why the placement didn’t work out as far as we know) and then was placed with us….all within 10 days. 10 days, you guys, and his world was turned upside down and backwards multiple times in those few days. I did not leave his sight (literally) and we didn’t take him to a store for more than a month (Toys R Us was the store of choice when we first took him out). He needed time to build trust with us before we left him in a nursery, babysitter’s care or took him around large crowds in stores. We were thankful for all those hand-me-down and purchased clothes and pajamas we had ready.
Pajamas, underwear and socks for ‘in a pinch’ situations ARE helpful. Find out who to give them to and donate a little pack of something. (I’m also going to throw in here that you can donate these same types of items to children/families who are homeless. Contact your local school system to find out how to get items to the kids they are aware of or here local, contact Hope Haven, Friends and Neighbors, or Interfaith Hopsitality Network. Helping homeless families stay together could keep a few kids out of the system.)
Donating socks, pajamas and undies might feel like doing nothing but it is doing SOMETHING.
6. Donate new luggage. Many times kids who come into the system do not own luggage and their possessions are put into TRASH BAGS to transport them to their foster home.One of the biggest heartbreaks for me personally is to imagine this. What message would that send to you if you were a foster kid, removed from your home, going to a foreign place and everything you owned that was deemed valuable enough to take was placed in a trash bag? I know DCS and CPS will accept luggage for the kids; there are other organizations that will do this as well. It’s simply not something in the budget, for the state to buy every kid a suitcase. This is a tangible, real, important way you can support a foster child. Let the message be that someone cared enough for them to 1. have something that is their’s alone and 2. they are not trash. I’m just going to say that again: foster kids aren’t TRASH! If you don’t believe me about how important this is, do a search and listen to kids talk about the spirit-crushing experiences and how much it impacted them to have to put their possessions in trash bags.
Buy a duffel, a suitcase and drop it off with someone who can get it to CPS or DCS for the kids to pack in. NO MORE TRASH BAGS!
7. Give your time. Become a mentor, for the kids, or for the foster parents.
There are so many ways to mentor kids. Ask around your area, do searches, read about what it takes to mentor a kid.
Can’t mentor? Then join or start a group in your church or community center for those adults who are fostering kid or in the process of adopting to come together in a support group. Listen to their stories, give parenting advice, offer a shoulder to cry on, help them prepare for court hearings and offer support afterwards, celebrate and mourn with them, be someone who understands or seeks to understand. Making fostering and adoption a priority in your time will make a huge impact on the world. You might even change the world for one child.
Find out what is in your area and look into the mentoring programs available: http://www.mentoring.org
8. Join or Donate. There are a few big name organizations that are local to me and likely to you. I’m going to mention here specifically CASA for Kids and the Children’s Advocacy Center but there are others- find one that suits you and go to it!
CASA is a volunteer-based organization. A CASA worker is assigned cases and is given the responsibility of investigating a case, talking to all parties involved and getting to make recommendations or revelations to the judge. If you can’t join as a volunteer, just doing something amazing for the people who work in these places. Take them donuts, bake them cookies, drop off a card that thanks them for their service to the community. You can also donate money to their efforts or serve on their board. Just get involved.
Are you aware of what the Children’s Advocacy Center does? Here’s what their website says “The mission of the CAC is to combat child sexual and severe child abuse by coordinating and providing services to children and families in crisis in a safe, loving enviroment.” Whoa. I once spoke with someone who worked there and she told me she often interviewed children about sexual abuse they had endured. Can you imagine such a job? Can you imagine how hard that must be? Someone doing this job is doing our entire community and world a service by caring for these children and helping them heal. Let’s thank these people in practical ways for the way they are caring for the most vulnerable innocents in our country.
9. Sponser a foster kid. You can do this through a Christmas program, they are numerous. Another great idea is to call your local office during the year, maybe pick a month and ask if there is a child you could sponser for their birthday. For children, buy them books and educational toys, dolls, etc. just as you would if it was your child or grandchild. For teens, ask their sizes, buy them clothes and music and books. I’m sure caseworkers can work with you to give age and size and get some gifts delivered to some kids. You may unknowingly impact a child for life, giving them things that are their’s no matter where they live or what happens to them, giving them things even though you get nothing out of it- it’s a true gift for them, no strings attached. Amazing. It’s a value system, folks, and one that foster kids often leave their childhood feeling they lost.
10. Donate to foster kids’ college funds. Many kids who leave the system at 18 are still orphans. Can you imagine going into the wide world at 18 with no grandma to call, no home to come back to for Thanksgiving, no one checking to see why you haven’t answered your phone in three days, or asking you annoying questions about how late you stayed out. They don’t have college funds or perhaps even the feeling that they can go. There are organizations you can give to that will give to foster kids to help pay for their college. That’s pretty awesome.
11. Learn the facts. Learn about what constitutes child abuse and neglect. Educate yourself about the foster care system, study the laws about criminal charges (or lack thereof) for abuse cases. Learn the statistics of foster children, learn the statistics of how many kids die every day in America due to abuse, learn the numbers of orphans in China, in African countries, in Romania, in any and every country you can. Know the facts in your state about cases/laws/policies.
Learn the signs of various forms of abuse and what to do if you witness or suspect it; who to call, what to report, what happens to your report, etc.
Information is power, my friends. Get educated.
12. You guys know I say it all the time: ADOPT! ADOPT! ADOPT! I’m not giving you some guilt-trip here or telling you something I don’t mean: I can’t even imagine my family without adoption. A Legacy of Adoption is what my family will leave behind, beginning years ago with my grandfather and I pray one day, my kids and their’s will keep steadily on. A portrayal of our relationship with Christ, a display of love, but also the greatest blessings you’ve ever known. You don’t know what you’re missing.