There are more than 400,000 foster children in the United States.
In the state of Oklahoma, there are approximately 9,600* children in DHS custody.
Becoming a foster parent is a commitment that not everyone can make. Foster care demands copious amounts of time, love, forgiveness, and patience… and not everyone can give the amount necessary to succeed. Even if you think the path of foster care is not for you, there are other ways to get involved!
Here are just a few different ways to help a foster child and foster families in need.
When I mention CASA to people around me, I am most frequently asked what does a CASA do? The best way to explain the role of a CASA is that you are the person responsible for speaking for children who cannot speak for themselves. Children in foster care, unfortunately, can be forgotten about in the mess of family court cases. The focus typically falls on the biological parents and their progress. DHS workers do their best to advocate for the children on their case load, however, most DHS workers are overworked as it is. When a CASA is on the case, they speak for the children.
Does the child on your case need a Soonerstart referral? Advocate for the referral. Is the foster family noticing some behaviors stemming from the trauma the child has experienced? Advocate for counseling.
The time commitment of a CASA is up there with foster parents, though it’s not quite as much. CASAs spend a number of hours every month visiting with the child or children on their caseload as well as biological parents and foster parents. CASAs are also required to write a court report before each court hearing with their recommendations to the court.
To learn more about CASA, go to www.casaforchildren.org.
2. Become a respite family
I have one word for respite families…HALLELUJAH! Sometimes I just need a break, and respite families are who I call when I need that break. Respite homes are certified foster homes but instead of having a child dropped off on your doorstep an hour after the phone call, you get a few days notice…at least!
Respite is designed to give full time foster parents a much needed breather for up to two weeks at a time. We’ve used respite care for everything from needing space from a foster to going on vacation.
There are a number of foster care agencies in Oklahoma that accept monetary and physical donations. Our own foster care agency, Lilyfield in Edmond, has a resource room that they keep stocked with diapers, toys, formula, and clothes for their foster families to pick from when they receive a new placement. The resource room is stocked entirely by the generous donations of the community and I can speak from experience that it is a HUGE help when you get a placement call at 10:30 at night.
In addition to donating general supplies to local agencies, many organize annual Christmas drives. Joy4Kids, Citizens Caring for Children, and Sunbeam are all agencies that have put together donation drives in the past either in the form of adopting a child or accepting donations for biological families to shop at a later date.
There’s an organization called Comfort Case that puts together duffel bags for children coming into care. Most children in foster care arrive at the doorstep of foster families with the clothes on their back and nothing else. Comfort Case provides a duffel bag with items that children will need while coming into care. Their bags are stuffed with pajamas, toiletry items, a blanket, and stuffed animal among other age appropriate items. The bags are funded entirely by donations and there is no minimum amount to donate.
To learn more about Comfort Cases, go to www.comfortcases.org.
There are a number of agencies and non-profit organizations that offer services to foster children. Big Brothers and Big Sisters is always looking for new volunteers to pair with a child in need. It’s a minimal time commitment that could impact the life of a child in a positive way.
Foster children often miss out on typical childhood experiences because of the situations they come from. Taking a few hours of your weekend to take them to the zoo, swimming, or out for ice cream can give them childhood memories to look back on that they may not have otherwise.
6. Help out a foster family
If you can’t become a foster family, consider finding a foster family and offer to bring dinner or coffee. If you have some free time, offer to babysit the kids and send the foster parents out on a date night. We are lucky to have an amazing support system that has rallied around us for the last 18 months of our foster care journey but not every foster family is that lucky. Don’t let your help end once you think they’ve adjusted to their new placement, because foster care is a constant adjustment.
There are so many ways to get involved with foster children that everyone can find someway to get involved! What are some other agencies or ways you get involved with foster care?
*Statistic is from the 2015 report on foster care