Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents
May is National Foster Care Month, a time set aside to honor the amazing people — foster families, social workers, and mentors — who step in and dedicate their time to enhancing the lives of children in foster care. This year’s theme is “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents”. Every year, thousands of children enter foster care due to a number of complicated reasons. Many of them stem from their biological parents’ use of drugs and alcohol, financial hardship, a mental health disorder, or because of special needs. But, that doesn’t mean that these children are unloved, or that they don’t have a home that’s waiting for them with open arms.
Whether you’re a family who is considering adoption, or you’re just looking to spread awareness about National Foster Care Month in your community, there are many ways that you can start supporting reunification between foster children and their biological parents.
What is Reunification?
Reunification is the process of returning a child in foster care to their biological family as quickly as possible. While many children are temporarily removed from their families in order to provider a safer and stable environment, their biological parents or family members are doing everything they can to bring the child into a safe, permanent home. The best methods for doing so will depend on the family’s unique circumstances, but they are usually focused on family engagement and parental education. The primary goal of the foster care system is reunification; only after a biological parent has been given many opportunities to complete a reunification plan will their parental rights be terminated by the court, and the child will be legally available for adoption by a new family.
This year’s National Foster Care Month theme highlights the primary goal of the foster system and encourages foster families and members of the community to partner with biological parents to support reunification. Here are six ways that you can support reunification and help support foster and biological families.
Become a foster parent:
One of the best ways that you can support reunification is to provide a safe, temporary, and stable home for a child in need — and to go into the process with a willingness to partner with your foster child’s biological family on the road to reunification. Foster care agencies are always looking for foster parents to open their hearts and home to a child. You can call your local foster care organization to learn more.
Build a relationship with the biological parents:
Building a relationship with biological parents whose children are in foster care and opening up the line of communication with them will go a long way. You should also be willing to offer assistance and support to a parent on their reunification journey. This could include counseling, job training, transportation, and more.
Encourage others in your community to learn more about foster care, and to support foster and biological families in any way they can.
Support local foster care organizations:
Many children in foster care have little that they can claim as their own, so donating everything from school supplies to toys, backpacks and suitcases to a foster care agency in your area is a great way to get involved. You could also choose to simply donate money or organize a drive in your neighborhood to support local organizations. Reach out to your local foster care organizations to find out what they need.
Another type of organization that you can support is one that focuses helping adults get back on their feet. These organizations focus on helping adults struggling with homelessness and addiction find adequate housing and employment. Many adults who are fighting these issues either already have children in foster care, or are doing everything they can so that they won’t have to go through the heartbreaking process of reuniting their families in the first place — all they need is a little help to get started.
Volunteer your time:
Becoming a mentor or a tutor is an amazing way that you can make a huge impact in the life of a child in foster care. You can become a mentor for children of all ages through different organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Foster Care to Success.
Connect with families who have gone through foster care:
As this year’s theme highlights how supportive relationships can help achieve family stability, reading stories from real foster families and foster youth can help open up the conversation about what you can do to support reunification.
Adopting From Foster Care
While the main goal of foster care will always be reunification, there are children who are still in need of permanent families and homes to thrive in. Providing a safe environment for foster youth is an amazing opportunity, and one that many adoptive parents take advantage of to build their family. If you choose this route, it’s important to educate yourself about the difference between foster parenting and fostering to adopt. This can include learning about getting certified to be a foster parent, reading stories about adoption and foster care, or reaching out and getting to know other foster parents through a support group or a forum.
How You Can Support National Foster Care Month Today
No matter how you choose to do so, there are plenty of ways that you can make a difference in the lives of children and families in foster care. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can make an impact, reach out to your local foster care agency to learn more about how you can get started today.