35 Ways to Support Foster Kids
There are more than 400,000 kids in the foster care system in the U.S., each of them struggling with the challenges and trauma of family separation. Every year about 20,000 of those kids age out of the system and find themselves at 18 or 21 with no family and on their own. These are kids and families who need help.
While it’s not your job to be a therapist, there are plenty of practical ways you can help support foster kids, families, and the organizations involved in this work.
35 Ways You Can Help
Ready to find some practical ways to offer support?
1. Do Start With Eyes Wide Open
It’s great to dive in and help, but you need to be aware of potential issues. A savior complex is a very real pitfall in the adoption world. It can be even worse in foster care. Kids end up in foster care thanks to trauma. Not only is it not your job to fix that trauma, but it’s not something to fix. It’s a challenge these kids will have to work through. Foster kids don’t want to be pitied. They want to be treated with dignity and respect, like any other person.
- Start by educating yourself so you come in with the right mindset.
2. Respite Care
Foster care is a lot of work and sometimes everyone needs a break—both parents and kids. That’s what respite care is for—a place for kids to go for a few days to give everyone a needed break. It can be a way to reset or take a pause. If you’re not sure about being a foster parent or can’t commit for the long term, respite care is a good option. It can be a few days or a weekend or whatever is needed.
- Here’s a detailed study on respite care. It’s targeted at agencies, but can give you a thorough understanding of what respite care is and why it matters.
- Contact your local agency to learn more about offering respite care and what the local requirements are.
Taking on a kid for several days with respite care may not be your speed, but you can likely handle a few hours. Give foster parents a date night by offering babysitting. You might be in for a fun night of fort building and storytime—but you’re giving this family a needed break.
- Requirements vary by state, so check with local agencies. For example, in California you can babysit for less than 24 hours without any extra licensing or approvals.
4. Playdates & Sleepovers
Another way to give a foster family some help and support is to invite the kids over for a playdate or sleepover with your kids. The kids get a chance to play and, well, be kids, and the parents get a quiet house.
- Check with your local agency to see about opportunities and double-check requirements.
5. Be a CASA or GAL Volunteer
Foster kids need someone to advocate for them, especially when there’s abuse or neglect. That’s what court appointed special advocates (CASA) and guardians ad litem (GAL) do (different places use different language).
- Get more info from CASA/GAL for Children.
6. Become an Advocate
Foster kids aren’t always top of mind for politicians and they don’t have lobby groups looking out for them. You can be an advocate for foster care. Research the issues, support funding and improvements, and lobby politicians and state officials to make the system better.
- Organizations such as the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Foster Care Alumni of America, and the Children’s Defense Fund have more specifics on policies you can support.
- Many foster kids are victimized by human trafficking, so fighting that issue with organizations like Dressember can help.
7. Vote for Foster Care
Maybe research and lobbying requires more time than you have, but almost everyone can vote to support foster care. Pay attention to local issues and support improvements to the foster care system. If you’re not sure where to start, local agencies and nonprofits will know what the issues are. They likely won’t weigh in on specific candidates, but they can tell you the issues and you can research the candidates from there.
- The North American Council on Adoptable Children maintains a list of policy positions and recent legislation. Ask local candidates where they stand on these issues.
8. Be a Mentor
As foster kids bounce around through the system they often miss out on role models and mentor relationships. You can be a mentor to a foster kid. It’s really just being a friend: hang out, listen to what they’re dealing with, introduce them to new activities, pass on a skill, etc.
- You can connect with local agencies or nonprofits to get started.
- Organizations such as MENTOR and Big Brothers Big Sisters can connect you with mentoring opportunities.
9. Tutor Foster Kids
Bouncing around between placements can often mean education is disrupted and foster kids fall behind. Plus, stress. Tutoring can be a way to help them catch up and give foster parents a break.
- You can check with local agencies to see what kind of help is needed.
10. Give Gifts
Many foster families are on a tight budget, so gifts and practical necessities can go a long way. To preserve the dignity of a family, it’s generally best to give through an organization whenever possible. Many foster care agencies and nonprofits maintain online wishlists. Children’s Action Network in Los Angeles uses MyRegistry.com to run SantaCAN at Christmas while Treehouse in Seattle uses Amazon for several wishlists.
- Search through Amazon’s charity wishlists.
- Search on MyRegistry.com.
- Ask your local agency or nonprofit if they have a wishlist.
11. Give Clothes
Foster kids move around a lot and can’t always take everything with them, so there’s a need for clothes. Plus, kids grow. You can donate gently used kids clothing. Don’t forget overlooked items like belts, shoes, and dress clothes (especially as older kids have job interviews).
- Look for local organizations that offer clothes closets specifically for foster families.
- Support organizations that provide professional attire, such as Dress for Success.
12. Give Luggage
Too often foster kids have been forced to cram whatever belongings they can into whatever’s handy—usually a black plastic trash bag or paper grocery bags. Help kids avoid that stigma by giving a suitcase, duffel bag, or other luggage.
- The nonprofit Comfort Cases specifically focuses on this need.
13. Give a Welcome Box
Entering foster care can be scary and traumatic. It also involves a lot of waiting. Every Child in Oregon sets up age and gender appropriate welcome boxes. It’s a way to show kids they’re loved, give them something to do, and equip them with a few essentials. It might include basics like toiletries and socks as well as fun goodies like gum, a Rubix cube, or a deck of cards.
- Start by contacting your local agency to see if they accept welcome boxes and what their specific needs are.
14. Give Big
Foster families get minimal help from local governments, but budgets are often stretched thin. Extras like sports or activity fees, summer camp, or college are often out of reach. You can help by sponsoring a foster kid for an activity or sport, sending them to camp, or setting up a scholarship fund. You don’t have to go it alone, either. Gather a group and pool your resources to come through in a big way.
- Connect with a local agency to see if they can facilitate this kind of giving.
15. Shop and Support
You can support foster care organizations with every purchase you make. Systems such as Amazon Smile will donate a small percentage of each purchase to a nonprofit.
- Just search for a local nonprofit on Amazon’s charity list.
- If you can’t find a local agency, contact them directly and ask if they have a similar program.
- If Amazon isn’t your thing, consider using a credit card with cashback rewards and donate those rewards to a local organization.
16. Cook a Meal for Foster Families
Juggling school, work, activities, and appointments can make getting dinner on the table a challenge for anyone. With all the extra logistics foster care families deal with, it’s even harder. Make it easier by cooking a meal.
Contact a local agency and ask if they can connect you with a foster family to provide meals.
17. Organize Meals for Foster Families
Not a chef? No worries. If you can organize and recruit, you can be the person who organizes meals for a foster family.
- Start by contacting a local agency and asking them to connect you with a foster family in need of meals.
- Use a website like Meal Train to make it even easier.
18. Be a Driver
With therapists and social workers and doctors, foster kids have a lot of appointments. Simply getting from point A to point B can be a challenge. You can step in as the chauffeur and get them where they need to be.
- You can start by offering your driving services to local agencies.
19. Tackle Projects for Foster Families
Another way to help foster families is to pitch in with chores and projects around the house. Whether it’s doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, fixing a leaky toilet, or installing a light fixture, you can tackle projects families either lack the know-how or the time to do themselves.
- Contact your local agency and ask them to connect you with a family in need.
20. Be There for Foster Families
Sometimes you don’t have to do anything, you just need to be there to listen and check in. Take a foster parent or kid to lunch/coffee/dessert and be someone they can talk to. Regularly reach out and make these dates—don’t wait for them to need someone to talk to.
- Ask a local agency if they can connect you with a foster family who could use support.
21. Organize Family Care
You don’t have to offer help alone, you can organize a group effort to help a foster family. Some churches have ministries that create family nights for foster and adoptive families, complete with meals, movies, and more. You can step in to spearhead such an effort or join an existing project.
22. Volunteer With Foster Organizations
Agencies and nonprofits have a lot of needs and you can help in so many ways. It might be simple things like driving or office work, or it could be volunteering your professional skills. Agencies need professional services for a number of things, including websites, event planning, pro bono legal services, and more.
- Contact your local agency to find out how you can help.
23. Take Photos for Foster Agencies
The first step many potential foster families take is seeing a photo of a foster kid in need of a family and responding. Someone needs to take those photos, and leaving it up to a frazzled social worker with their outdated camera phone and unflattering lighting isn’t doing anyone any favors. Professional photos will not only be more appealing and get a better response, but a pro photo shoot can make the kids feel like rock stars.
- Contact your local agency to see if they need help with photography.
24. Hire a Foster Kid
If you own a business or are in charge of hiring you can help a foster kid get a job. The whole process of getting a job can be challenging for foster kids, especially when they age out of the system and are on their own. You can give them a chance.
25. Offer an Internship
If you’re not ready to hire, how about an internship? You could create a short-term, summer position that gives a transition age foster kid invaluable real world experience. As they leave the foster care system and go out on their own, that experience could mean the difference between success and failure.
26. Job Training
Maybe you’re not in charge of hiring, but you can still help a foster kid learn the ropes of finding a job. You can offer informational interviews, resume advice, and serve as a reference. Teach them about the value of networking and professionalism.
- You can start by connecting with agencies and making yourself available for practice interviews.
27. Learn More
Sometimes the first step to getting involved is learning more about the issues and gaining a broader understanding of what the challenges are. You can start by reading stories about foster care and adoption. Read bios of people who survived the system. Be sure to get the perspective of the kids involved and not just the parents or workers, which can be sugar coated.
- Here are just a few books to read: What I Carry by Jennifer Longo (YA), Far From the Tree by Robin Benway (YA), Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courtier (memoir), The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (chapter book), To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam (nonfiction).
28. Share Your Story
If you’ve had a connection with the foster care system, share your story. Maybe it’s a firsthand experience like growing up in foster care or being in a family that offered respite care, or maybe it’s a secondhand perspective like seeing a coworker struggle with job challenges as they transitioned out of foster care. Share those stories. Help normalize the various experiences and challenges so more people can understand what’s at stake and be motivated to get involved.
A good way to normalize foster care and help others learn more is to make sure your local library has a good collection of books about foster care. There are helpful nonfiction titles they should have on hand, but it’s invaluable for kids to see themselves in fiction. Make sure there are picture books, chapter books, YA, and general fiction in the library catalog. If your library has some gaps, make book recommendations for their next round of acquisitions or ask about donating books.
- Here’s one list of kids books that depict foster care. There are plenty more out there and you can do your own reading to create a list to share with your local library.
Another way to normalize foster care is to make sure teachers in your local school are receptive and empathetic to foster kids. Do they have stories in the classroom that depict foster care and orphans in a positive light? If teachers assign the classic family tree project, make sure they’re flexible enough to handle kids with complicated stories and blended families. Sometimes foster kids don’t have access to family photos, so make sure that’s not a required part of the project. Remember that simply accommodating a foster situation isn’t enough. Foster kids shouldn’t be made to feel left out because they can’t do the project the same way as everyone else. These are difficult issues to navigate and you can help a teacher sort it out before a flustered foster parent has to deal with it.
- Here are some specific ideas for how teachers can support foster kids.
31. Sponsor an Organization
Come alongside a local nonprofit that helps foster families and see how you can help. Organize your social group—whether it’s your church, book club, coworkers, neighborhood, rotary, etc.—and make the chosen nonprofit your cause. Support their events, raise money, and spread the word for them.
- Contact a local agency or nonprofit and ask how you can help.
32. Give Money
You can always donate money to foster agencies, nonprofits, and families. Agencies have all kinds of specific needs and could use your support. Nonprofits offer crucial programs to help support kids and families, often serving in ways that are overlooked. Families also have specific needs and sometimes it’s easier to have cash or gift cards that can offer more flexibility than a specific gift.
- Contact local agencies to find out about current needs.
33. Pledge Your Profit
Your business can make a pledge to donate a percentage of your profits to foster care organizations. You can make that decision as the owner, but even if you’re not in charge, you can make the pitch.
- Start by finding a foster care organization to partner with, whether it’s a local agency or a nonprofit.
- Make a pitch to your company’s leadership or put a plan in place to donate a set percentage of profits on an annual basis.
34. Help Birth Families
Supporting kids in foster care often focuses on the kids themselves or the foster families. The birth families are frequently left out. Reuniting families is often the best outcome and three out of five kids in foster care are eventually reunited with birth parents or other family members. You can support birth parents by helping them in many of the same ways listed above. Issues that cause family separation can often be embarrassing or sensitive, whether it’s a substance problem, mental health, physical abuse, or something else. So you need to be cautious and respectful, working to form relationships and make sure your help is wanted. Once you have that relationship, there are a number of ways to help.
- Be a dependency sponsor for someone in treatment.
- Help them find a job.
- Be a mentor.
35. Host a Foster Kid
This is a tough one and it’s not for everybody. That’s why we saved it for last. Welcoming foster kids into your home and family is the biggest and most important thing you can do to support them. Yeah, it’s a big ask, but it’s so needed and can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child—and in your life.
- The best place to start is with your state or county foster system.
That’s a lot of resources, but there are always more. If you have a suggestion for a resource, please comment below and we’ll consider adding it.