5 Ways to Encourage
We all wonder how best to support our friends and family who are fostering. Let’s face it, foster families are usually in it for the long haul and they need a large safety net of people they can rely on to remain true to their calling. Below are five simple ways to come alongside them.
1. GIVE UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT– It’s important to remember that foster parents “inherit” the behaviors and transgressions of the birth family that have sometimes been passed down the generations. Unless you’ve walked 24/7 in the foster family’s shoes, you really can’t understand the depth of the issues they are dealing with, nor the toll that dealing with them takes on a daily basis.
Foster parents are required to keep certain facts and details confidential which often puts them at a disadvantage when outsiders are looking in at their situation. Things are often not as they appear, but this cannot be communicated to you. So please, give the foster family the benefit of the doubt, and instead of judging their actions, come alongside them and offer support and prayer. In the end, the truth always comes to light. Eventually, you may see this happen.
2. REFRAIN FROM ASSUMPTIONS – When watching each other parent, we often assume we know what’s going wrong in the interactions with parents and kids and are quick to give advice or judge. However, when children come from severe trauma, abuse and neglect, these assumptions no longer hold true. These kids’ negative behaviors can be triggered by the most mundane comment or action. And their reactions can be off-the charts crazy and can last for hours.
Foster parents receive training on alternative discipline techniques and how to deal with extreme reactions. Sometimes even those don’t work. It’s a bit of trial and error. The methods you see them use might not be the traditional time out or removal of privileges that seem to work well with your bio kids. Their methods may seem more permissive which could lead you to believe they are perpetuating the behavior.
It’s also good to remember that foster children are often emotionally much younger than their actual age. It would not be strange to see a six-year-old pitch a full-on tantrum that you’d normally see from a two-year-old. So, please don’t assume the foster parent is messing up. Understand that they’ve “got this” and will respond appropriately.
3. LOVE WELL – Sometimes it’s really inconvenient and difficult to love on foster families, particularly those who have challenging child(ren). There are myriad practical ways to show love. After all, love is a verb! Find out the best way to serve your particular family. Perhaps it’s by watching only the foster child(ren), so the bio kids can have some special attention that they’ve been missing out on. It could be inviting the whole family over for dinner, so they can get out of their normal routine. Perhaps you could offer various kinds of gift cards for the movies, a manicure, or dinner.
Remember to love the whole family well. The foster family needs you to love on the foster children the same way you do their bio children. Most of these children have never experienced that kind of love. You never know what kind of difference loving them well could make for their future.
4. STAY AVAILABLE – You are needed, even if the first ten times you offer, the answer is no thank you. Please stay available and willing to help. Fostering is quite different from raising biological children, particularly if the case requires extra visitations, frequent court dates, therapy, and medical appointments.
Foster parents become overwhelmed, but not always in the beginning of the placement. Like extra bricks being added to a backpack, these extra appointments start to weigh a family down. Added to that is the emotional upheaval that fostering brings with it. So, keep offering help and be available to help with childcare, a meal, running out for diapers, or even offering the most dreaded errand of all, stopping by the post office.
5. OFFER TO PRAY – Whether you’re a volunteer, neighbor, friend, or a family member, when you become involved in foster care, you enter a spiritual battleground. The only true weapons are prayer and God’s truth. Prayer often takes a backseat to more practical kinds of service, but prayer should be the foundation of serving foster families.
Look for opportunities to pray with and for the foster family: on the phone, in a short note or email, or in person. You can’t imagine how encouraging this is for foster families, especially in their most challenging times. And of course, take time to pray for them privately.
You may never feel the call to foster, but by encouraging and serving a foster family, you are making a huge difference.
Foster families need you more than you’ll ever know.