There is a child welfare crisis unfolding around us. More than 430,000 children are currently living in foster care right now. Nearly 100,000 of these kids are adoptable and currently waiting for a family to welcome them.
It feels like an overwhelming problem. If you’re not in a position to welcome a child into your home, it might seem like there’s no place for you to contribute. But even if you can’t adopt a child or host foster children, you can still make a real impact in your community. After spending the last two years working with foster families and kids, I’ve learned that the most important way to serve foster youth is through relationships.
Becoming a foster parent is not the only way to support kids in care — here are three ways to directly help foster youth other than becoming a foster parent.
Become a mentor
Mentoring a child or teen in foster care offers them the presence of a supportive adult, which can have a huge stabilizing impact in their lives. Most mentoring programs are aimed at teenagers in foster care, and often involves assisting them in learning the skills and tools they will need as they age out of foster care and transition into the adult world. Mentors are also there to simply be a loving and fun adult in their life. Youth in foster care are often surrounded by caseworkers, attorneys, and government professionals. A mentor has the opportunity to simply be source of joy in a child’s life.
Approximately 28,000 kids will “age out” of foster care this year. This means they will turn 18 and enter into adulthood without a permanent or stable home. Why not offer your supportive and caring presence for someone who might be feeling alone and scared?
Advocate for kids in court
A Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) are members of a national volunteer program who provide advocacy for a child in the court setting. Child welfare courts can be scary, intimating, and often filled with contrasting voices all representing different interests. As a CASA, you can help elevate the voice of the child and their needs in court.
Volunteer at your location agency
Most foster and adoptive agencies are in need of volunteers to help them care for the kids they serve. Many agencies host events or camps for the children and families, which are great opportunities to offer your time if you are looking for a one-time volunteer opportunity.
Another way to help is by volunteering your services or talents. For example, many agencies offer classes or lessons to children in care, and often rely on volunteers to provide these services. Giving music lessons, math tutoring, and life skill lessons are all areas where volunteers can be of help. If you have a skill you can share, consider offering it to children who could benefit from it the most.
From the outside, foster care seems like an overwhelming system to step into in order to make a difference. There are so many children in need, and it’s hard to see where we can take steps to help. It is easy to think, “This issue is too big for any single person to make an impact.” I’ve felt that way at times, too.
It helps to remember that even though it is a big system, there are real individuals who are making their way through it. And touching even one life in foster care is a way to make a real impact.
Pope Francis is calling us to a culture of encounter: to look beyond ourselves with the courage to be present to others in need — not because I have any of the answers, but simply because people are worthy of loving.
When I’m faced with doubt and wonder if I can really make any impact, I remember this quote from Dorothy Day:
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”