While the world witnessed the extraordinary altruism of many who wanted to help children devastated by the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, most people are completely unaware of the 518,000 children and youth in foster care at any one time in the United States, most of whom are temporarily placed there due to parental abuse and neglect. However, everyday, people in communities across the country are making a difference in the lives of children: foster parents, relative caregivers, mentors, advocates, social workers and other supporters. These unsung heroes of our society understand that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of America’s children, including those in foster care.
Foster care and foster parents can offer a stable and secure environment until the child can either return home or establish an alternative lifelong relationship with an adult other than his or her birthparent (through adoption or kinship care, for example).
There are actually hundreds of ways to get involved. Here are a few suggestions on how you can join the efforts of the many organizations working to change the lives of children and youth living in foster care.
Share Your Heart
- Mentor a young person. Research shows that children and youth with mentors earn higher grades and improve their relationships with friends and families.
- Learn more about how policy, legislative and budget priorities affect children and youth in foster care.
- Donate goods such as suitcases, books, games, computers, sports equipment, musical instruments, clothing and school supplies to young people in foster care.
- Help a foster care program in your state. Your contribution to these agencies will mean brighter and safer tomorrows for children and youth in your state and across America.
- Send care packages to foster care alumni attending college or become a virtual mentor for a young person in college.
- Expand the circle of support for a youth in foster care as an e-mail/online pen pal.
- Help young people in foster care organize a youth leadership or support group.
Open Your Home
- Become a foster or adoptive parent. Nearly every community across the country is urgently seeking more foster parents to meet the needs of children and youth of all ages. Foster homes allow displaced youth to live together with their siblings, remain in their own neighborhoods and schools, and stay connected to their communities. Caring families (especially families of color) are especially needed for older youth, siblings and children with special needs.
- Open your business “home” to help find families for youth in foster care. Find out how your organization can encourage people in your community (and your own employees) to get involved.
- Find out about affordable housing options for young people making the transition from foster care.
- Learn more about becoming a licensed respite care provider as a way of providing support to foster families in your neighborhood.
Offer Your Help
- Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). CASA volunteers are trained citizens appointed by judges to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children.
- Learn how to help a youth in foster care explore career options, acquire new job skills, or find employment or résumé-building internships.
- Make a financial contribution to support the personal enrichment or education of a youth in foster care.
- Dedicate yourself to a career that helps families by becoming a professional social worker.