Over the years, I've developed a sort of "bucket list" of things that I would love to do, become involved in, and accomplish when it comes to foster care so I thought I'd share it with all of you in "A-Z Thing" form (just to challenge myself ;-). Some of these, I've already done, some I continue to do, some I am just beginning, and others I plan to do in the future!
Adopt a caseworker - I think all foster parents can agree that if/when we are lucky enough to find a good caseworker who clearly does their best for our kids, their families, and for us, we want to cut them a little bit of slack. Caseworkers are overworked, underpaid, and generally unappreciated for the work they do. I've worked with all kinds over the years, from bitter and angry and clearly hating their jobs to overworked but doing the best they can with limited resources. When I find a caseworker who clearly wants to do their best for everyone involved, I want to help them out however I can. I would love to be able to "adopt" a caseworker every year after I'm no longer fostering (that whole "conflict of interest" thing and all). Find out what they need help with, offer to shop for their kids around birthdays and holidays, show up with office supplies, etc.
CASA volunteer - Only three of my seven kiddos so far have been lucky enough to have a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) appointed to them. A volunteer whose sole mission is to speak for an abused and neglected child to make sure they don't get lost in the System. For many children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant during their time in care. I definitely plan to volunteer in the future!
Clothing/supply swap for foster families - Over the past five years of fostering primarily infants, I have accumulated more baby gear, clothing, and other odds and ends than I know what to do with! Now that I'm leaning more towards fostering PreK-1st grade next, I need to trade in the baby things for older child supplies and toys. Wouldn't it be great to have a weekend where foster families could get together in one place and swap clothing, gear, toys, etc?
Donate supplies to foster agencies - Have you ever sat in a training class at your agency and watched a video on VHS released in 1980 three years in a row because your agency couldn't afford to purchase new material? Have you had to bring your own pens and paper? Does your agency case manger have to buy her own office supplies? I love my agency, and love to show up with goodies whenever I have a chance.
Establish a foster/adopt ministry at my church - I know this would be a huge undertaking, but I truly believe that we as a church can do more. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but I do believe that every person has the ability to help a hurting child and the families who have opened their hearts and their homes to the children who need them. We can do more, and I think it just takes one person to step up and call others to action.
Fundraisers for deserving families - I'm a sucker for a worthy cause, and my heart is all about children. If there is a way to help a family in need, I'm all for it! I'd love to help organize fundraisers for families who need specialized vehicles for foster or adopted children with special needs or help families with legal expenses. $20,000 for one family can seem like an insurmountable expense, but if everyone who cares about that family donated just $5, we can do our part to help a child in need. And who doesn't like a good bake sale?!? :-)
Go-to girl for a fostering family - When I get to the point where I need a foster parenting break, I would love to volunteer to be the "Go-to Girl" for another foster family. I would be the person they could call to make that initial Walmart run for diapers and formula while they're getting the house ready for a new placement. I could help out with babysitting their other children while they do all of the initial doctor and dental visits. I could bring meals on stressful days, do their dishes, or just be there to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Being a foster family is a hard and often very lonely road. I love that I have several people I can call on when I need the support, and I'd love to be able to be that person for another foster family!
Inspire a family to foster or get involved in some way - Foster care has my heart. While I have seen it at its worst, I have also seen it at its very best. I have watched as a 12-month-old, sad, self-soothing little girl transformed into a trusting little girl full of smiles in a matter of weeks. I have watched a young family grow into something great. I have co-parented with a single father who just needed someone to help his raise his son. My foster care journey has changed me in ways I never could have imagined, and I pray that my journey will inspire someone else to get involved. Become a foster parent, become a CASA volunteer, help a fostering family, donate do a local agency... It would be something special to know that my journey has inspired someone else to get involved with something that means so much to me.
Join some foster parent organizations - I can't believe I've been a foster parent for nearly five years, and still haven't joined a foster parent association or any other organization geared towards fostering families! It's a great way to network and meet other families.
Keep an eye out for businesses and organizations offering discounts to fostering families and pass the information on to my foster mama friends. Every little bit helps, and if you're like me and send your children home with complete wardrobes, toys, books, and supplies, restocking with every child can get expensive.
Mail care packages to foster youth in college or the military - Teens and young adults aging out of care often have no one to look to for guidance or support. They are sent out into the world with a small stipend and expected to make it on their own. I'd love to ask the caseworkers who I'm close to if they know of any former foster youth who are trying to make lives for themselves and could use a little support and knowledge that someone out there is pulling for them.
Newsletter or online magazine for foster families - I'd love to put together a monthly newsletter or online magazine for fostering families. Find authors experienced in handling the issues that are important to us, provide tips, have encouraging stories from foster families, etc.
Organize an annual foster/adopt mom's retreat and conference - This is my biggie, and is something that means a lot to me and a group of my closest foster mama BFFs. There are retreats for moms. There are retreats for adoptive moms. There are retreats for Christian moms. But we have yet to come across a large conference and retreat that is geared only to mothers who are fostering or who have adopted hurting children from hard places. We're in the "how are we going to make this work" phase right now, and are tossing around ideas. Hopefully in the next couple of years we will have our first go at it and grow from there!
Quit my job and foster full-time - Well, that's not going to happen, but a girl can dream! I've always wanted a house full of kids and a crazy busy life. Maybe I need to find myself a rich husband so I can be a stay-at-home mom! :-)
Respite care for fostering families - I tend to do respite care when I'm between placements. I know it's definitely needed! For me, it's also a fun way to be involved with some great kids and be a part of foster care without having to deal with all of the stress, appointments, visits, caseworkers, etc. You just get to be the nice lady with the fun house. :-)
Send thank you cards and encouraging letters to foster families, caseworkers, volunteers, etc. - One thing that I have tried to do over the years has been to send encouraging letters, cards, emails, etc. to people I have met along the way in Foster/Adopt Land. A "thank you" or an update to a CASA volunteer or caseworker letting them know they made a difference... An encouraging word to a fellow foster parent going through a difficult time... Several months ago, I sent Monkey's CASA an email update letting her know how our lives were going a year after he went home to his dad. I thanked her for her part in making our unconventional little family a reality, and wanted to let her know that she made a difference. I was shocked to find out from a friend going through training to become a CASA volunteer that Monkey's CASA read my letter during a training class! I was so happy that I had taken the time to send it, and that it had meant so much to her. A simple "thank you" or "you make a difference" goes such a long way when we need encouragement, and it only takes a few minutes to type an email or address an envelope.
Teach training classes - My agency is always asking me to teach a training class on documentation and organization telling me that they never worry about anything that I send them because they know it's right. Flattery works, and I am awaiting further instructions on when I need to teach my class. :-) I've also offered to speak during PRIDE training for new foster parents. I think one thing that was sorely missing from my initial training was practical advice from long-time foster parents, and I'd love to be able to provide that advice and support to new families now.
Unconventional family - It wasn't something I had planned, but the family that I have gained through foster care (though unconventional), is one that I wouldn't trade for anything. If I had been able to adopt Booger Bear, I wouldn't have Heaven, Kelly, Kama, Banana, Monkey, or Bug! And while I'm not a "legal" forever mom to any of my kids, I am a "forever" Mom, Mom-in-Law, Mimi, Mommy, Mama to all of them! I can't imagine my life without my family, and I can't wait to see who we add to it over the years. :-)
Volunteer at my agency - I love my agency, and as a fairly new agency, they are definitely in the "please help" stage. I love to be able to help in any way I can, whether it's offering to file, helping Nice Lady with paperwork, offering to put together training materials, sharing information on area conferences or discounts, etc.
X-pand I Must Be Trippin's' content (yes, I cheated a bit on this letter) - I suppose before I add to the blog's content, I should make the time to sit down and write regularly again, huh? Lol. I post on the FB page at least once or twice a day, but sitting down and writing has been tough lately (especially while I'm working on the (not-so) secret book. I'm trying to get better!
Yearly get-together with my favorite online foster mama friends - I think this should be on top of our annual foster mom retreat and conference. I've been "friends" with some amazing women for the past five years, and meeting some of them in person this year was the best! I want to start planning a yearly get-together with my foster mama BFFs so we can just sit and relax and laugh and cry and pray and act silly together before heading back to our crazy busy lives.
Zoo, picnic, or waterpark event for foster families during National Foster Care Month (May) - I know there are agencies and organizations out there that put together events during National Foster Care Month. I just haven't really searched them out until now. Next May, I'll be looking around and taking my kiddos out to enjoy some of them! Maybe I'll be able to meet more amazing families in the process. :-)
So that's it! My Foster Care "Bucket List..." I'm sure glad I've got some good years left in me because it looks like I'm going to be one busy woman! Lol. :-) What about you? What foster care-related things would you like to do?