Supporting Adoptive and Foster Families

Archived Q&A and Reviews

How to help foster children (without adopting)?

Nov 2013

My father and his siblings lost their mother and were abandoned by their father as a child. Inspired by his experience, I had always planned to adopt, but life doesn't work out the way you plan... Now I'm an older single mom and I don't think I have the capacity to commit to raising a child who may have exceptional physical or emotional needs. Nonetheless, I would like to do something to help a child or children who don't have stable family. I'm imagining tutoring, or acting as a mentor for a teen, etc. I would love to hear about ways to help and support children in these types of situations. Signed, anonymous

Two ideas:

Provide respite care for foster parents. Foster parents need time off too, and you could provide babysitting for a few hours or a few days. Very much needed. Contact your county's foster care program for information.

Considering becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. Learn more at foster parent cheering you on!

You are an ideal candidate for Court Appointed Special Advocates!

This is an organization that works with foster youth, mainly teenagers. There is a great need for men to volunteer as mentors. You commit for a minimum of one year, and many CASAs remain a part of the foster youth's life for much longer.

You can serve in a ''Big Brother'' capacity, see what the youth needs, and help arrange for these needs to be met. You can spend time with them once a week, or make other arrangements if you wish.

You may select a youth from a number of case histories that are presented to you after you have undergone a few weeks of training.

Once you contact the organization, there will be a couple of orientation meetings so that you can learn about the mission and be sure that you are ready to step up to the commitment.

There are also other ways to volunteer or help CASA that are not as big a commitment, as a way of getting one's feet wet.

Thanks for your enthusiasm on behalf of these young people Amelia, a former foster youth

Children in foster care have terrible outcomes compared to other young people and need all the help and support they can get. Fortunately there are a lot of ways to help. One thing you might consider is becoming a CASA - that's a court appointed special advocate. A CASA gets appointed by the court when a child is struggling and either the child's social worker or attorney requests it. You then meet with the child on a regular basis and provide a report every six months to the court on how the child is doing and help give the child a voice. However, the one thing I'd say is that if you do pursue something like this, consistency is really important. Foster kids have a lot of turmoil in their lives and a lot of people coming in and out (social workers, foster parents and attorneys all often change multiple times) and the CASAs I've seen have the best effect are the ones who stick around with the kid for years, meeting with them every couple of weeks and doing fun things (one CASA I know established a book club with her youth and takes her to a bookstore every time they meet which the kid, who was initially a hesitant reader, has grown to love, they also go out to meals together and movies and other cultural events). There are lots of CASA training programs which you can google depending on your county. There are also other roles you could play, like an education surrogate (someone who makes educational decisions for a youth and helps make sure they are getting the services they need). Or look at an organization like strive for in San Francisco. Attorney for foster youth

I would highly recommend becoming a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) for a child in foster care. Pretty much every county has a program--you can find yours and learn more about it here Basically you commit to meeting with the child about once/week, kind of like a Big Brothers/Big Sisters relationship, but in addition you find out what else is going on in their lives (you will have a court order that helps!) and advocate for their needs--educational, medical, placement AND you report to the judge prior to every hearing (usually every 6 mos). There is a lot of training so don't worry if you don't feel prepared to do this. What you really need is the persistence and patience to keep showing up. It is a commitment of about 10-20 hrs/month. Very rewarding. I've been doing it for five years (a two year commitment is required to start). Deborah

Consider becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

This is a great program where volunteers (after training) are appointed to advocate for children who are wards of the court. They attend court meetings to speak about how the child is doing and also have outings with the child (sort of a big brother/big sister type relationship). Often times children who are wards of the court have no stable person who consistently looks after them (no family, changing foster homes, etc.) and a CASA person who can commit to several years of guidance can really help stabilize someone's life. See the website for more information. I know a few people who have done this and it is very rewarding and seems to make a difference to the kid. How nice of you to help a child

A few years ago someone on BPN posted about CASA, a volunteer advocacy group for children in foster care. I briefly looked into it but for various reasons, it was not a good fit for me at the time. I hope someone with actual experience with CASA will give you some advice. It seems like a really wonderful organization. anon

You should check out the Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA). Each county has their own program. You get to mentor a child and visit them weekly and at the same time advocate for them and have a voice (and help be their voice) when decisions are being made about schooling, placements, etc. The programs include training and support. I was a CASA for about three years and would recommend it to others. My CASA child is now an adult. I didn't start again with another child because I no longer have the time to commit to the program. Here is their national website: Former CASA

Hello, I am involved with an amazing group on the UCB campus called Cal Independent Scholars. Read about them here: Read the page, especially the testimonials, which are quite moving. They support kids who were foster kids or otherwise independent, and are now UC Berkeley students. You should get in touch with them and see if this is something that works for you. Good luck! michael

Just this morn, at school drop-off, a foster Mom friend was in tears... with exhaustion, with overwhelm, and with needing more support for her and her 13 year old daughter than single-parenting and the county foster system can provide. Bless you for reaching out to contribute what you can. I suspect you'll find a lot of love and laughter in the process of being willing to engage at depth with the messiness of our shared humanity. So often I find that it is in our brokenness where the light shines through.

There are SO many kids who are needy, but here's one who really needs you right now, and has love and laughter to share too! Perhaps you could join the village to help N. get caught up academically to her peers before she goes off to high school next year. Growing up in an abusive family, then shuttled from foster home to foster home until my friend took her into both heart and home, has left gaps in this girl's academic foundational building blocks... which then, of course, takes a hit on her self esteem. While this child has so blossomed in the last 4 years, it is clear to me that she has a good and contributing and deeply compassionate life ahead of her if we can give her the support she needs now. At the same time, I suspect and fear that this child will go down the path of her origins unless we, the village, can provide this needed extra investment of time, energy, love, and support (more than her foster Mom, even with her community, can provide right now),

Whether you reach out to this child or another,having someone to simply help with homework on a regular basis, after school or in eves, would make a world of difference - to the child, and to her exhausted foster Mom. N needs some tutoring to be successful and catch up to grade level, but the cost of paying for such help is prohibitive. Blessings on your journey, and if you'd like to connect with this foster Mom and daughter, please ask the Moderator for my contact info. Part of the Village

It's so heartening to hear you want to help. I volunteer with four children in my Berkeley neighborhood (ages 2, 8, 10, and 11) who come from families with such high needs (poverty, drug addiction, homelessness) that the children would truly benefit from a stable relationship with a caring adult. One of them especially needs someone to attend her parent teacher conferences and help her with her homework. The two year old could use someone to help his mom enroll him in Head Start. Please email me if you would like to hear more about the children and their personalities. If it sounds like you might be interested in mentoring them, I'd be happy to connect you. If anyone else reading this would like to help out, please let me know. As a mom of two little kids, I find I can't help my neighborhood kids as much as I wish I could.

How to support my friend who is adopting siblings who've been in foster care

Sept. 2003

Our friends are about to adopt to children. They're siblings (5 & 7 years old) that are currently separated in foster care homes. (Their mom is in jail - drugs.) The children have been in foster care for years now and the mom has agreed to give her children up for adoption which is where our friends come into the picture. Our friends and the children are in for a huge life change and we want to give them something that may make their transition into a family a little easier. Can you recommend and books or whatever else that might help? The Parents website has a lot of recommendations for interracial adoptions but I didn't see any for kids, parents, and adoptive parents with this situation. Thank you

I appreciate your e-mail and wanted to support you in trying to finding something that will help your friends make the transition. Just the question tells me you are a caring and supportive friend. This is exactly what they need! Being there for them and offering support and understanding can be the best present. But, if you would like to look for something else, Tapestry Books is a catalog specifically for adoptive families. The web site is or is an excellent web site which offers a great deal of support for both foster and adoptive families. It also has a ''store'' which is apart of the web site. I hope this is helpful, good luck to you and your friends. Cindy

Let them contact PACT. The people at PACT will be able to give them recommendations on books to read and what to expect. There phone number: 510243-9460 or adoptive mom

While the only older child book I know and like is completely out of print, I do have some ideas for you. There is much you can do, better than anything you can buy. Start to open your world to new understandings about adoption and adoptive families. Until confronted with it, most people have little knowledge about the issues unique to adoptive families. The more educated you become, the more you can be a true support to your friends and their newly expanded family.

Specifically- Don't be shy about acknowledgeing that these kids have known, and perhaps loved, many people, caretakers, and foster families before coming to their new home. MAINTAINING LINKS with many of these people is crucial to any child's sense of continuity, emotional safety, and identity.

Consider that any information you may have about their family of origin and history is their private life, theirs to tell when they choose to share it.

Consider that their mother may be making a very difficult choice in finally deciding to place her children for adoption- a situation that is permanent.

If you choose to, you can really let your friends and their new children know that you are part of their community by hanging in there!! Make and effort to get to know the children, offer to babysit or take the kids out some time. (-When the timing feels right to the new parents.)

Education, respect for all parties involved (the adoptees, the adoptive parents and the 'birth' parents) and sheer stick-to-it- tive-ness (to coin a phrase) can lead to a lot of love, and solid community.Best wishes to all in this transition. Melissa