When foster and kinship caregivers welcome a new child, they need ongoing support and practical care from caseworkers, friends, and family to do the work of caring well for that child. You can offer practical help to your community’s foster and kinship families.

We spoke with experienced adoptive, foster, and kinship parents in the CreatingaFamily.org online support group to learn what practical supports were most meaningful to them. In honor of National Foster Care Month, we share these suggestions to help you help them.

Help Foster Families Make a Good First Impression.

Many foster families mentioned keeping supplies on hand to create a “welcome basket” for their new placement. Each basket is usually a little different and personalized for the child. A basic basket typically includes bottled water, a fidget toy or soft plush throw, and snacks.

As an ally to the foster families in your life, you can help by stocking up their stash occasionally. You can also drop off gift cards to local discount stores that carry the supplies to fill these baskets. Another idea would be to keep frozen cookie dough on hand and make up a small batch of cookies that you can wrap nicely and drop off for their baskets.

If you want to support a kinship family preparing for a new child to join their home, ask what they can share about the child. They might know details like favorite color, preferred snacks, or favorite tv or music. Add to their welcome basket based on what you can learn about the child for a more personalized touch.

Additional Types of Baskets to Create

Some of you might want to take the whole task to a new level and provide complete baskets to the families you support. That’s fantastic! You can get creative if you decide to make the whole basket – to welcome a child or to provide occasional extra care. Here are a few ideas that we found:

  1. Hygiene baskets – Fill a basket or plastic bath caddy with sample size toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, lotion, deodorant, dental floss, brush and comb, hair ties, body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. If you know the child’s race or ethnicity, gender, allergies, or other factors to consider, personalize the basket.
  2. Baby Shower basket – When your friends welcome a little one, stock them up with diapers, wipes, pacifiers, baby spoons, bottles, formula, burp cloths, rattles, and bibs. If the little one is a toddler, include board books and toddler toys.
  3. Haircare baskets – Again, try to personalize the products in a basket like this. Otherwise, consider a basic starter pack of products with minimal scents (sensitive to triggers or sensory issues).
  4. Sensory baskets – Speaking of sensory issues, consider a basket of fidget toys, weighted stuffed animals, bubbles, jump ropes, soft blankets, or chewing gum. Do a little bit of research here or here to help you understand the common sensory needs of the foster and kinship kids.
  5. Game baskets – When you know the kids’ ages, ask the foster or kinship families what games they do not already own. Pick up a few decks of cards, Uno, travel sizes of things like checkers, dominoes, etc. Throw in a few packets of microwave popcorn, chips, or frozen bagel bites for game-time snacking.
  6. Snack baskets – The tweens and teens will appreciate these baskets. A varied supply of sweet, salty, and savory – including a water bottle or two to keep them hydrated – will go a long way in making a new foster kid feel seen and valued.

Help Foster & Kinship Families Eat Well.

There are many new and challenging things about transitioning to a new home – for the child and the caregivers. One of the most practical supports you can offer the foster and kinship families in your community is food. Not only does meal support help the parents, but it also directly meets the basic needs of the children and communicates nurture to them. Some foster or kinship kids have had very few safe adults around to offer them this kind of unconditional care.

There are many ways that you can provide food for a foster or kinship family. We can almost guarantee that taking this task off their plate will be more appreciated than they can say.

Our experienced parents offered the following suggestions for meal preparation and support:

  • Remember that disposable containers are a must!
  • Prep and deliver frozen meals they can pull out and use whenever they’ve had “one of those days.”
  • Organize a meal train among friends and neighbors. Some parents may prefer an “every other day” schedule to minimize interruptions in routine. Others prefer every day for a shorter period.
  • Gift a meal delivery service that considers allergies and “kid-palates.”
  • Organize a gift card shower from local restaurants that deliver
  • Drop and go of a hot meal with all the necessary sides, emphasizing “go” unless the family indicates a willingness to entertain.
  • Go grocery shopping for the family once a month. Or offer to do the pick-up once they’ve ordered.
  • Every time you run to the store, text your friend to see if she needs something.
  • Pick up grocery gift cards and randomly drop one off to the foster or kinship family you are supporting.
  • Don’t forget the occasional dessert – every tired mom could use an unexpected treat of chocolate, right?

Hoarding, Overeating, & Food Obsessions

Help Foster & Kinship Families Keep It Clean.

Many foster or kinship families would welcome help with the daily chores like laundry, house-cleaning, or yard work – even if they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. If this foster or kinship parent is not great at asking for help, help them by being specific about what you want to offer to do for them.

  • Ask them to leave a basket or two of dirty laundry on the porch at a pre-arranged time. Wash, dry, fold it, and return it to the porch with a quick text to notify them.
  • Offer to clean all their bathrooms once a week or every other week. Get in, get it done, and leave them without lingering too long.
  • Bring a team once a month for a top-to-bottom cleaning while the family is out of the house. Leave a bouquet on the counter when you are on the way out the door.
  • Go in with friends to hire cleaning or lawn services for the family.
  • Take over lawn duties – find out how often they mow and trim and offer to do it for a month. Consider getting another friend in on it to stretch it out beyond a month.
  • Inquire what types of seasonal chores the family has on their “honey do” list and organize a workday with friends or church members.

The goal of these supports is to take some of the regular, mundane tasks off their list so they can focus their time and attention on the children for whom they are caring. Ask the foster or kinship families in your life to assess what would best serve them and help them stay on mission.

Help Foster & Kinship Parents take Care of Themselves.

The foster and kinship parents in your life are doing hard, intensive work to lead the kids in their care toward healing. Building strong attachments and giving foster or kinship kids tools for resilience will take all their energy. Most parents put themselves on the back burner when they are focused on the work of foster or kinship care. You can support their self-care in practical ways.

Self-Care Resources

You can create self-care baskets or gifts for the foster or kinship parents in your life. These supports are excellent “just because” treats, not related to welcoming a new child. Think about what your friend or family member appreciates and personalize a gift or basket to those needs. You might be offering the little boost they didn’t know they needed. We’ve heard some creative ideas:

  • Nail care baskets
  • Gift cards for a massage
  • Movie theater tickets
  • Gardening supplies
  • Free spinning or yoga class at the local gym
  • Tickets to a local concert or lecture

When you take some time to learn what refreshes this foster or kinship parent, you can make support for self-care far more intentional and meaningful. But even if this parent is not a close friend, there are a lot of great ideas for how to encourage self-care habits in their lives.

Child Care Resources

If you are supporting a foster family, you will need to follow their agency’s procedures to gain approval as a child-care provider. Once you’ve done that, you can babysit, offer overnight respite care, and even do the occasional school pick-up for a kid date that simultaneously gives Mom or Dad an afternoon break. If you are especially committed to helping your friend take care of herself, pair a self-care treat with child care!

Offer Friendship to Foster & Kinship Families

Nurture the connection between you and offer this friend a soft shoulder and listening ear. You may not understand what they are experiencing or how to help it. But everyone needs a faithful, safe space where they can just “be.” Your comforting, consistent presence for this foster or kinship parent will be a gift that helps her take care of herself and be present to care for her kids.

Befriend the Resident Kids

Sometimes the kids who are already in the home (also called “resident kids”) can feel forgotten or lost. The new foster or kinship siblings’ needs can feel consuming. Consider how you can help be a safe space for those kids. Offer an afterschool hang-out or go to one of their sporting events. It will also lift a bit of the load for your friend, which allows a breather they might not have taken otherwise.

There are Many Ways to Practically Help Foster & Kinship Families

These ideas are by no means exhaustive, we know. We hope they are a bit of a spark to get your creativity flowing. When you are committed to helping foster and kinship families in your community, the opportunities are almost endless. While it might feel strange and awkward to reach out to someone, we encourage you to try. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by the experiences you have.

What do you do to support foster and kinship families in your life? We’d love to hear some new ideas in the comments!

Additional resources for foster & kinship families and those who love them:

Image Credits: Marco Verch Professional Photographer; State Farm (cropped);  Ivan Radic; Loren Kerns