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FOSTER CARE SHOWED ME THAT GOOD NEIGHBORS ARE THE RICHNESS OF LIFE.

 

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Natural disasters and foster care (part 2)

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Natural disasters and foster care (part 2)

See part 1: Disasters bring out the best in a community.

This week, as Foster Together Colorado is ramping up our program plans and fundraising, Hope compares disaster relief efforts to the crisis of foster care.

CONNECTION #2. PEOPLE LIKE TO GIVE TANGIBLE ITEMS

Last week, during news coverage for Hurricane Harvey, I heard multiple pleas from nonprofits asking donors to stop sending boxes of relief items. Instead, they asked for financial donations to allow them to buy exactly what people needed, and not leave them with warehouses of un-sorted toothbrushes and tshirts on the wrong side of town.

Some of the most successful foster care support events are backpack or suitcase stuffing parties. I know why. I have a three-year-old. How gratifying to take him to Walmart and spend $30 on some of his favorite necessities, imagining together the child who will receive our gift. An afternoon well spent. I can feel good about that. With a strategic distribution plan, backpacks with school supplies and suitcases with fresh pajamas give kids (and their caregivers) relief and normalcy.

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It's easy to see a “big problem” rather than a person.

 

 

 

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But, when that strategy isn’t clear ahead of time, I have to remind myself of the Hurricane Harvey (and now Irma, too) donation warnings. I've seen the situation parallelled in foster agencies and nonprofit basements: dozens of backpacks and suitcases needing storage and labeling, with plenty of effort ahead to get the supplies to the right child.

My first time as a foster mom, I cared for a toddler and a five-year old for seven weeks. Our home felt like a drive-by stuffed animal donation center. The girls received stuffed bears, puppies, even a monkey, from our agency, DHS intake office, DHS visit supervisor, and others. I think they collected a dozen stuffed animals in less than two months. The girls were excited (for a few minutes) by each new lovie. I was grateful for the kindness they represented.

Here’s what we can learn from this. People like giving something tangible. It makes them feel good. It’s simple. They put themselves in a place of tragedy and imagine the comfort of something small like a toothbrush or stuffed animal. We know people have good intentions. From the natural disaster relief staffers, we know that the general public tends to see a “big problem” rather than the needs of an individual. When imagining a child’s nightmare of abuse, we want to give comfort, but don’t always know a specific child to give to. Comfort without necessitating personal connection? Stuffed animal.

And I understand why. Big systems for disaster relief or child welfare sometimes operate under a one-size-fits-all solution. To counter this, Foster Together begins with an easy system to match specific foster family requests with a real-life neighbor to meet their tangible need. (If you want to help make this happen, leave a comment! Donations coming soon!) Child abuse and neglect is a “big problem,” but as long as the general public keeps hearing scary, depressing statistics instead of getting face-to-face with the people in need, we won’t be able to tailor our support to their needs.

Hear me out. I am grateful for every stuffed animal the kids received, for the school supplies that kept “our” 12-year-old coloring for hours. I am grateful for every box of canned goods and toothbrushes sent to fellow Americans along the coasts this week. And my goal is to take the kind intentions of every donor, give them an easy way to meet a specifically-requested, tangible need, WHILE inviting them into a relationship with the people they help. Yes, it’s the best way to make sure we’re giving what someone actually needs, but it’s also the best way to grow our souls by the challenges of helping real people.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy their community. But the person who loves those around them will create community.” D. Bonhoeffer

Continued tomorrow. Follow @fostertogether on Instagram to read the final disaster relief/foster care comparison this week.

Image credit to a local friend and fellow foster mom.

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How is foster care like disaster relief? (part 1)

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How is foster care like disaster relief? (part 1)

This week, a friend wrote, “It's amazing and encouraging to see the way people pull together and help after a disaster like #Harvey. I'm reading about long lines of people waiting to volunteer. A furniture store owner opening up his stores for displaced people. Celebrities donating millions. Hundreds of individual moments of bravery and goodness happening.

Imagine if we could live like this every day.”

Because I can’t stop myself from relating anything to foster care, I mentally inserted “...to relieve the disasters of child abuse and neglect” at the end of her paragraph. As I catch snippets about relief efforts on the radio this week, I think of the first-responders (grandparents, foster parents, CASA volunteers, caseworkers, lawyers, philanthropists, churches, teachers) who show up in the unnatural disasters forcing kids into foster care.

Even though I’m keeping my head down in the fundraising trenches for Foster Together this month, and hesitant to do much else, I’ll post a few times this week on the connections between foster care and Hurricane Harvey.

CONNECTION #1: Tragedies bring out the best in a community. People want to help. People get creative and collaborative to solve problems and get people out of harm's way. They don't always wait for a well-defined volunteer position, because they see how a pad of paper and a Facebook account are the tools they need to save a life. There's urgency. No time to waste. No time for staying in your lane. 

I still remember the urgency of unity after 9/11, even as a young person afraid of the nightmare. It felt like, "If we don't have hearts to help now, what do we have?" It's the reason I hear a cheesy song like "Proud to be an American" and can't keep my eyes dry or my chest relaxed. Major national tragedies temporarily break through personal (sadly, still not systemic) prejudices and "bring people together."

"In the ongoing tragedy of foster care, we can choose shame and competition or humility."

 

 

 

 

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I've seen foster care do the same thing, with the same urgency. When approached with wisdom and humanity, foster care is the only chance many of us will get to step out of our class and social circle (surprisingly strong forces, for this global age). Just last week, I sent out a message to my friends, asking for childcare help for a baby we fostered. His mom is working hard to build a safe life for him, but she (who, as a child, moved through 80 different foster placements) has challenges around every corner. Within a day, ten people stepped in and we're organizing a schedule to give her two weeks of free childcare and peace of mind while she's at work. Hundreds of nonprofits and official roles exist because people see the life saving work that needed to happen yesterday and aren't at peace leaving a child alone

Of course, it can do the opposite, when volunteers and workers barge into family lives, attempting to shame parents into proper child-rearing. In the ongoing tragedy of foster care, we can choose "us v. them" or work humbly and realistically toward a unified goal of peaceful childhoods.

Continued tomorrow. Follow @fostertogether on Instagram to read two more comparisons this week.

Image credit to our friends, Rachel and Colt.

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