So, the next topic I’d like to tackle under foster care supports is something called care communities. Groups like this might exist in other places under different names, but I know them best as care communities and here’s what they are.
Care communities are operated out of a variety of churches across the state (and in other states). Each community has 4 to 6 individuals (or couples) who volunteer to provide wraparound support for a foster family.
The community provides a meal once a week, help with childcare and sometimes very short-term respite. There is also a child mentor role; it is mostly designed to help a child with homework. These groups extend help to foster kids and other kids in the home. The point of the care community is to support the entire family.
For protection of the children, each member of the care community has a background check performed by DCS. Once the background checks are cleared, the community is ready to roll.
The community leads out their service with a meal, together, at the foster family’s home. The community provides everything, right down to the trash bags, paper plates and utensils. They take care of everything, including cleanup and taking out the trash, so that the foster family understands that the community means to support them well.
They have a designated amount of time (because they know time is precious to foster families) to share a meal with the foster family and get to know a little about them. This approach is two-fold…it allows the members to understand what the family needs, but it also allows the family (and especially the kids in care) to meet the people who will be visiting their home each week, even if it is for a quick meal drop-off.
The coordination of the communities is well-orchestrated and typically runs quite smoothly. There is a website with a specific login for each care community so all info is kept private. The website is primarily a calendar in which members sign up to provide meals, as well as volunteer for other needs the foster family might have.
Weekly, the team leader checks in with the foster parent (ideally via a phone call, but more often than not it ends up being through text…at least that has been my experience) to see what the family’s upcoming needs are. Then the team leader or the foster parent can add any additional needs to the website. It’s a wonderful tool because everyone can see who is doing what…even the foster parents can see who has signed up and who is bringing the meal or providing help in other ways.
Additionally, the team lead contacts the care community team to let them know what is going on with the foster family. The team can pray, send notes of encouragement or encourage in person when they drop off a meal and/or visit for childcare.
Bottom line: what care communities are able to do is take some of the stress off of foster families, by helping them understand they are not alone in this journey and there are people who are willing to jump in and help them at a moments notice. The fact that members are assigned to care communities based on proximity means that no one’s home would be more than 15 minutes away from the foster family’s home.
Care community members are asked to commit to one year, or the span of the placement, whichever is shorter. When a placement is reunified, adopted or transitioned to another home, the care community leader takes an inventory with each member privately to see if they are willing and able to continue serving. If they are not, then new members are brought into the fold. Regardless of the team’s composition, they can either continue with the current foster family (if they are going to take another placement), or they can transition to another foster home which is in need of support (and honestly…what foster home isn’t in need of support?!?)
Having been on the receiving end of a care community, I can’t say enough about what that community did for us. The prayer support was huge, but also just having a meal delivered once a week was such a relief. To know that every Wednesday night I didn’t have to cook was an amazing feeling. Our care community was such a blessing to our family.
Now, we don’t have care community support now because we are a respite home. But, I am a team leader in a care community that has been running for just over two years. The make-up of it has changed slightly over time since the foster family has had multiple placements during that span.
I have to admit, as a member, it is exciting to take part in. The kids get to know the care community members. So, not only does the foster family understand they are being served, the children know that there are others who are wanting to love them and help care for them.
To close out, and just in case you aren’t sold on the effectiveness of care communities, I want to share a couple statistics. Nationally, 50% of foster families quit, either after the first year or after their first placement, primarily because they didn’t feel supported. The care communities model has been proven to retain up to 90% of that percent of foster parents. (For those of you who don’t love math, this means if there were 100 foster families, 50 of them would quit after the first placement or after the first year; but, with care community support, 45 of those 50 would continue fostering…which means 95 families are still fostering instead of only 50.)