What You Can Do for a Foster Child

Susan Kellam
December 7, 1999

Wondering what you can do to make a difference in someone's life? Twenty thousand youth age out of the foster care system every year, many without family or responsible friends to guide them. You can connect with these young adults and other foster children before they leave the system, and help give them a head start on a secure and successful life.

Whether you have lots of time to spare or you only want to write a check, here are some ways to make a difference:

Be a mentor

  • Kids all across the country could benefit from the guidance and caring you might provide. A simple first step could be contacting Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (215-567-7000). Big Brothers Big Sisters is the largest and oldest youth mentoring organization in the country, currently assisting about 139,000 youth from ages six to 18. Some local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies will allow you to specifically request a foster child.


  • Covenant House's Rights of Passage program is a transitional residential program for nearly 14,000 youth that offers older kids a chance to improve their education and enter the workforce with an eye toward a stable future. Ninety percent of the funding for the 20 Covenant House sites located throughout North and Central America comes from private sources; the rest is paid by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Transitional Housing Program. You can guide and help one of these youngsters one-on-one by becoming a Rights of Passage mentor. Or become a volunteer tutor to help children with their educational needs. (212-727-4000)


  • Pressed for time but still want to be a mentor? Contact Orphan Foundation of America, a nonprofit children's advocacy group in Vienna, Virginia which provides "a voice for children who have no voice." Their e-Mentors Program is geared to very busy professionals who can connect with kids via the Internet. You will find an application for this program on their Web site.


  • You don't have to be a lawyer to get involved in the legal process that dictates where children go. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA) is a nationwide organization of programs that train community volunteers to speak for abused and neglected children in court. Each year over 500,000 children in the United States are thrust into court through no fault of their own. Often these children also become victims of this country's overburdened child welfare system—a complex legal network of lawyers, social workers and judges who frequently are too overburdened to give thorough, detailed attention to each child who comes before them. CASA volunteers, appointed by a judge, conduct thorough research on a child's case. By handling only one or two cases at a time (compared to a social agency caseworker's average load of 60-90), the CASA volunteer has the time to explore thoroughly the history of each assigned case. The volunteer talks with the child, parents and family members, neighbors, school officials, doctors and others involved in the child's background who might have facts about the case. The volunteer then reviews all records and documents pertaining to the child. A formal report is submitted to the court recommending placement: should the child stay with his or her parents, be placed in foster care, or be freed for permanent adoption? (1-800-628-3233, or e-mail staff@nationalcasa.org)

Beyond Mentoring


  • You don't have to become a foster parent to take in children for a few hours a week, or a weekend. Respite care—which gives foster families a break from the responsibilities of caring for the child—can be provided by contacting any private or public child welfare agency in your community. Just say that you are interested in signing up for planned temporary care of a child.


  • You can also support foster parents by joining, or making a tax-deductible donation to, the National Foster Parents Association. Donations are used for additional training and materials. (1-800-557-5238)


  • Help a foster child go to college by making a tax-deductible donation toward a scholarship. You can do that through the National Foster Parents Association or Orphan Foundation of America. The contact information is listed above.


  • Give a foster child a suitcase, so they can move from home-to-home with dignity. Marc Brown founded FosterCare Luggage as a nonprofit corporation in March 1995 because he felt that only garbage should be transported in plastic bags, not a child's personal belongings. Now FosterCare Luggage does more than distribute luggage to transitioning kids. Volunteers stuff teddy bears, clothes, and other gifts into kids' bags. FosterCare Luggage sponsors Easter Egg hunts, provides families with Christmas trees and decorations, and works with retailers to outfit kids with knapsacks full of school supplies. Contact: Marc Brown, 1746 Kenneth Dr., Indianapolis, IN 46260; e-mail fcluggage@ameritech.net; telephone, 317-466-1220.


  • Make a child's wish come true. Treehouse, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, runs a Little Wishes Program to help foster kids take ballet lessons, learn to play musical instruments, and take part in sports leagues. They also run a tutoring program offering intense one-to-two hour sessions a week. And there's a large donations program, serving about 1,500 children a year. The program provides clothing, shoes, accessories, bedding, cribs, and many more important items to families that need them. Contact: Holly Redell, Suite 220, 655 Orcas Street, Seattle, WA 98108; telephone, 206-767-7000.




    Susan Kellam has an extensive 35-year career in journalism and social policy, including editorial positions at Rolling Stone magazine and Congressional Quarterly and as communications director at the American Public Welfare Association. She is currently a free-lance writer.

    This article is one in a series sponsored by the National Foster Care Awareness Project.