Kris’ Corner – Foster Care Supports: Care Closets

by Andra Martinez

The last foster care support system I want to address is foster care resource closets. To be clear, these are places which help provide necessities for foster parents, above and beyond what DCS will help cover.

You may be asking yourself, “so why are these even necessary?” Well, you may not know that when a child comes into care (not coming from another foster home) foster parents receive only a $200 voucher for clothing and other items you can purchase at Burlington Coat Factory. And if they are coming from another foster home, there is no voucher at all; the child arrives with whatever the previous foster home sends…and that could be very little.

In addition, foster parents are provided $300 to spend on the child over the course of the year; but, this requires approval from the DCS Family Case Manager and is usually specified for larger ticket items. It could be an upgraded car seat (which is what we spent our son’s money on when he was in care…we didn’t know if his biological parents had the next level car seat so we wanted to ensure they did; if he had been reunified, that seat would have gone with him because DCS paid for it). It could be a bicycle or trampoline. Or a week at summer camp. I’ve seen all these and more discussed as purchases for the $300 yearly allotment. But like I said, it is always dependent on DCS approval.

So all that to say, even with the per diem and the allotment and the voucher, kids are still expensive (any child, truthfully…not just kiddos in foster care), and the cost to care for a foster child can exceed that which the state provides. So thankfully, foster closets exist to help alleviate the financial strain on foster families.

Now, foster closets can vary in size, scope, etc. The two that I am most familiar with are close to my house on the south side of Indy, but I know there are others all around town. Please note that I am not including a list of them here due to the possibility of unintentionally omitting an organization and risking hurt feelings.

But I do want to give explanations of how they might differ. One closet I know of, for instance, primarily began as a ministry to provide good quality clothes…nothing with stains, rips or tears; unfortunately that is not always the case with the clothing that people give to children in foster care. The organization has since branched out and also gives away safety items (such as outlet covers and door handle locks); bath essentials such as soap, shampoo and hooded bath towels; hair ribbons; bedding; strollers and other large equipment; and a variety of toys and games. They are in the business of supplying what foster parents need so they always encourage them to ask, even if it’s not something they typically carry.

This same organization also runs DCS-approved trainings, in an effort to help foster parents get in their required training hours for relicense. Additionally, they run support groups for foster and adopted teens, which gives them the opportunity to connect with one another, as well as other caring adults.

The other foster care resource closet I am familiar with does not take any clothes at all. But it has a large variety of cribs, beds, large equipment, formula, diapers and the like. They have had people who are on the brink of accepting a placement, but have no idea how they can because they need a car seat, a crib, a bath seat, a stroller, clothes, toys, bottles and more…but it’s too much up front out of pocket, so this closet aims to bridge that gap.

As you can guess, the upfront expenses of saying “yes” to a child can add up quickly. If a family has room in their home and love in their heart to give, these closets don’t want resources to be the reason families have to say “no” to a child.

But as I mentioned, these two facilities are not alone in the Indianapolis area; places like this are located throughout the city to help support foster parents. And in addition to providing tangible supplies, many of them also want to generate a feeling of belonging and support. They want foster parents to be encouraged that what they’re doing is noticed; that they are seen. And they want to walk alongside them and encourage them in their journey so they know they are making a difference.

Sincerely,

Kris