Nearly 450,000 children are placed in temporary foster homes across the United States to escape lives of extreme poverty, child abuse, and neglect. “That number represents so many young lives that we each have the power to improve,” says changemaker Dr. John DeGarmo, founder of The Foster Care Institute.
As a TEDx speaker and leading international authority on empowering foster parents, schools, teachers, and child advocates to help and care for children in need, DeGarmo earned the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award and the Up with People Everyday Hero Award for his advocacy work. He and his wife Dr. Kelly DeGarmo founded the Never Too Late foster home, a transitional living program in Monticello, GA for young men in the foster care system, ages 16 to 21. Kelly also founded A Happy Childhood, a nonprofit organization that partners with Disney to provide foster children with the full Disney experience.
The DeGarmos have been loving foster parents to more than 60 children through the years. In addition to their three birth children, the DeGarmo family has also adopted three children. “Our home is beautiful, and life is full.”
Take Transformational Action during Self-Isolation and Beyond
Just like Jayden Daniel rallied his community to brighten the Easter holiday for 110 children in local foster care, you, too, can use this period of self-isolation to learn more about how to become transformational.
John DeGarmo is passionate about raising awareness about the reality of foster care and its sometimes unfortunate, stress-triggered outcomes of child abuse, runaway children, and human sex trafficking.
“I do know this to be true. Every one of us can help a child in foster care in some way right now,” he says. As a first step, reach out to your state’s Division of Family and Children Services to connect with your local field office to determine specific and immediate needs. Consider these options:
Provide a meal for a foster family. “Because of the impact of COVID-19 and its economic fallout, some foster parents are unemployed and wondering where their next paycheck will come from,” he explains. “Coordinating donated meals through your local agency is a measure of generosity that will be deeply appreciated.”
Supply a backpack or suitcase filled with school supplies, hygiene items, and stuffed animals. “Kids are often removed from unstable and abusive homes with just the clothes on their backs and few possessions in plastic trash bags. They are scared, confused, and at that moment their world is being ripped apart,” he explains. Once settled in a new foster home, “Having new personal items to call their own is more meaningful than you can imagine. This simple act of kindness reminds them that they are valued, regardless of life’s circumstances.”
Share new shoes and new clothing. “While donating gently used clothing is certainly generous, keep in mind that a foster child may never have received anything other than hand-me-downs. A single new item of clothing or brand-new item will have greater meaning to them than any of us can comprehend.”
For those of you who would like to get more involved, DeGarmo shares these suggestions.
Become a mentor or homework tutor. Reach out to your local foster parent support group to determine needs. DeGarmo adds, “If you run a small business, work with an older foster child to teach basic yet important job skills they will need upon aging out of the foster care system.”
Become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) trained volunteer. In each state, CASA volunteers play an important role in ensuring that a foster child’s emotional and physical needs are being met. Learn more about CASA training here and find out what it means to become a Guardian ad Litum for children.
Become a respite foster caregiver. “Foster parents need a break and the respite volunteer for short-term care allows them the much-needed time to restore and refresh,” he says.
Host parental visitation meetings. In his book The Church and Foster Care, DeGarmo recommends, “If you are involved with your faith organization or church, investigate offering a welcoming, neutral space on site to reduce the stress that may occur during foster child and birth parent reunification meetings.”
Healing Children in Crisis
Not everybody can become a foster parent. DeGarmo reflects on his personal experience. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Every child has made me a better person in some way.”
He goes on to say, “I can’t change the world. You can’t change the world. But years from now the foster child you help will know, that for a time in their life, and maybe the only time in their life, somebody cared about them. Somebody loved them. That’s how help can bring healing to children in crisis. That’s how we all can help children in foster care.”
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. When you share this article to raise awareness, please consider using these hashtags. #michellewrites #childabusepreventionmonth #drjohndegarmo #drkellydegarmo #fostercareawareness #fosterlove #makeadifference #healingchildren
To learn more, please watch DeGarmo’s TEDxGeorgiaTech talk entitled “Children in Need. Children Ignored.”