World Wide Wednesday, November 25, 2015

iStock_000003621765_LargeIt’s World Wide Wednesday! Here’s what’s news in the world of foster care and adoption around the web:

  • New foster care app educates caregivers and youth: The new “FOCUS on Foster Families” app provides resources and information to foster caregivers and youth in care. Hundreds of video resources feature foster care alumni and parents sharing advice. Read more in The Chronicle of Social Change.
  • Blog Post: Every Corner of My Life – “Being a birth mother is such an incredible gift. It is part of my story, and whether people realize it or not, it reaches into every corner of my life.” Read the full post

  • Many Kinds of Love: My excitement over the prospect of meeting my birth mother does not detract from or negate my love for my adoptive parents.
  • Everything You Need to Know about Scholarships and Foster Adoption: Some programs and scholarships aimed at helping foster care alumni afford a college education.

Have news you’d like to share? Please post in our comments!

Inclusion in this post does not imply an endorsement by the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families. The Coalition is not responsible for the content of these resources.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: To Search or Not to Search

Tip Sheet Tuesday: To Search or Not to SearchAdoption is often viewed as a triad that exists between the adoptee, adoptive family, and the birth family. But for many Wisconsin adoptees, this triad may not feel whole because of a lack of information about their birth family. To complete the picture, many adoptees choose to search for the missing information.

People can sometimes make an unfair assumption that the reason behind an
adoptee’s wish to search for information about her birth family stems from dissatisfaction with or a conflict within the adoptive family. However, for adoptees, there are several reasons why you might choose to search for information about your birth parents and other birth family members. Before beginning your search, it’s important to have a good understanding of your reasons for searching, realistic expectations, and a personal support system in place to help you through what can be an emotional journey.

“My parents told me early on that I was adopted and that someday I could search for my birth parents if I was interested . . . Finding my birth parents really helped me complete the picture of who I am. It was very useful to gather their medical history, but it was also very helpful to talk about [the reason my birth parents made an adoption plan].”
John Bauman, Wisconsin Adoptee

Reasons for Searching
Curiosity about your past. It’s quite common for all of us to feel curious about our own personal histories. For those who were adopted, there may be many unanswered questions about the past, and you may find that you feel driven to find those answers. Depending on the type of adoption (domestic, international, or adoption from the foster care system) these questions could include:

  • Why did my parents choose to make an adoption plan for me?
  • Why was I placed in foster care?
  • Did my parents fight to keep me?
  • Why were their parental rights terminated?
  • What was it like to live in my country of origin?
  • Do I have any birth siblings?
  • What about extended birth family?
  • Continue reading

Under the Umbrella: Open Adoptions

Under the Umbrella: Open AdoptionsThere is a lot of information out there about open adoptions. Some of it is accurate and true and some of it is just plain false. While, in Wisconsin, open adoptions are not legally binding, it is thought to be, under the correct circumstances, in the best interest of the child or youth being adopted. Following are a few common myths and the realities of open adoptions.

  • Myth: In an open adoption, children are confused about who their parents and siblings are.

    Actually, children understand the roles of their adoptive parents and their birth parents. It does make things easier for children when the adults have open and honest communication with them and each other.

  • Myth: Open adoption is a form of co-parenting.

    Actually, in an open adoption, both parties understand the change in the other’s role once an adoption is finalized. Upon finalization of an adoption, the adoptive parents assume all the legal rights and responsibilities of parents and it is final. Birth parents also understand that they have relinquished their legal rights. While communication and contact occurs, the adoptive parents are the decision makers when it comes to the care and well-being of the child or youth.

  • Myth: Open adoption plans tend to break down over time.

    Actually, open adoption is like any other relationship, and all relationships have ebbs and flows. Not all open adoption plans are a one-size-fits-all; what works for one family may not hold true for another. It is likely that the relationship between the adoptive parents and birth parents will change over time. Being able to have open communication and honor each other’s roles in the life of the child or youth is useful in growing that relationship.

There can be a lot of benefits to having an open adoption. Above all, the benefit of an open adoption relationship revolve around what is in the best interest of the child or youth. An open adoption does not diminish the grief and loss a birth parent feels when they make an adoption plan; though an open adoption may help them find peace with their decision as they see the child grow and thrive with his or her adoptive family. An open adoption will not discourage a child or youth’s questions surrounding his or her adoption; though it may make it easier to obtain the answers he or she is seeking. Many adoptive families who have open adoption plans are thankful that their child has the opportunity to know his birth family members.

The Coalition for Children, Youth and Families is here to support all foster and adoptive families. If you need more support or information, you can always call us for help, we’d love to hear from you! Call our toll-free number 1-800-762-8063 or email us at

World Wide Wednesday, November 18, 2015

iStock_000003621765_LargeIt’s World Wide Wednesday! Here’s what’s news in the world of foster care and adoption around the web:

  • Siblings: The Ties that Bind – International adoption can sometimes cause siblings to be separated when they are unable to be placed together.  For many children, the relationship a child has with his or her sibling(s) is the longest sustained relationship they have had in their life, often beyond that with their biological parents.  Therefore, being separated from this important person can be truly devastating to a child and he or she may experience fear, grief, loss, isolation, and depression. Continue reading

  • As the First Wave of China Adoptees returns to re-connect, this 5-Part Series, To Connect and Be Loved, is a touching testimonial of what is to come:

    “I’m worried that I lack the right words to adequately convey the way I felt about living and working with these children in China.” Juliet shared about the the combined experience that was at once wonderful, fulfilling, exciting, funny, frightening and, sometimes, heartbreaking. “Before I even left, I was vowing to come back”

    Read her 5 Part Series

  • Six Children’s Books that Use Psychological Techniques to Help Kids: Currently Amazon’s number one best-selling book, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, isn’t popular because of its riveting plot or gorgeous illustrations. Parents are buying the self-published book from Swedish author and psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin because it promises to use “psychological techniques” to help children fall asleep. These six children’s books all use well-established psychological methods, from cognitive behavioral therapy to deep breathing, to help children deal with a variety of issues. Continue Reading

  • Blog Post: Sharing the Seasons – “At this time last year, Mike and I were making the final decision to pursue adoption through the foster care system. I remember the way we figuratively stamped the decision we’d been dancing around for months with a final, “let’s do it,” as we drove across our state, brushstrokes of red, orange and yellow zipping past us.” Continue reading

Have news you’d like to share? Please post in our comments!

Inclusion in this post does not imply an endorsement by the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families. The Coalition is not responsible for the content of these resources.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Internet Safety Tips for Caregivers

The Internet offers many opportunities for adults and children to learn, and the Internet has also dramatically changed how we communicate.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Internet Safety Tips for CaregiversUnfortunately, the Internet is also a place where children and adults can be seriously victimized by various kinds of predators. Children and adults can be exposed to cyber-bullying, inappropriate content, and loss of privacy.

In order to effectively protect our children, parents need to know the dangerous aspects of the Internet, including taking the necessary steps to promote internet safety for your family.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center found that one in five youth using the internet received online sexual solicitations. We need to encourage our children to come to us when something inappropriate happens.

Following are some tips that may be helpful for you and your children.

Establishing Family Ground Rules
Families have established house rules for a multitude of behaviors and expectations, but sometimes families neglect to address the importance of developing clear and
consistent rules regarding computer usage.

Families can post a written Family Internet Agreement that should:

  • Set clear boundaries on prohibiting the posting or sharing of personal identifying information online, such as names, pictures, telephone numbers, addresses, passwords, or credit card numbers.This includes not letting your child’s last name appear on the “from” line and some foster parents don’t allow their child to have even his or her first name as part of the email address. Absolutely do not let your child have an email address like
  • Continue reading on our website.

Under the Umbrella: “Screen Time” for Kids

How many hours of TV does your child watch each day? What about video games, computer time, and tablet use? When you add it up, your child may be spending a good amount of their day in front of a screen. Many parents and caregivers are giving more consideration to how screen time impacts their child(ren).
Under the Umbrella: "Screen Time" for KidsDo you know what role technology played in your child’s life before they came to your home? Your child may have spent a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen, or she may not have had much access to technology. Depending on their experience, screen time may be familiar and comforting, or a new novelty. Some children who are in foster care or who were adopted would benefit from less screen time and more in-person interactions. Other children may need extra screen time to develop certain skills and practice social interactions in a less intimidating format. One thing that is clear is that technology is now ingrained in all our lives. What is not clear is to what extent children should spend using technology.
In recent years, the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was that children under the age of two should have little to no screen time, and children over age two should be limited to two hours per day. This suggestion was based on research, which indicated that screen time for young children could negatively affect brain development. It goes without surprise that many families found this advice challenging – if not impossible – to follow. Recently, the AAP has relaxed these guidelines to help inform parents on how to best incorporate screen time into their families’ lives. Listed below are the new recommendations from the AAP when it comes to screen time for children. These suggestions apply to all families, including those formed through foster care and adoption.
Asian girl and her dad
  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age two, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media that review age-appropriate apps, games, and programs.
  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.
  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices No mobile signovernight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  • Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.

Do you have questions about your child’s screen time? Start by checking out some of the tip sheets below. You may also want to talk to your child’s doctor or teacher for advice. And as always, The Coalition for Children, Youth and Families is here to listen to your concerns. Feel free to reach out to us at (414) 475-1246 to discuss this topic or other issues that affect foster and adoptive families.

Featured Tip Sheets

Home to Stay: Parenting with an Open Heart

Home to stay family photoJames and Alex met in 2002, while Alex was attending bible school. At the time, James was working in a Christian bookstore and, soon after meeting, they fell in love. Although, at that time, the laws did not allow gay couples to marry, James and
Alex knew they were committed to each other and hoped to grow and start a family of their own.

“Pretty much from the get-go we knew we wanted to have children in our home, but we weren’t sure how. We ordered books from Amazon that talked about a lot of different options, including surrogacy,” they explained. However, the couple felt that a lot of the options they read about were not good fits for building their family. In 2003, James saw television personality Rosie O’Donnell, who is also gay, talking about her experience as a foster parent. He was inspired by Rosie’s story and brought up the idea of fostering children to Alex, who was immediately receptive. “I liked the idea of helping children,” said Alex, and he signed the couple up for an informational meeting in Waukesha to learn about becoming foster parents.

As foster parents, James and Alex make a point of being supportive of reunification efforts; however, they always held out a hope to adopt, as well. They credit their workers with helping them to understand that most of the children who become available for adoption through foster care are older, school-aged children or siblings who need to be adopted together, and the couple said they were open to that
possibility throughout their fostering journey. Together, James and Alex fostered several children who experienced successful reunifications. And then they accepted placement of Elliot, who was only a few weeks old.

As Elliot’s case progressed, the efforts to reunify him with his birth family floundered, and James and Alex were asked to consider adoption. Since the couple was not able to legally marry, state statute only allowed one of them to be the legal adoptive parent. James and Alex decided that James would serve as the adoptive parent for Elliot, and that Alex would be the one to serve as the adoptive parent if they were to adopt again.

After their adoption of Elliot, Alex and James continued to accept placements for foster care. After a few years, eight-week-old Belle came to stay with Alex, James, and Elliot. When she became available for adoption, Alex and James welcomed the opportunity to make her a permanent member of their family. This time it would be Alex who would be the legal adoptive parent.

After Belle’s adoption, James and Alex decided to take a break from foster care and focus on their two children. They settled into the routine of family life and even achieved another dream, by opening a salon together in Wales, which they named ElleBelle, after their two children.

Elliot and Belle grew and flourished and James and Alex began to think about adopting once again. However, this time things would be a little different. “I know a lot of couples have qualms about adopting older children, but we thought that caring for a baby would be a bit of stretch in our family, especially with Elliot’s needs,” said James. (Elliot has autism.) “We decided to have an open mind and look to adopt an older child.”

Sure enough, within a few months, the county called about Adam, who was eight years old at the time. The adoption plan with the family currently caring for Adam was falling through and the case worker was hoping James and Alex would be interested in meeting the boy. Adam came for a respite weekend, and James and Alex knew right away he belonged with them. “Adam came to us on Thursday, and by Monday we registered him for school and decided he would stay with us,” said Alex.

After adopting two younger children, Alex and James did have some concerns about adopting an older child. “We knew that Adam came from an abusive background,” James said. “So we were concerned about him possibly acting out around Elliot
and Belle.” However, as James explains, adopting Adam was actually great for Elliot and Belle. “It’s been good for Elliot, because it has kind of helped him come out of his shell and be more interactive, and it also gave Belle someone else to play with. They do butt heads a little bit, but that’s a good thing, it’s normal.” He continued, “I know people have a lot of qualms about adopting older kids, but that kid [Adam],
he just fit in; with our kids, with the neighborhood. It was a different experience than adopting younger children, because I think he kind of knew he wanted a home, he wanted a place to belong . . . the change in his personality since that adoption date was final has been amazing. It’s almost as if he had a fear in the back of his mind that things might not happen, that they might fall through again. So he settled
down a lot after the adoption day.”

There are still a few challenges that James and Alex face in their day-to-day lives, many of which are familiar to many adoptive families. “Some of the questions the kids get asked are challenging. Like, on the bus, a girl asked them ‘are you
adopted? You don’t look like each other,’ and we have to help them come up with answers to that, and tell them that they don’t have to hide that they were adopted.”

James added, “It’s also hard to try and find a balance with birth parents. Belle’s mom has been in prison, and we try to keep in touch through letters and pictures.” James and Alex stress that it’s important to set boundaries in those relationships. “Elliott’s mom sends text messages and we send pictures. She seems happy that he is doing well. You try to keep it simple and make it work.”

Several years after the adoptions of Elliot and Belle, not having both partners legally recognized as adoptive parents of both children is still an obstacle. Elliot was diagnosed with autism, and requires a lot of services to meet his unique needs. Because he is the only legal parent, James is the only one who can authorize those services. After Elliot’s adoption was finalized, the couple petitioned to have Alex gain parental rights, but were denied under the statutes at the time. However, despite these setbacks, James and Alex persevere. They were married in 2014, when same sex marriage first became legal in Wisconsin. The couple shared that, for same sex couples, things are changing and becoming easier. “Adam was the first child that we were able to adopt together, and both our names are on his birth certificate,” they said. Both James and Alex are hoping that, with recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court, new avenues will open up for them both to be legally recognized as adoptive parents for Elliot and Belle.

James and Alex do have some advice for other LGBT couples who are considering fostering and adoption: “Just don’t be afraid,” said Alex. “I think we were Waukesha County’s first gay couple who became foster parents and it worked out.” James added, “Just keep an open mind, there are so many kids here in Wisconsin that need your help. Even if it does not wind up being an adoption, you will know that you helped a kid. Kids need attention and love, to know they are heard and to know they are safe.

“The number one question we get about our kids is ‘where are they are from?’. People think they are from these exotic places, but they are from here in Waukesha. Most people forget that there are children in their neighborhoods who need a home.”

Nearly a dozen children have come to James and Alex through foster care and three have stayed forever. “When your kids are being naughty or sassy and you are dealing with the day to day things, you can kind of get lost in all of that,” Alex said.
“But then you hear from people that you have a good family or that your kids are great. Those are the proudest moments. You think things like ‘you didn’t eat your vegetables,’ or, ‘you’re being disrespectful,’ but then you realize none of that really matters because your kids are safe and they are happy.” For James, the most rewarding thing is, “just seeing them grow, seeing them run around and be happy and free kids.”