World Wide Wednesday – December 9, 2015

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

  • 5 things you need to survive as a foster parent
    In truth, though, taking in children from foster care into your house can certainly be a challenge. Behavioral issues, learning disabilities, emotional trials; all can be exhausting and trying for a foster parent. Yet, what many foster parents often overlook is the risk factor that goes along with taking a foster child into a home. As a foster parent, you become vulnerable to many possibilities, and it is important that you protect yourself and your family from the possible implications and investigations. Just as important is making sure you do not become overly exhausted and even burned out.
  • Focus on the Figures: Long Stays in Foster Care
    The U.S. foster care system is structured to provide temporary, safe living arrangements and therapeutic services for children who cannot remain safely at home due to child maltreatment or for children whose parents are unable to provide adequate care. The aim, at all times, is to either reunify children with their parents or secure another source of permanency with other family or through adoption.

    Too often this goal is not achieved. Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times.

    Many such youths – about 10 percent nationwide — will “age out” of foster care and into adulthood. A high percentage of these youth experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the criminal justice system.

  • When Sad Looks Mad
    Many times, children from hard places tend to act mad, when that is not what they are feeling at all. Why is that? The answers are really quite obvious when we remember where they came from.
  • Letting Her Go: Chinese Birth Parent Search and Reunions
    The first study on this topic provides fascinating insights about adoptees’ and parents’ motivations to search, search methods used, the initial reunion, and ongoing contact.

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.

World Wide Wednesday – December 2, 2015

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

  • And Then There Were Five: The Aftermath of a Failed Adoption. “There are no more boxing gloves in the basement. His bedroom walls are bare and his bed is stripped down to nothing. All of his Rubik’s cubes and puzzles are gone. I can’t even find one bottle of Gatorade left in the refrigerator. It’s official. No more 17-year-old. Marcus is gone. We’ve only got 5 little chickens left.”
  • 5 Reasons Why I’m Not Quitting as a Foster Parent. We might not be able to remember every stressful episode of our childhood. But the emotional upheaval we experience as kids — whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the chronic stress of economic insecurity, or social interactions that leave us tearful or anxious — may have a lifelong impact on our health.
  • Giving Until It Hurts – The Joy and Sorrow of Foster Parenting:
    “This past March marked 16 years as foster parents for Kerri and Steve Campbell-Graham. Over that period of time, the Campbell-Graham family has welcomed 20 children into their home. One of those children was Kylie, a 21-month-old raised as one of their own for two years. She had contact with her father, a relationship nurtured during her time living with the Campbell-Grahams. There was even talk of adopting Kylie until a judge ordered her returned to her father’s care.”

  • Video: Open Adoptee Experiences: In this video created by Open Adoption & Family Services, teen and young adult adoptees who grew up knowing their birth parents share their thoughts and experiences.

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.

Tools Needed to Survive an Allegation

When individuals or families choose to become foster parents, they do so to help children in their communities and to provide a safe place for them—they open their hearts and homes and become licensed with good intentions. So, when an allegation occurs, it can leave foster parents reeling. A system they worked within is now investigating them. Foster parents are left feeling a range of emotions from fear, disbelief, shame, and bewilderment—all of which are common feelings when faced with dealing with an allegation.

Veteran foster parents often say that it is not if you will face an allegation, it is when. Foster parents are told of the possibility that they may face an allegation during training or during the licensing process, though that is certainly not the same as going through such an experience. Allegations can vary from a misinterpreted trigger from a child with a trauma history to a licensing violation. Regardless of the particulars and details, the experience of facing an allegation can be both painful and scary. Being prepared and knowing where to turn for support can help make the process a bit less stressful.

LibraryWe spoke with Sherry Benson and Tina Christopherson from the Wisconsin Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (WFAPA) and asked them to share with us the tools foster parents need in order to survive an allegation. Following are some of the suggestions they offered to help protect yourself, as well as the children you provide care for:

  • Document, document, document! Keeping track of phone calls and conversations with workers and other providers can help. Document behaviors observed and information disclosed to you by a child in your care—anything that may leave you feeling uncertain or wary—better to have it and not need it. It can help provide information during an allegation.
  • Seek out help and support. One of the most important things, say Sherry and Tina, is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The more knowledge you have the better; knowledge is power.”

    WFAPA has a program to help foster families who may be going through an investigation of an allegation. The Foster & Adoptive Support & Preservation Program (FASPP), is a volunteer peer network that was developed to help support adoptive and foster parents who are experiencing investigations of allegations and provides a supportive and safe place for parents to talk about what they are going through. Sherry and Tina both recommend that foster parents talk to someone, ask questions, and ask for help, whether from a confidant, a support group, or therapist.

  • Take care of yourself. “Try to keep your life as normal as possible and make sure you take care of yourself,” advise both Sherry and Tina. “Make self-care a priority and don’t make any big life decisions during this time.”

    Part of taking care of yourself means making sure that you are meeting your basic needs: sleeping, eating, exercising. Talking to a therapist might be beneficial during this situation or seeking legal counsel from an attorney; every person and every situation is different. Ensuring you are taking care of yourself can help you better deal with this stressful situation with a clear head.Open door with bright light outside

  • After an allegation and investigation has occurred, it helps to debrief. Learn from the experience: What could I have done differently? What might I do differently from here on out? How can I better take care of myself? How can I prevent something like this from happening again? How can I better protect myself and my family? Learning your personal limits, and knowing that it is OK to say “No” when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, can prevent a situation from reoccurring. “After-care is very important,” Sherry and Tina agreed. “There is hope.”

Sherry and Tina shared that the experience of dealing with an allegation is similar to going through the stages of grief and loss; it is a process that can impact relationships with your worker, agency, a child, and other providers. Even when a situation is resolved, many people are left feeling as though their reputation is tarnished and they second guess themselves. It is important to remember that this is a temporary situation. It is a frightening experience, but there is hope and help.

Becoming a foster parent exposes oneself to a certain amount of risk, though it is a worthwhile risk helping to keep our children safe. Please see our additional resources for more information and support. And, remember, you can always call the Coalition for help—we are here for you!

Thank you to Sherry Benson and Tina Christopherson from WFAPA for contributing to this article.

A Foster Parent’s Tool Box

The journey of providing foster care is dotted with “a-ha” moments along the way. Online support. Toolbox with tools on laptop.Over time, we pick up new information and strategies, process challenges through new lenses, and receive relevant suggestions from others in our expanding network of those who have journeyed before us. It often seems like our lives, and ultimately the lives of the children in our care, could have eased “if only we had known this sooner,” or “had that tool in our back pockets from the beginning.” Karri Bartlett and her husband, Nate Toth, have been providing foster care in Dane County for about two-and-a-half years, learning and collecting tools over time. Karri shared some of her wisdom in hopes that it can provide an “a-ha” for others who may be in the midst of what can sometimes feel like an uphill climb.

As it turns out, Karri and Nate’s most valuable “tools” are not literal things. They come in the form of ideas, education, perspective shifts, emotional supports, and deeper understanding. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “life app” that we can just tap up on our smart phones to make everything work the way we want it to. But our figurative tools tend to open up new possibilities in how effectively we parent and how we can best support the wellbeing and long-term success of the children in our care.

Karri describes her and Nate’s motivation as foster parents simply as, “doing our part to make sure that these kids are productive members of society.” She goes on to explain that, to her, that means that the children in their care grow with stability, love, and other key fundamentals while being able to heal from any wounds they may carry. Some important tools in the Bartlett-Toth household include:

  • Initiating necessary services for the children in order to set them and their families up for success
  • Establishing trusting co-parenting relationships
  • Balancing structure and routine for the children with immense flexibility on the part of Karri and Nate as parents
  • Seeking support and respite, knowing that a healthy caregiver is better able to offer of themselves
  • Soaking up as much education and information as possible about the needs of the children in your care

HiResServices
Karri makes sure to promptly align services (medical, dental, therapy, educational – anything to support the child’s physical and emotional needs) for the kids in their

care. She says, “Whether they’re with us for a few weeks or a year, I feel like it’s our job to help them get the best that they can get during that time.” Karri recognizes that these services are tools for facilitating success for these children, which is at the core of her intention as a foster parent.

Advocating as a foster parent for quality and relevant services is important, too. Karri encourages other foster parents to communicate consistently with a child’s therapist, for example, and work with the feedback given for continuity for the child. When looking into daycare providers, she recommends asking questions about whether they take short-term placements, whether they have experience with children in foster care, and how they perceive and respond to behavioral challenges. “Do they have experience and education related to childhood trauma?” Karri notes that programs like Head Start have many additional supports, such as social workers on site, connections with a wealth of resources, and experience working with visit schedules, co-parenting boundaries, and more. In Karri and Nate’s experience, Birth to Three services have provided fantastic support. “They were able to identify what the kids were getting from the behavior and how to channel it into a positive behavior. They’ve been a great resource.”

Co-parenting
Through Karri’s work, her life experiences, and her education, she has had the privilege of gaining an understanding of many complex factors that might effect a biological parent’s struggle. This understanding helps her to work with the parents of the children she and Nate care for, and build relationships with them. For example, her understanding of, “how addiction works, how that plays out in behaviors, and that it’s an illness,” allows Karri to partner with the parent and support the best outcomes for the child in her care. She points out that, “in most of these families, they have trauma of their own, and if nothing else, they have the trauma of this child being taken away.” She acknowledges that, usually, there are other major factors at play. “A lot of times, the parent you’ll be working with will be the victim of numerous issues themselves, such as poverty or trauma.” Karri says that her understanding of the impact of poverty, as well as equity issues, for example, helps to make it easier for her to work with families. She says it is important to acknowledge that most of these parents are doing the best that they can and deserve the benefit of the doubt, even though they are not parenting the way you would want them to parent, perhaps. “But they’re showing up, they’re trying, they’re doing the best that they can with very little support. All of the treatments, the supports, the court costs, the lawyers – they’re not always set up for success, so I give parents credit that they’re trying to undo lifelong trauma that they’ve endured, as well as lifelong poverty and the effects of that.”

Karri points out that mental health is an issue. Even while receiving training to become a foster parent, she recalls hearing things like, “What’s wrong with them?” or, “How could they do that?”

“There are extreme cases, but most of these families are doing what they know, doing what they’ve learned, doing what’s normal in their social group, and they don’t know other ways of parenting.” As a foster parent, she feels it is imperative to acknowledge that, “we all come from different life experiences.”

Karri and Nate work hard to maintain a positive relationship with biological families, while setting healthy boundaries. Karri sees this as a benefit to the children, “so when they do go home, we can still stay in touch and stay a part of their lives.”

Karri says that “even if it’s very challenging to work with the parent, you have to [do it] for the best interest of the kids.” If you have an ongoing relationship with the family after the child is reunited, you can continue to encourage the parent to follow through with the services and supports the child needs, and be an ongoing cheerleader for their success.

There are many ways to foster this positive relationship from the get-go and beyond. Karri hesitates to invite biological parents to their home for the initial meeting, but over time, she tends to first invite them over along with the social worker and gradually open up from there, depending on the case. She suggests showing the parent the child’s room if they visit your home and giving them a snapshot of what their child’s life looks like during this time. Karri also suggests that, if you’re planning a visit to the zoo or the pumpkin patch, invite the parent to join you. Particularly around holidays, Karri values being inclusive of the parent for everyone’s benefit. “Invite them to trick-or-treat together.” She stresses the importance of doing all this while being mindful of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan BFlexibility vs. Structure
One of the challenges of parenting children with special emotional needs is providing the structure and routine they benefit from while maintaining flexibility. “We can take a new placement with an hour’s notice and they can also leave within an hour’s notice. So there has can be a lot of change, requiring a foster parent to be very flexible.”

Karri reminds us that kids come with an emotional suitcase and it’s a foster parent’s role to help them unpack it. While other families may be able to stray from routine at times, Karri has found that that hasn’t worked well with the children she and Nate have cared for. “Our kids have to go to bed at 7:30 or they won’t function at all if their routine is off.” She suggests communicating clear expectations, having a consistent schedule, and a lot of foreshadowing, to help children adjust to a routine and any changes.

Self-Care for Parents
Self-care is an area that Karri looks back on with hindsight and wishes she and Nate put more attention to from the beginning. One thing she would have done back then was to have used respite support. She explained that they had the mentality that the children wouldn’t be with them forever, so they didn’t need date nights or time away; but now she realizes that that time away really is crucial. Parenting is a challenging venture and, in Karri and Nate’s case, because of a high level of needs of the children in their care, they were rarely with the kids without the other adult. “It’s hard on your relationship,” Karri says. “It’s tricky because you don’t want to leave them with a stranger but we need to [take breaks] more often for ourselves and for our marriage.”

Karri adds that, as a mother, she feels like it’s harder for her to take a step back and let things go for her own wellbeing. “I think, if I’m not there, it’s going to be harder for me in the end. I do think it’s hard for women to step away from the family. We feel like we just ‘do it right’ or ‘do it better’ sometimes, and it’s okay to walk away and do something for you and it all works out. The house may not be as picked up as I want it to be, but everyone is happy, fed, loved, and in bed. So I put that into perspective.

“Whatever it looks like for you, you have to take care of your own mental and emotional wellbeing. It may be exercise, being outside, a pedicure, a massage – anything that’s for you.”

Another way for a foster parent to care for themselves is by seeking the shared experience and support of other foster parents. “When I first started, I looked at a Facebook support group a lot. I read people’s stories and situations. You find parents asking things like, ‘Is this normal?’ and others responding with reassurance and suggestions for what to do.” If online social networking isn’t your forte, you can ask your social worker if there are any parents in your area that you can talk with as resources.

Education
Karri has experienced a feeling of empowerment and a better ability to advocate for the children in her care if she takes the time to educate herself on the challenges the kids in her care face. “There’s so much that you can read and learn about. Just expose yourself to as much of that info as you can.” She suggests googling mental health diagnoses, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder. “We’ve seen attachment issues in almost all of the kids we’ve cared for. It’s important to understand what it looks like. You might think, ‘The baby never cries. It’s so nice.’ But that’s not a good thing.” If you understand that, you can communicate concerning behavior to therapists, teachers, and case workers. “Your social worker is also helpful.” The case worker can provide assurance, resources and background experience to help you better understand the needs of the children in your care.

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This is just a beginning to the tools you can arm yourself with as you navigate caring for children as a foster parent. Challenge yourself to reach out – to the Coalition, to a support group near you, to your social worker – for more ideas and perspectives. Browse the tip sheets on our website or check out a book from our online lending library to stock up on information and insights. We wish you well as you take each step forward in this journey. We’re here as a resource along the way.

A special thank you to Karri Bartlett for sharing her thoughtful contributions for this issue of our newsletter.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Planning Ahead – Working Together for Successful Interactions

Think of the last hard day you had—at work or at home. One of those times when you didn’t want to talk about your day, but your partner asked anyway. Or the opposite—you really needed someone to listen, but your support person or partner was unengaged or absent.

Planning Ahead: Working Together for Successful InteractionsAt times, kids in care will experience those same feelings you have—especially after they return to your home after spending time with their family. It can seem like no matter what you do, it’s the wrong thing.

So what can you do to help make the transitions to and from families run more smoothly? It may seem somewhat obvious in hindsight, but one thing you may want to do is make sure you’ve prepared before children spend time with their family.

Preparing for Family Interactions
If you and the birth family don’t already have some guidelines in place for shared parenting, preparing for visits is a great place to start. This can include ideas such as maintaining similar schedules, rules, and discipline as much as possible, as well as information about food and medications and any health concerns. (Also see our tip sheet on Shared Parenting.)

You’re not always going to agree on everything and that’s okay too.

Other suggestions include:

Names. Talk with your child’s birth parents about what name you are called. Some children in foster care call their foster parents “Mom” and “Dad,” which can come as a surprise to birth parents. This is an important topic of discussion that foster parents and the child’s birth parents should have in order to avoid hurt feelings or confusion for everyone.

Family Interaction Form. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has a helpful resource you can use regarding family visits called The Family Interaction Plan. (Your social worker might have a form that he or she uses from his or her agency.) The DCF plan is a short, simple form that helps everyone stay on the same page in regards to transportation, times, places, who can have contact, proposed activities, what each party’s responsibility is, and a section for comments.

Well Stocked Homes. Having clothes, toys and toothbrushes at both houses greatly reduces the stress of packing and potential complaints if something isn’t sent to one home or brought back to another. Pharmacies will also put meds in separate containers so that both sets of caregivers can have medication on hand.

Continue reading on our website.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Helping Achieve School Success

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Helping Achieve School Success

Getting ready for school can be an overwhelming experience for a child as well as for foster parents. You may have a child in your home beginning at a new school, returning to the same school, or may have a new child coming into your home during the school year who you haven’t even met yet. There’s a lot of information and things to remember. We hope the following will help you and your child prepare for having a successful school year.

Preparing to Start at a New School
The first step in starting at a new school is making sure to register your child. You also need to make sure that the new school obtains previous school records. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, make sure you also get a copy.

School districts vary widely in their enrollment processes. If you run into any issues, hopefully, your worker and your child’s parents can help in the process.

Additionally, talking to former teachers is often helpful in understanding what your child might need to be successful at the new school.

In order to help ease some stress for both you and your child, try to meet with the current teacher before starting at a new school. For more information, see the Coalition’s tip sheet Helping Kids in Care Change Schools.

Other things you might consider include:

  • Volunteering in the classroom a day or two a week, or as often as your schedule permits, or joining your child for lunch to help with this transition. If you aren’t able to be with your child at school, maybe a scheduled phone call to check in during the day can help him feel more at ease. Your child may only need you to do so until they are feeling comfortable. However, some children may need extra support from you throughout the school year.
  • Finding out what works best for ongoing communication between you and the teachers. This might be regularly scheduled phone calls, emails, or a communication notebook that goes back and forth. Being proactive can help your child have a successful school year—don’t wait until conference time to address issues.
  • Continue reading on our website.