Role of the Foster Parent in Educational Advocacy

 

Enrolling a child in Pre-K and preparing them to start their educational journey is a very exciting experience. School is one of the main areas that lays the foundations for learning and growth in a child’s life. However, what do we do when a child has not had this experience? How do we respond and advocate for a child who struggles with or has never attended school on a consistent basis?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “A positive PK-12 education experience has the potential to be a powerful counterweight to the abuse, neglect, separation, impermanence and other barriers these vulnerable students experience”.

This was the case with one of the children in foster care whom I have the privilege of knowing and working with. Before entering foster care, this particular child had 20 absences and 11 tardy slips in their Kindergarten academic school year. Given this information, we were aware that this child did not have an understanding of consistency in school attendance. The foster parents were aware that educational support and advocacy would be a crucial part of their role for this child.

Transitioning to a new school is very difficult for children of all ages. Being in a new environment and struggling with personal trauma from moving into a foster home can cause certain behaviors to arise. Due to his lack of consistent school attendance and participation, the transition into school was very challenging. As a result of his behavior, this particular child was immediately isolated from his peers. The foster parents stayed in constant communication with this child’s teacher and became aware of a separation he was experiencing in the classroom. The teacher moved him from a table with his peers to a singular desk in the corner with tape on the floor. Seeing the effects of the isolation, they immediately took action by meeting with the teacher as well as other members of the educational staff. Although they initially did not receive the support and resources necessary for this child, they remained persistent with the school. They valued the child’s educational foundation and purposely faced all road blocks that could possibly hinder his development. A meeting was established with all parties involved with this child, including attorneys and social workers. Through the foster parent’s persistence, a 504 plan was created that tailored to the child’s strengths and needs.

Watching this child grow academically has been an amazing example of how educational advocacy is an important component of being a foster parent. This child is now thriving in school and receiving valuable services throughout the school day. He even received student of the month! The foster parents continue to monitor his progress and have since formed great relationships with the school administrators and staff. Through small steps, the foster parents have helped create an environment where this child has grown and continues to learn in spite of his previous academic shortcomings.

There are many ways to advocate for your foster child academically:

  • Attend/request IEP and 504 Plan meetings
  • Request weekly updates from the student’s teacher on their progress
  • Attend parent/teacher conferences
  • Update the teacher on changed behaviors the child is experiencing
  • Be persistent!
  • Involve the child’s attorney or other legal parties if necessary
  • Encourage and support the child in their educational journey
  • Disclose information about the child’s history only when allowed and deemed beneficial to help the school meet their educational needs
  • Reach out to school counselors and other resources for support
  • Communicate needs, questions, and concerns with the social workers involved
  • Listen and act as their voice! Your voice matters!

 

View other resources for additional guidance for you and your foster child:

https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/foster-care/index.html

https://blog.edmentum.com/parent%E2%80%99s-guide-special-education-and-iep-process

https://www.understood.org/articles/en/playing-a-role-in-the-iep-process

 

By: Abbie Cox, Nightlight Foster Care Advocate

“Fun in the Sun” Adoption Fundraising Ideas

 

It’s summer, and there is no better time to plan and execute an adoption fundraiser. The options are limitless. Here are five ideas which merge summer fun and adoption funding:

Car Wash – Gather a group of family and friends to have an old-fashioned car wash. Advertise the event on social media including date, location, and time. You choose whether to have a set amount for services or accept any donation. Play some oldies music, laugh much, and lather your sponges!

Corn Hole Tournament – Who doesn’t love a rousing game of corn hole – young, old, or in between! It’s a low budget and easy to plan tournament. Participants pay a donation entry fee. Design t-shirts or hats to sell. Have food and snacks available. The game is played elimination style, and spectators can cheer the others to victory. Have creative, low-cost prizes for the winners of each round. Download a Corn Hole Tournament bracket here – https://www.cornholeworldwide.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cornhole-Tournament-Brackets.pdf

Garage Sale – This event is a win/win for all involved. Your family and friends get to de-clutter their closets, and you will make money from the clutter! Plan in advance and ask your friends for donations. Have a donation drop-off site or offer to provide pick-up services. Price the items reasonably. Your goal is to move inventory. Strategically choose a high traffic location. Advertise in advance and have large, brightly colored signs posted. Let shoppers know their purchases will help bring your child home and post a “Donations Accepted” sign. Have bottled water in coolers to sell or let your “littles” set up a lemonade stand. If you have inventory left over, choose a location on the other side of town, and after a week or two to recover, go for round #2. Don’t forget to gather sacks/bags and have extra change available to get started.

Movie Night – Host a movie night in a location large enough to have an old-fashioned “drive-in” feel (public park, church, a farmer’s barnyard …). Choose a summer blockbuster suitable for all ages and family fun. Ask for an entrance donation. Sell popcorn, soda, and candy. Write your Adoption Bridge profile link on the popcorn bags so attendees can make additional donations later.

Summer Field Day – Most kids wait all year long anticipating the beloved Field Day during the final week of school. Why not host your own? Kids will have a blast playing games while their parents will love having a fun and safe activity for them. Plan an afternoon of competitive games like tug-of-war, wheel barrow race, sack race, water balloon toss … For additional creative games see – https://www.weareteachers.com/field-day-games/ Set a donation amount for registration. Have sack lunches for sale. Get businesses to donate fun prizes. Invite energetic volunteers to help run the competitions. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Finally, keep in mind your family’s unique strengths and talents. What do you enjoy doing? What are you exceptionally good at? Turn those abilities into fun and profitable fundraisers. Enjoy the summer and go make some money!

 

By: Camie Schuiteman, Nightlight Family Resource Specialist

How to Answer Strange Questions About Embryo Adoption

 

 

Embryo adoption is a unique option that can help families experience the joys (and challenges!) of pregnancy and childbirth with their adopted child. You may be starting the process through the Snowflakes program, but it is usually a new and difficult concept for many people. You may run into some interesting reactions and questions when you start to share your journey.

These are the most common questions we have heard that families were asked as they were going through the adoption process:

Q: “That sounds weird… like something right out of a sci-fi movie.”

If you get this comment, change the connotation from weird to amazing!

A: “It is a miracle, isn’t it?! It happens when science is combined with the miracle of life! But it’s not new—cryo-technology has been around since the 1950’s. It is amazing that God has allowed a way for leftover embryos from IVF cycles to be preserved so they can be used later on!

Q: “Isn’t it hard on the kid because they’re born in the wrong decade?”

This is usually a question you will get if the person is trying to wrap their minds around the concept of freezing the embryo. Since embryos have no known “shelf-life,” they can be frozen for many years, thawed, and then transferred in a cycle. There have been many healthy children who have been born from embryos ten years old or even older.

A: “A child born from an embryo has their birthday like any other kid, and that is their age. Embryos are frozen in time—and liquid nitrogen—somewhere in the first five days of development, and they stay at that stage until they are thawed and transferred.”

Q: “Isn’t it robbing orphaned kids overseas or in foster care?”

This is a tricky question to answer, because while it can come across as belittling or even judgmental, it’s usually based off of a person’s genuine care for orphans. Embryo adoption is just one of many adoption choices. Embryo adoption doesn’t replace other adoption programs, it expands the choices people have for helping children who need a family

A: “This is was right adoption path for us. It’s just like how a family may choose domestic adoption over international adoption. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. We’re still adopting a child—just much earlier in their development.”

As you pursue your embryo adoption journey through Snowflakes, we hope this better prepares you to answer well-meant questions with confidence. To learn more about embryo adoption donation through the Snowflakes program, visit Snowflakes.org.

By: Paige Zapf

Ways to Honor Your Child’s Birth Father

 

Although there may not be a day each year designated to honor your child’s birth father, it is still important to consider how to incorporate him into your child’s story. Understandably, we give a lot of attention to birth mothers. There could be a number of reasons why birth fathers are not as involved in the adoption process. Perhaps he is not known by the birth mother or maybe she does not want him to know about the pregnancy. It is also very possible that he simply does not desire to be involved in the process or there is a reason contact should not occur with him. Even if little is known about the birth father, though, it does not mean he does not exist. He, just like your child’s birth mother, is a member of the adoption triad and there are several unique ways to honor him no matter how much (or little) you know about him.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Try to gather as much information as you can about the birth father. Take note of his interests, unique physical features, and personality, as these can be things you share with your child eventually. If you have an opportunity to meet him, take it! Ask questions that help him feel seen and valued as an individual. If you are not able to meet him in person, try to gather this information from others that know him—whether that is the birth mother, a relative of his, or an agency representative.
  2. If the birth father is active in the process, consider how he may feel appreciated or honored. It is common, of course, for adoptive families to give a gift to their child’s birth mother upon placement. Maybe you could also consider giving the birth father his own special keepsake at the hospital, such as a framed photo of him with your child, an engraved piece of jewelry or leather, or a collection of some of his favorite items.
  3. Speak considerately of your child’s birth father in your home, even if you do not know who he is or there are parts of his story that are difficult to explain to your child. This does not mean you should make up information about him or try to hide the reality of his situation. There are ways, though, to still display respect towards him when talking to your child. It may be a challenge for adoptees to not know much about their birth father. Although it may not ever be possible to get more information about him, inviting your child to wonder and ask questions about him and simply acknowledging him when talking about your child’s origins may go a long way.
  4. Develop a plan with the birth father for ongoing contact, even if it is different than the one established with your child’s birth mother. It is possible that a birth father may desire more contact than a birth mother, and it is important for his voice to be heard in this regard. Consider writing a separate letter to him with updates and photos so that he, too, feels like he has a place in your family.
  5. Consider choosing a day around Father’s Day each year to do something to honor your child’s birth father. If you know him and have contact with him, consider reaching out to him in a unique way. If he is unknown or there is no contact with him, you could consider doing a special activity with your child instead. Perhaps you could help your child make a craft they could put in a keepsake box or take them to do an activity you knew their birth father enjoyed.

It is not as common to hear directly from birth fathers about their experience of placing a child for adoption. Here’s one birth father, though, that wanted to share some of his thoughts with others: Zachary | A birth father from Georgia – BraveLove. Although this is not representative of every birth father, it provides a thorough glimpse into his experience through the adoption process and also highlights the importance of incorporating your child’s birth father into their story in some way.

How Can the Community Support Foster Families?

 

As National Foster Care Awareness Month comes to a close, we wanted to highlight some ways everyone can get involved with the foster care world. We know not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but we believe everyone is called to do something.

  • The easiest and most accessible way to support our foster families, children, biological families, and staff is through prayer! The world of child welfare is often full of spiritual warfare and hard situations and prayer is an important way to support everyone we work with.
  • Money, time, services, and more! There are many ways you can give support to our foster care program.
    • You can donate directly to Nightlight here or through one of our other many ways to help
    • You can give Christmas gifts during the holidays through one of our local Christmas gift drives, or reach out to the local offices about giving birthday gifts for foster children throughout the year.
    • Foster and biological families could also often benefit from services given such as house cleaning or yard work. There is never a shortage of ways to give!
    • We are always in need of spaces to host events and training and businesses willing to donate food, décor, and more.
  • While not everyone is in the position to become a foster parent, there are many other ways to directly serve children and youth in care.
    • You can become a trained babysitter or respite care provider and provide a much-needed break to foster parents.
    • If you are a good cook or baker, you could make a meal or treats to bring to a foster family. Even a meal once a month goes a long way when families are juggling visits with parents, therapy appointments, court, and more.
    • Do you have another skill or talent you feel could benefit families or children? Are you an art teacher who wants to host an art class for our children or a retired teacher who can offer some tutoring sessions? Let us know!
  • We are always looking for others to share the message and the need for more foster and adoptive parents.
    • You can help advocate for our children in the care by helping to host informational meetings at your church or in your community, sharing posts on social media about the need for foster parents, and talking to those around you about the need. The more people who are aware of the need, the more who will step up to meet it!

 

If you are interested in learning more about how you can support Nightlight’s Healing Homes Foster Care Program you can reach out to your local Nightlight office today!

International Adoption Program Spotlight: Bulgaria

 

Bulgaria is located in Eastern Europe and is one of our popular programs. We have successfully assisted with bringing home many children from Bulgaria for over 10 years. The children that are available for adoption from Bulgaria are of Roma descent meaning they have dark hair and olive skin tone. The age ranges of children available are from 1 to 16 years. There are sibling groups available in Bulgaria as well that range from 2-4 siblings. There are children within Bulgaria that have special needs that can be mild, moderate or severe. The most common special needs that we see from children in Bulgaria are prematurity, low birth weight, congenital heart conditions and strabismus (lazy eye).

Recently, Bulgaria has worked to help strengthen the intercountry adoption protocols and decreasing the delay in registering children for international adoption. There have been countless children that have missed their chance to be adopted due to the delay in registration. Fortunately, some older children were adopted at the last minute and now are living happily in the United States. However, some children were not as lucky and will live out their days in a group home until they turn 18 and are forced to face the adult world on their own.

At Nightlight, we advocate for the children of Bulgaria by posting waiting children profiles on our website, Adoption Bridge. This allows families to inquire about waiting children that are harder to place due to their age, special needs, or sibling group size. There are many children from Bulgaria that need their forever families to find them and pursue them for adoption. The Bulgaria program is very simple and does not have many requirements. You can adopt as a single or married couple, there are no restrictions with mental health, requires both parents to travel on just the second trip, and has two avenues of pursuance for adoptions (waiting children or traditional route).

Contact our Bulgaria Program Coordinator, Karson Loscar at karson@nightlight.org, to learn more about the children, the program, and how to get started.

Why Foster Teens?

 

The attitudes. The cell phones. The hormones. Are these things that come to mind when you think of teens in foster care? It’s true — all teens, whether in foster care or not, can be challenging. Being a foster care parent to teens is hard, but it is also incredibly rewarding.

Plus, teens also come with great perks:

  • Teens are independent.
  • You can sleep in on weekends.
  • Date nights can happen without a babysitter.
  • Teens can babysit.
  • You get to teach valuable adult life skills.
  • They love structure.
  • They get to see a healthy, loving family.
  • You can help stop a cycle.
  • They’ll remember what you did for them forever.
  • You can help them rebuild trust in adults.
  • You get to help them envision a positive future.
  • Did I mention the extra sleep?

If you’re considering fostering teens, you’ve probably got a lot of questions, uncertainties, and fears. You may feel unprepared. That’s normal and it’s OK. What a teen in foster care needs most is love, acceptance, and grace — they just need someone to show up for them and a place to feel safe.

Here are a few tips for fostering teens:

  • Make boundaries, expectations, and rules clear from the start.
  • Meet them where they are, not where you think they should be.
  • Offer gentle nudges in the “right” direction.
  • Give them their own space to unpack, process, and feel things.
  • Always be honest and keep open communication.
  • Allow them to open up to you in their own time.
  • Don’t take things personally.

The need is great for foster families who are willing to say “Yes” to a teen. More teens need a loving and stable home than any other age range. These teens need and want a place to call home, a consistent place to celebrate holidays and milestones, and a place to feel safe and wanted. Many teens have to stay in a DSS office while a home is found for them, often missing school or other important events while they wait in limbo. Will you see the value in these amazing young adults? Will you step out on faith and say “Yes” to making a world of difference in the life of a teen?

If you aren’t quite ready to welcome a teen into your home long-term, there are many other ways to help, such as:

  • Offer emergency and short-term placement in your home.
  • Become a mentor to a teen in foster care.
  • Support a teen by becoming a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
  • Initiate a fundraiser for local foster care organizations.
  • Volunteer in a group home for teens.
  • Provide meals for foster families.

The possibilities of ways you can help teens in foster care are endless. 

Every teen is unique and has individual needs, strengths, hopes, and fears. But each teen is worthy of love and worthy of the chance to bless your family. If you’re ready to find out more about how you can support teens by fostering or through other ways, your foster care community is here to support you every step of the way.

Compassion Fatigue in Fostering

 

It’s ok to say no…

 

People make the decision to be foster parents for many different reasons.  Many of those reasons come back to one core reason, the desire to help a child.  If you’ve made the decision to foster or are considering fostering, chances are good that you are compassionate.  That compassion is what drives you to step in a fill the gap in a child’s life.  It drives you to provide a loving, nurturing, and stable environment for the children in your care.

 

Despite the complexities of caring for children from tough backgrounds and the frustrations of dealing with the red tape of the foster care system, it is likely that you love what you do as a foster parent.  I’ve heard it said that foster parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love and in my own experience that is 100% true.  It is a tough job (one of the toughest), but that compassion keeps driving you forward.  But, without learning to set boundaries and say no, that compassion can drive you right to compassion fatigue.

 

Compassion fatigue refers to an identifiable set of negative psychological symptoms that caregivers experience as a result of providing care while being exposed to either primary trauma (experiencing the trauma firsthand) or secondary trauma (rendering care to those experiencing trauma).  -Charles Figley

 

When we experience compassion fatigue we can’t care well for ourselves or the children in our care.  As a foster parent, you can’t go home and leave the worries of your job at work. Your home is your place of work, caring for these children is your job.  A study conducted by the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies found that with appropriate support and regular “time-outs” foster parents are less likely to experience compassion fatigue.

 

Simply stated, it’s ok to say no!  Say no to the placement that you don’t think your family is equipped to care for.  Say no to the placement when your family needs to grieve the loss of the child that recently left you.  Say no to taking a placement when you feel you need a few days to regroup from your last placement.  Say no when your kids need a few days with you all to themselves.  It’s ok!  Your Nightlight Foster Care Advocate understands.  You need to be healthy and refreshed.  Your cup has to be filled or you will have nothing to pour out to your foster kids.  Just say no and give your family and your future foster kids the best you!

Self-Care for Foster Parents

 

If you are a foster parent, you have the innate desire to care for others. If you did not have that desire, you would have not have spent months going through several interviews and preparing your home to care for a child that you have never met. It is such a gift to have some many wonderful individuals and families opening up their homes to provide love, safety, and security to children in need. Children in foster care have experienced various kinds of trauma and often have several needs. Your foster child may have a doctor’s appointment today, visitation with a biological parent tomorrow, and therapy the day after that. Schedules can get busy and things can be hard to juggle. As a foster parent, it can be easy to neglect your own needs in order to make sure that the needs of your children are met. While taking care of your children is important, it is important to prioritize yourself and your needs as well. Here are some tips to help you practice self-care as a foster parent.

  • Find a Hobby: Find activities that you enjoy and make time to do them every day, even if it is just for a few minutes. Maybe you can take a quick jog around the neighborhood, read a book, journal your thoughts, or do a craft project. The possibilities are limitless. Find what re-energizes you and make it a priority. When you take time for yourself, you will be able to care for your children better.
  • Take Care of your needs: You are probably already running in several directions and have several appointments that you have to keep track of for your children, but make sure that you are making time for your needs as well. Do you have an appointment for yourself that you have been putting off? Do you desperately need a haircut, but you do not feel that you have any time for that? Make your needs a priority and give yourself permission to care of yourself. When your needs are met, you are better able to provide for the needs of your children.
  • Use Respite Care: Take a night or weekend off. Find trusted friends or family members that are willing to watch your children for a few hours. If you are married, take a date night. It is important for you to maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse. If you are single, take a night to yourself or go do an activity with your friends. Having a few hours to regroup, can be helpful to your emotional well-being.
  • Ask for Help: It is okay to ask for help when you need it. Find people that you trust, and let them know what you need. Several people are willing to help, but do not know what to do. Whether you need someone to watch your children for a couple of hours so you can go to an appointment or need help finding a good pediatrician or child facility, do not be afraid to ask. Also, make sure that you are communicating with your foster care worker. Let them know about your questions, concerns, and frustrations. Your foster care worker is there to help and support you.
  • Join a Support Group: Find a foster care group and join it. Several churches and community organizations have started groups specifically for foster parents. If you are a Nightlight Foster Family, our offices plan specific groups and events for foster parents as well. Contact your foster care advocate for more information. Groups are a great opportunity gain additional support and to connect with others that are going through the same process.

Being a foster parent is not always easy, but it is very rewarding. When things get hard, take a breath and remind yourself why you do what you do. Take time for yourself, take care of your needs, and ask for help and support when you need it. As a foster parent, you are doing great work and the love and compassion that you have for the kids in your care does not go unnoticed. Thank you for all that you do for the children that need you.

How to Honor Your Child’s Birth Mother on Mother’s Day

 

Mother’s Day is a very complicated and emotionally loaded time for many women. There are those that long for children but for many different reasons find themselves childless. There are those that mourn the early death of their child whether prenatally or after birth. There are also those who mourn for mothers they have lost, and then there is your child’s birth mother. Mother’s Day is often times a bittersweet reminder for birth mothers of the children they are not parenting. This season reminds them of the grief and loss they have had to endure since placing for adoption and often times birth mothers are overlooked on Mother’s Day.

As an adoptive parent, you have the responsibility to include and/or commemorate your child’s birth mother on or around Mother’s Day. Whether you want to admit it or not, your adopted child has two moms and both are worthy to be celebrated. Your child is also very likely thinking about their birth mother around this time regardless of whether you choose to celebrate her or not. How you handle moments like Mother’s Day will impact your child’s comfort level and felt safety in being able to process their complicated emotions around their adoption story. No matter what your child’s adoption story looked like, a birth mother’s decision to place for adoption is rooted in the most selfless motivation a parent can ever make. She chose life and she chose a life with you all as her child’s parents. That alone is worthy to be celebrated!

Here are some creative ways your family can include your child’s birth mother on Birth Mother’s Day:

  • Celebrate her on Birth Mother’s Day (May 7th)!
  • Ask her! Check with her and see if there are any ways she would enjoy being celebrated.
  • Schedule a visit with her around Mother’s Day.
  • You and your adopted child can go pick out a gift to send to her.
  • Have flowers delivered to her.
  • Have your adopted child write a card/color a photo for her.

If contact with your adopted child’s birth mother is not a reality, there are still so many ways that you can creatively celebrate her. This also allows your child a natural and healthy time to process and talk through their adoption story—an opportunity that is not as often granted to them as naturally as children who have open relationships with their birth parents. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • If you have created an adoption story Lifebook, pull it out and talk through it with your child.
  • If you received any personal information about your child’s birth mother, go do something on that day that she enjoyed doing!
  • Purchase a plant or flower bush to plant at your home together with your child to honor her.

Regardless of what your relationship with your adopted child’s birth mother looks like, it is important your child knows she is worthy to be celebrated and their adoption story is rooted in love and selflessness. These simple gestures and acts will mean more to your child and their birth mother than you will ever know.

By: Katy Clasquin