Post Adoption Reports – Why?

Post adoption reports are required by families who adopt children from outside the United States. The requirements vary in number and frequency, usually based on the sending country’s laws. It is understandable that after a sometimes long and expensive process of adoption that parents feel both wary and weary of a social worker visiting their home to report on their family unit for years after homecoming. In order to understand this requirement, it’s important to learn about the history of US/intercountry adoption and why it not only protects adoptive parents and their children, but how it can ultimately benefit yours and the legitimacy of future adoptions.

Adoption is among the oldest and most widespread of human social practices. The oldest recordings of adoption practices date back to 18th century BCE. It wasn’t until 1851 when Massachusetts enacted the first modern adoption law, that adoption was recognized as a social and legal matter requiring state supervision. While 1851 seems late in the history of adoption, it was actually early in the history of adoption law. For example, the United Kingdom, did not pass legislation regulating adoption until 1926. In the 150 years since, modern adoption law has spread and been accepted throughout the Western world—so thoroughly we forget how innovative it is and how hard it is for other cultures to grasp. The idea of permanently and legally severing a child’s biological ties to a birth family is all but incomprehensible to some cultures.

It has been widely reported that US international adoption grew out of orphan-rescue missions in the wake of military conflicts, beginning with the airlift of German and Japanese orphans at the end of the World War. Similar rescues followed the Korean War, in 1953, the Bay of Pigs debacle, in 1961, and the Vietnam War, in 1975. These “babylifts” were, in part, political and fueled by a new superpower’s desire to demonstrate its good will to the rest of the world as humanitarian mercy missions.

In addition, in 1955 Henry and Bertha Holt, an evangelical couple from rural Oregon, secured a special act of Congress enabling them to adopt Korean “war orphans.” These children of Korean women and American GIs had been stigmatized or abandoned because of their visible ethnic differences and the presumption of infidelity or illegitimacy. The Holts turned their personal experience into a mission, founding the first organization dedicated to large-scale international adoption, Holt International Children’s Services.

Rates of international adoption began to climb dramatically after 1992, when China opened its orphanages and let Westerners adopt some of the thousands of daughters abandoned because of a radical and historically unique social experiment: the one-child policy. Intercountry adoption by westerners transformed from a charitable endeavor to a private industry. And with that came unethical motives and practices that legislators and legitimate agencies who were finding families for orphaned children were already desperately trying to prevent tried. For example, in the 1980s a number of Latin American countries were hit by child-buying and kidnapping scandals; in some cases, during civil wars, military forces were killing insurgents and selling their children into international adoption. In 1989, the televised sight of Romanian orphans warehoused in abysmal conditions broke many Western hearts provoking thousands to adopt from Romania. Many did take home institutionalized and often developmentally delayed children. Others fell under the sway of entrepreneurial locals who saw money to be made. As has been widely reported, by 1991 Romanian adoption “facilitators” were soliciting children directly from birth families in hospitals, on the street, in poor neighborhoods, even in their homes, sometimes haggling over prices while shocked Westerners stood by. In response, Romania shut its doors to international adoption, reopening for reform, and then closing again when corruption returned to re-open only to Romanian citizens living abroad. Similarly, in 2008, Guatemala closed its doors to adoption to try to root out systemic corruption. Overall, these are tragic results for children who legitimately do need safe forever families.

While the motivation for the adoptive parents may have been sincere in countries like Romania and Guatemala, US legislators continued to scrutinize other countries’ practices in determining a child’s “orphan status” and termination of birth parental rights. And rightfully so. All too often US and European agencies have been “finding” children for their consumers by contracting directly with orphanages, maternity homes, hospitals or foreign lawyers abroad who are unsupervised by their respective governments. At Nightlight, we work hard to vet our foreign partners along with the United States Embassy in those countries to ensure we are placing children who may never have a chance to find a family in their native country.

Post adoption reporting is one of many ways in which the US government has worked with foreign governments to assure legal and ethical adoption practices. Furthermore, the reports are a tool in which US citizens and our government ensure children have not been trafficked, sold or rehomed without anyone’s knowledge. Keep in mind that the cost of post adoption reporting should be merely to cover worker fees, translations and shipping when original reports are required. One of the most important items to report is that the adoptee has obtained US citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. The US Department of State website states:

The Department strongly urges all adoptive parents to take these obligations seriously and comply with post-adoption and post-placement requirements in a timely manner. Failure to do so may put at risk the ability of future U.S. families and foreign children to be matched. Your cooperation will contribute to the country of origin’s history of positive experiences with U.S. citizen adoptive parents. 

 Post-adoption reports provide an important opportunity for the adoptive parents and the child to discuss the progress of the adoption. They may also provide assurances to political leaders and adoption officials in the child’s country of origin that intercountry adoption was indeed in the child’s best interest.

 

Nightlight works in countries who are open to placing children with US families as a last resort for placement. This may look different in many countries. For instance, in disaster-torn countries like Haiti, there is little ability for domestic adoption thus creating a humanitarian effort for children of all ages. However, in Colombia, domestic adoption is prevalent and growing for children who have been detained into the child welfare system due to neglect and/or abuse. Only children who have not been placed successfully in-country over time are able to be adopted outside of Colombia.

We encourage our adoptive families to utilize post adoption reporting as a resource for their adopted child and family. Many families experience little to no transitional issues and may feel post adoption reporting to be invasive and unnecessary. However, adoption is a lifelong journey for adoptees. Post adoption social workers can provide insight and connection to the adoptee that is outside of the family unit. We also realize that social worker visits may be triggering to some adoptees and work with families to prepare the child and work toward a positive experience for the family. While home visits are required by most countries, visits can start in parks or restaurants to gain trust and build relationships between workers and adoptees. Ultimately, it’s important that adoptees feel they have a network of people in the adoption realm that can support their journey through their lives.

 

For more information on post adoption resources, visit our Post Adoption Connection Center

Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism (2010.) Capsule history of international adoption.

Seabrook, John. (2010.) New York Times. The Last Babylift: Adopting a child in Haiti.

The Adoption History Project (2012.) Timeline of adoption history.

US Department of State (n.d.) What to expect after adoption.

US Department of State (n.d.) FAQ: Child Citizenship Act of 2000

Before You Foster: Ways to Prepare Your Children and Family

Often, I hear couples talk about how they would like to foster ‘someday’. I was the same way, always wanting to adopt or foster one day. Helping children in hard places is something that is close to the hearts of many, but it feels like such a big life altering step that less end up taking those steps towards actually doing it, than those that think about that ‘someday’. There is so much to learn and do before that child or sibling set comes into your home, but as a foster mom myself, I can tell you that each step is worth it! If you are thinking about fostering in the next few years, here are some important starter points that will help you thrive once ‘someday’ becomes a reality.

Pour into your marriage, because you can’t pour love out of an empty cup. Children that have experienced trauma will need a lot of focused love and care that will stretch both you and your partner. The relationship struggles that were manageable before, often become significantly more challenging while couples are fostering. Pour into this relationship, date each other, and have those hard conversations you’ve both been putting off before you decide to bring a child into your home. This is not a situation where “we will deal with that later” will benefit either of you. The strong relationship between you two will be the foundation that these children can stand on to begin their healing.

Dive deep into your own healing journey before you take in those that need healing. Foster care goes beyond traditional parenting. Parents have to constantly adapt to changes in the case, in the child, and in what works to help their child heal and thrive. You may be surprised at how the difficulties in your past find their way back up to the surface. Spend some focused time looking at the difficulties you have already walked through and the coping skills that worked well, along with those that didn’t. We highly recommend that parents have a therapist that they connect with at least monthly while they are fostering.

Assure you have a supportive community. You cannot thrive in foster care and loving vulnerable youth while remaining in the walls of your home. That community becomes necessary really fast, when you need to get away from the house, or have someone give you even an hour or two of a break from the important work you are doing. Many foster parents think that they will be able to shoulder the weight all on their own, but later find how much they needed others to hold them up. A larger community just means that there are more people to love the children in your life, and provide things that even you can’t.

Pray for discernment and love as you begin your journey. Emotions tend to be very difficult to control when you are fostering. You may think you immediately will fall in love with the child or siblings coming into your home, only to find that bonding is a struggle. It is important to pray together for discernment as you hear about children needing a foster home, this commitment will be incredibly important to them, and damaging if it falls apart. Know that your life will be very different for at least a year from the point of saying yes, and pray to love the child(ren) that enter your home just a little bit more each day they are with you. Those prayers matter and will help strengthen you when things are difficult.

If you have children in your home already, bring them along in the learning process. Nightlight has training videos available for your kids to learn more about foster care, including coloring books that talk about what foster care is! Foster care is a very grown up topic, but children can be surprisingly adept in understanding what is going on when taught in a child friendly way. A lot of parents have reservations about fostering to protect the children currently in their home. Experienced foster parents often comment on how great it has been for their biological children, and a great way to grow empathy. We recommend reaching out to your Foster Care Advocate for training resources to help you bring your children along on this journey, because they can help children in foster care heal too!

 

written by Deb Uber

The Importance of Maintaining Birth Order When Adopting

 

There has been much debate over the years about families wishing to adopt out of birth order.  There is much research out there about birth order and personality.  Some research has even discovered that birth order can also affect a person’s academic performance, career choices and relationships as well.  So when we look at adoption and birth order it is important to keep this in mind if there are children already in the home.  Not only can adopting out of birth order impact the adoptee, it can have a huge impact on the children already in the home.

 

Displacing the Oldest Biological Child. First let’s look at which birth orders and age of children are most impacted.  Most of the research out there says that when you displace the oldest in the family this can create the biggest issues.  In other words, if you have a child that is 8 years old and you place a 10-year-old in the home that tends to cause more issues than if you place a child in the middle of a sibling set of 3 for example.  Age also affects birth order.  If you are going to disrupt birth order, doing it when the child is younger seems to have less impact.  If the child already in the home is 0-3 this seems to be the least disruptive age group.  Family size can also impact whether adopting out of birth order will be most successful.  Larger families seem to have less issues when adopting out of birth order.

 

Adoptive Child’s Birth Order. One issue that is sometimes overlooked is the birth order of the child you are going to be adopting. If the child you are bringing into your home is the oldest in their biological family and you are now placing them in the home as the youngest, this too can cause issues.  They will have already developed certain personality traits to match their place in the family and adjustment can be very difficult if they go from being the oldest and all the responsibility and roles that takes on to now being the baby in the family. You also have to consider the emotional age of the child you are adopting. In adoption we talk about chronological age but you also have to look at their emotional and developmental age. Adopted children are often emotionally and developmentally younger than their chronological age.

 

Sibling Rivalry. Some of the issues that may surface when adopting out of birth order is sibling rivalry.  Having to share parent’s attention will always be an issue when you bring a new child into the home. But if the child in the home is also feeling displaced this could cause the behaviors to be worse.  Some behaviors that are typical in these situations are children regressing and acting younger than their chronological age, throwing temper tantrums, more oppositional defiant behavior or becoming withdrawn.  If a family does decide to disrupt birth order and especially when displacing the oldest, adopting a child of the opposite sex can sometimes be better than adopting a child of the same sex.  Many families give their reason for adopting a child of the same sex is that they want their children to be “friends” and get along.  This is not even necessarily true in a family where there are 2 children close in age that are biological siblings.  There can be more competition if the children are of the same sex.  If the child you are brining into the home is the same age (or close in age) of a child already in the home this is called artificial twinning.  This can also cause a potential for competition among the children and fighting for parent’s attention.  Artificial twinning is not the same as having biological twins. Artificial twinning is also something to try to avoid but if a family does decide to do this you need to make sure you treat each child individually and not as twins.

 

The take away from this is when at all possible try to avoid disrupting birth order. However, if you are feeling strongly about adopting out of birth order, here are some thoughts:

  • Consider adopting when the child/ren in the home are younger.
  • Be aware of potential issues and consider each child’s individual personality and current birth order.
  • Prepare the current children in the home and have conversations about what it might look like when bringing a child older than them into the family. 
  • Expect an adjustment period and expect some behaviors and emotions to be larger than expected.
  • Seek support.

 

If you have questions about this topic, there are many resources out there for families including Nightlight’s Post Adoption Support Center. Reach out today!

 

written by Nicky Losse

Love Language Within the World of Trauma

 

Love languages and the knowledge of different ways to communicate love have gradually increased in popularity over the past few years. It can be especially important for children who have experienced trauma to be able to receive love in a way that they understand and can receive without fear. This can be particularly complicated when the child you are caring for may potentially have a love language that was abused through traumatic memories. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect may react differently to love languages that are spoken by their foster or parents through adoption. Here are some things to keep in mind for each love language with some alternatives that may feel more secure for a child who has experienced abuse in an area where they have a predominate love language.

As an overall reminder, young children between 0-6 rarely have a set love language and need each language to fill their bucket until a clear preference starts to show as their personality develops. This is the recommended starting point for all children and youth of all ages when they first come into your home, even the 17 year olds. Children who experienced trauma at a young age may have never had a consistent or attentive caregiver. It will be important to communicate each language consistently while you are bonding, and well after they begin to trust you and push boundaries. It may feel as if you are starting with an infant and working your way up, but this is a good sign. With safety and connection in place, often their language will develop into one or two predominate preferences. This can take years, or happen quickly depending on the child and their past experiences. If your child is rejecting certain languages, do not assume that they do not receive love that way. It is possibly a sign that they were extremely hurt before in that area, and they need extra care, attention, and patience before they will feel comfortable letting anyone touch, affirm, help, give gifts to them or spending one on one time with them again.

Physical Touch. This language has a lot of capacity for abuse, especially for children who were either neglected and left alone for significant amounts of time, or those who were physically hurt by their parents. Often kids experience both, which can make a child crave physical touch while at the same time being frightened of it and left struggling to relax when they are receiving physical contact. The goal then becomes safe touch and a lot of patience. We recommend looking through handheld therapeutic acupressure tools and helping your child pick one or two they may like to try. If deep pressure does not appeal to them they may prefer something like a paint brush or using a soft brush to make predictable circles on their arm as they relax. You may even introduce cuddling during a movie where there can be a pillow as a barrier. This provides enough felt safety while still meeting their needs. You may also want to consider a pet like a cat, dog or rabbit for some children who can cuddle something that has not caused physical harm to them in the past and keep your own touches to their shoulder or arm and only for specific purposes like when you are teaching them to cook or a sport. Be especially cautious with situations where family members may be requesting good bye hugs, as forced contact may be uncomfortable and feel unsafe for children and youth. Eventually, your child will feel more comfortable letting their guard down around specific caregivers and may request a lot of physical contact or even seem extremely needy in this area. This is a great sign! Be patient, they are catching up for lost time. Many parents intentionally will rock much older children as a reminder of the contact they should have received in infancy, but missed out on.

Words of Affirmation: Children who prefer verbal affirmation to receive love may have come from emotionally and verbally abusive homes where they were told they were stupid, selfish, or screamed obscenities at. This is particularly destructive to their self-esteem, as they can easily develop the belief that they are a bad child, unlovable, or a waste of space. Grand statements of “you are amazing” will feel fake to children who have a damaged self-esteem. Instead we recommend starting with a softer approach. When you are around your child, try pointing out exactly what they are doing, just notice it. For instance, if you are with a child who is playing with Legos, let them lead and avoid asking questions but make comments about what they are doing and mix those comments with gentle compliments. “I see you are building a ship there” “you are making your ship blue” “you are great at building Legos” “I love how gently you play with your toys”. Pick a time of the day where you can focus on using these types of statements and compliments, even 5 minutes a day. This will help with bonding while also showing them that they are seen and heard. Eventually they will become more receptive to hearing compliments to you outside of that concentrated time of play. You may be surprised at how many affirmations that it can take to start making a dent in the damage that was done before they came to your home, but it is well worth the effort. This is also important with youth and older teens, but they may be more aware that you are choosing specific times to concentrate on this, so it will need to be broken up throughout the day.

Quality Time: Is your child stuck to you like a little barnacle and afraid to be alone? They may have missed out on a lot of quality time as they moved home to home in foster homes with a ton of kids, group homes, or orphanages. Often these group settings have few caregiver and a lot of kids who need care, so a healthy need for quality time and attention becomes a fear that they will not have their needs met if they are ever left alone. Usually parents underestimate the amount of concentrated quality time that a child needs to fill their bucket, 15 minutes a day per parent. For these kids, schedule that time in and make it a priority that you will sit down with them to play for 15 minutes, even if you need to use a timer. Put your phone and other distractions away and let them lead the play, comment on what they are doing, affirm them, go along with their goofy antics. That consistent 15 minutes a day will have a bigger impact on them than you may realize. With it, they will be more open to you scheduling in your own self-care where you can step away for a mommy or daddy break and your own 15 minutes of rest. With patience and time their fears of not having their needs met will shift to trust.

Acts of Service: Neglect is one of the biggest factors for children who have experienced abuse in this particular love language. If your child is parentified, it is a good sign that this language is of particular importance to them. They may have had a parent who completely ignored their needs, and so they turned to meeting others needs and caring for them in the hopes that it would earn them love and safety so that their own needs could finally be met. They are likely to be particularly combative about anyone doing things for them, because their trust has been so damaged in this area. One of your first steps is to acknowledge all of the hard work that your child has done to care for those around them, because it is likely that their siblings and past caregivers took it for granted. Take time to do those extra touches that parents do for younger children, especially for older kids who can reasonably do these things on their own. Make homemade lunches for them, help clean their room when they aren’t looking, and sit next to them while they are working on their homework to offer assistance. They may not show that they appreciate this, but it speaks louder than you may believe. These are often the kids that don’t show their trauma, or get forgotten because they are so busy taking care of everyone else, and aren’t showing their need in an obvious way. In reality they need their love language spoken just as much, if not more than the kids that they were always taking care of.

Gifts: This language is consistently misunderstood in adults and children, so taking time to understand what that language is about is particularly important. Gifts as a love language is more about having something tangible to know that someone was thinking of you when you were not physically around, and that they care enough to listen and know what you like. This is not about the cost, it’s about the “I was thinking about you”. There is particular room for abuse of this love language as abusive caregivers may have used gifts as an apology for abuse, or even in grooming. In those situations, gifts that were supposed to be about “I care about you” were really about “I want something from you, and I know you like this”. This can be devastating to the psyche of a child who may come to believe that the only way they can receive love is to please their caregiver regardless of if that causes them physical and emotional harm. This also can create a lot of manipulative tendencies in children who are simply trying to get their needs met and feel loved.

Parents of children from hard places should focus on small gifts given consistently over time, and do not stop providing love this way when your child has messed up. This doesn’t have to cost anything, try picking a flower for them, painting a small rock, drawing a picture for them, or even taking them to the dollar store to pick their own gift out. You will want to avoid rewarding manipulation, and instead give these gifts when they are least expecting it and are entirely removed from difficult or good behaviors. The main goal is consistently speaking this language in small ways with no strings attached.

Children who have dealt with trauma often feel as if it is their fault. This causes a loss of self-esteem and eventually, the child may believe that they cannot be loved. Love languages are a way to show you care, you are there for them, and that they are loved. In the beginning, the child who does not believe they can be loved, will be hesitant with you and become potentially suspicious as to what you are doing. Don’t take it personally, be consistent, be patient, encourage self-esteem, and be emotionally and physically available for them. We recommend working with a reputable therapist if possible as you work through each love language, especially if you child finds a specific love language to be triggering.

Our favorite kids tool for speaking all of these love languages? Melissa & Doug Scratch Art Notes can be used for safe physical touch (helping kids learn to sketch things out, soft touches on the shoulder or sitting close by a child while you sketch together), Words of Affirmation (encouraging notes left all around the house or in lunch boxes) Quality time (drawing together), acts of service (little notes left behind after you helped do a chore they don’t always enjoy), and gifts (little drawings or gifting a card and scratcher for them to play with at school in their free time).

 

written by Natalie Burton & Deb Uber

 

Family Adoption Story: A Father’s Perspective

 

As Father’s Day approaches, we want to honor all dads, especially those who have opened their hearts and homes to adoption. When it comes to stories of parenting, fathers do not often take center stage. That is why we asked two adoptive fathers to share their experiences during and after adoption. Each faced unique struggles on their journey, but their success and words of encouragement are an important reminder of the power of a strong father.

Ryan, who was initially in our Mexico program but adopted from a dissolution, shares how experiencing hardship through his adopted daughter helped him to be more compassionate toward everyone around him.

“To me, adoption means opening your home, family, and yourself to offer love and support for a child that needs it. It’s is about putting your family and a child before yourself. I was always nervous about adoption. I feel like I barely knew what I was doing with the 2 kids I already had and I wasn’t sure if I was a good enough parent or person to handle a child that has been through the trauma that adoption brings. I still get the same feelings now at times, even 5 years into being an adoptive parent.

          “A big consideration is the cost of adoption. Adoption costs are expensive and they were very much a concern when we started looking more into adoption. We did some fundraising to help offset some of the costs. After adopting, we also took advantage of any and all adoption tax breaks that we qualified for. We were able to recoup a significant amount of the costs with just these two methods.

          “Since adopting, I have grown a lot as a parent and as a person. My daughter may have learned some things from me, but I think I have learned more from her. I have a much better understanding of how trauma affects people and I try to use it in my interactions with other people as well by trying to give people more grace because I don’t know what they have, or are currently, going through.

          “My advice to anyone wanting to adopt is to throw your expectations out the window because in my experience, expectations are nothing like reality when it comes to adoption. Some things are easier than you expected while other things are harder. If an adoptive parent is afraid he won’t be able to love a child who is not his biological child, I would say It definitely takes time and unconditional love. I don’t think any reasonable person would expect you to deeply love your adopted child when you first meet. I have found that attachment can be very hard, for both parent and child. Perseverance, patience, and communication have helped us when attachment wasn’t going well. As long as you continue to strengthen your relationship, love should come naturally.”

Joe, who adopted from Nigeria, discusses his faith as a guiding light through the ups and downs of adoption.

“From the time we started the adoption process to the time we finally brought our child home was five and a half years. The process was long and hard…. but unforgettable! We have learned that adoption is very much like a roller coaster, both in the process and in your emotions. For us, there were times we thought the process was moving along very smoothly, the never-ending paperwork was getting done and everything seems on schedule. But then, out of nowhere, something would happen and cause a delay. After a while, the pace would pick back up, sometimes even too fast! Up and down we would go.

 

“Our emotions would be on the same roller coaster as the process was. When things went great, we felt great. When things were delayed or doors were closed, we felt sad and hopeless. We have learned that this is just how the adoption process is. So, if you are going through that, you are right where you should be. You will have ups and downs, happiness and tears, excitement and fears, joy and anger. The memories of this journey will always be with you. And in the end, if you stick with it and don’t give up, you will have a precious child to share your life with, forever.

 

“For us, God specifically called us to adopt a child from Africa. We knew it was His calling. So whenever one of those delays or setbacks happened, we always reflected back on that calling. Did God still want us to adopt? Every time we asked Him, we got the confirmation to continue, despite the feeling of giving up. And we had good reason to feel that way! There were so many roadblocks and hiccups along the way. We had to switch countries from Uganda to Nigeria after a year and a half in the adoption process. We were officially matched with three children and almost matched with two or three others. We almost traveled to those countries twice. We were even matched with a child for a year, sending him letters and gifts, only to have it fail in the end. All those opportunities of adopting those children fell through, except the last one. The last child we were matched with worked out! We officially adopted our son in October of 2019 and the following year, in October of 2020, he came home!

 

“The adoption process is so complex and difficult to understand that we just need to trust those people that know what they are doing and trust in God that He will see it through.”

 

 

In these fathers’ accounts of the rewards and hardships of their adoption processes, the need for perseverance is a clear theme. Setbacks can be discouraging, and you may find that you have much room to grow once you are united with your adoptive child. This June, take time to appreciate the fathers in your life who give so much of themselves for their families.

 

co-written by Julie Conner & Casey Kutrip

How to Promote Your Child’s Development of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is comprised of a variety of abilities that allow someone to understand delayed gratification, focus and shift their attention between tasks, and control one’s emotions and behaviors.  Self-regulation allows a child to resist impulsive behaviors and outbursts, cheer themselves up when feeling down, and respond appropriately to different scenarios, consequently allowing them better control over their behavior and their life.  Developing this skill takes time and practice, and as you can probably guess, directly impacts social interactions and success at school and work.

In the world of international adoption, many children spend the early years of their lives without the consistent one-on-one support and mentoring that is so important to the development of complex reasoning and thinking… directly affecting their ability to self-regulate.  However, it is never too late to teach a child self-regulation strategies.  These abilities are practiced and developed through continuous social interactions across one’s lifespan.  This is great news for all parents, as this means that self-regulation can be taught and practiced through formal and informal interactions and environments at any age.

So what can you do to help your child develop these important life skills?

First things first. Teach your child about different emotions and how to identify and label them.  This might entail pictures of different faces, voicing your feelings out loud as they come up, and helping your child to verbally label theirs.  Facilitate discussions with your child about these emotions, for example, “Did you throw that toy because you were frustrated?” and help them formulate appropriate responses, “What else could you do if you’re feeling frustrated?”  This provides a gateway to brainstorming appropriate ways to react in future scenarios.  Try asking pointed questions to allow your child to arrive at an appropriate response, such as, “Could you ask for help?” or “What if you tried to play with this toy instead?”

Strategy Tool Box. When self-regulating, it’s important for children to have a “tool box” with different strategies for calming themselves down.  These strategies take time to test out and practice, as different strategies will work for different children, but here are a few calm-down techniques to teach to your child:

  • Take a mental/physical break: walk away from the situation, find a quiet place to sit and breathe, read a book, listen to music, walk a lap around the room
  • Take a spiritual break: pray, use deep breathing exercises, practice a yoga pose
  • Engage in a sensory experience: draw, cuddle under a weighted blanket, play with playdough
  • Engage in positive self-talk: repeat a short, affirming phrase or mantra
  • Seek social support: talk to an adult or friend, ask for help

 

Self Talk. A major contributor to good self-regulation is a child’s use of self-talk.  Through self-talk, children repeat various lessons and sayings from adults to themselves when making decisions and reacting to different situations.  To support your child’s use of self-talk, break down different scenarios to them, talking them through how you analyze and think about a situation, and provide them with short and simple rules and coping skills that they can repeat to themselves when needed, such as, “When I get mad, take a deep breath” or “I can have dessert after my homework is done”.

Simple Play. Children learn many life lessons through simple play.  Even older children and adolescents benefit from one-on-one play with an adult.  This is a great time to model appropriate interactions and reactions with your child, and to exhibit different coping skills.  For example, during pretend-play, your child might pretend that a doll or loved one passes away.  This is an excellent time to verbally walk through appropriate processing and response to grief with a statement such as, “Oh no, I’m so sad that my puppy died, I’m really going to miss him, I think I need a hug”.  With older children, similar lessons can be learned through more age-appropriate scenarios, such as playing and losing at a game or role-playing different scenarios, “Oh man, I really thought I was going to win!  But that’s okay, I can’t win every time.  Hopefully I win next time!” and “How could you respond if you try really hard at a game but lose?”

Model. Children learn from what they see and experience.  Make sure to regulate your own emotions when disciplining and interacting with your child.  It is okay to vocalize “I’m really upset right now, I need to walk away and count to ten to calm down before we talk”.  Do your best to stay calm and maintain a firm and even tone when disciplining or redirecting a child.  This helps with modeling, as well as maintaining a safe and positive environment that your child feels comfortable making mistakes and learning in.

Adjust Expectations. When disciplining and speaking to your child, it is always important to respect and listen to them.  Pay close attention to their attempts at communicating and validate their emotions and concerns, regardless of how they express them.  It can be easy to forget the developmental level that your child is thinking and reacting at, but adjust your expectations as necessary to meet their current level, rather than the level you want them to be functioning at.

Clear Limits and Expectations. Children need regular reminders of rules and expectations and benefit from immediate, specific, and direct responses when their behaviors are out of line.  Rather than only focusing on what your child should not do, follow-up with redirecting the child to appropriate activities that meet their needs and offer simple choices for them to choose from.  This teaches your child what acceptable options they have and gives them some control over their life.  For example, “We don’t scream in the house because it hurts our ears, but if you want to use your voice we can sing a song, or you can play and scream outside”.

Shower with Praise. Keep in mind that learning these important skills is a challenging task and takes years to develop and fine-tune.  It is easy for children and adolescents to grow weary, so be sure to shower your child in praise and celebration as they successfully navigate tasks and situations appropriately.  Offer mental breaks and opportunities for your child to choose the activity when you see them getting frustrated or tired, alternating challenging tasks with fun activities.

Importance of Environment. The environment can have huge impacts on a child’s behavior and development.  Many emotional outbursts stem from your child feeling a lack of control but there are many things you can do to avoid this:

Investigate triggers and make accommodations. If your child has more difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors in certain environments, cue into what could be causing this and make environmental accommodations.

  • Is there a TV or radio in the background that is distracting or overwhelming your child? Turn it off or find a quiet place for your child to go to.
  • Are bright lights or UV lights over-stimulating? Many children with sensory processing disorders and sensory sensitivities react negatively to artificial lighting and benefit from natural lighting provided by windows or soft-white lightbulbs.
  • Does your child have a harder time regulating their behaviors when exposed to loud noises or busy hustle and bustle? Consider noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or object to ground and comfort them when exposed to these stressful triggers.

Provide a structured and predictable schedule and routine.  Walk your child through this routine often and give them warnings ahead of time to remind them of what comes next, “After we eat breakfast, we need to brush our teeth then go to school” and “After this TV show is over it’s time to work on your homework”.  For some children, it’s best to have a printed or picture schedule that they can refer to throughout the day or week.

 

Helping your child learn to self-regulate will ultimately benefit you, your child, and their overall well-being, happiness and success throughout their life.  Remember that the more your child practices regulating themselves, the easier it is for them to interact appropriately in various scenarios.   To ensure their ultimate success, offer numerous opportunities for your child to think through and talk about their emotions and interactions, and provide boundless, loving support.  With time and patience, you can pave the way for your child’s future successes.

 

For further information on self-regulation and parenting tips, check out the following resources:

https://positivepsychology.com/self-regulation/

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/self-regulation

https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parent-education/parent-articles/self-regulation-difficulties

 

 

The Benefit of Fostering Older Children

Many families interested in foster care are often afraid or nervous to foster “older” children because of the horror stories they may have heard about older foster children. The reality though is that most children in foster care are not scary children but instead are scared children and what they need is a loving, supportive family to provide a safe place to them. That is where you can step in!

When we use the term older children in foster care many people jump to teenagers but the term often applies to any of our kids over the age of 9 or 10, when they become more difficult to place because they are no longer “little kids”. These “older children” are not in fact old but are indeed still children, yes even the 16 and 17 year olds are still children (even if they like to think they are all grown up)! While their age may bring different challenges than a younger child, it also means they have more ability to grow, change, and learn from the examples before them.

So what are the benefits of fostering older children? Being able to communicate is one of the biggest ones. Older children in foster care can share with you what they are thinking and feeling and begin to process their experiences in ways that younger children cannot yet. There will be times that it may feel more like a burden then a blessing, like when a child screams “I hate you!” for the 4th time that day, but every bit of communication tells a piece of the story for that child that they are slowly inviting you into. Children being able to have their voices heard and validated has the power to be incredibly healing for them. There is a special kind of joy that comes when you can experience a 15-year-old boy lower his guard for a moment, start sharing with you about his life, and invite you into his hurt and his healing. It is a great honor to be the one trusted with these children’s stories and something unique you are able to experience when you care for school aged children.

Other benefits include being able to support older children and youth as they start to explore their interests and preferences. You can have the opportunity to see tangible growth in the child whether through a change in school grades or a new interest in a sport they have never tried before. As a foster parent to school aged children you are able to help them explore subjects that interest them, start thinking about future careers that may want to pursue, or begin teaching them life skills they will need later like how to wash their clothes or scramble an egg.

And for those parents who just cannot sit through one more episode of Cocomelon or listen to a single note of “Baby Shark”, fostering older children gives you the chance to participate in different experiences together, some that you may even enjoy. You could have the opportunity to show them your favorite superhero movies or introduce them to a great book series you can read together or take them to your favorite amusement park to ride roller coasters. Parenting older children can actually be fun and enjoyable at times, even if not every day is.

When fostering older children, you have the opportunity to provide so much more than just a safe place for them to sleep. You have the opportunity to speak into some of the most crucial years of child’s life, years where a positive adult relationship has the potential to change the trajectory of their lives. All children in foster care deserve a safe, loving, nurturing home to go to while they are in foster care and older children are no exception. Your home could be that home for an older child, you just have to say yes!

 

Want to hear more about fostering older children and teens? Check out these blog posts!

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/encouragement-from-a-foster-teen

 

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/yes-we-said-it-we-love-fostering-teens

 

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/the-joys-of-parenting-foster-youth?rq=foster%20youth

 

written by Lexie Fowler

Fostering Children With Sexual Trauma

 

When entering the foster system, social workers won’t have a full picture of the experiences a child may have gone through before removal. They will have heard of enough situations in the home to warrant action being taken, but a scared child will not be an open book. Instead, children are removed and placed either in a kinship or a foster home with the majority of the team being unaware of the full extent of the abuse that child experienced. The first goal of these foster or kinship homes will be connection and helping them to begin to feel safe again, while working with the foster team to track new information and set up supports for any abuse that is known.

 

Take Note: Of the unknown types of trauma that may occur, sexual abuse is often an area of insecurity for foster parents who may not have any experience or knowledge about helping a child pursue emotional healing in that area. This becomes increasingly difficult for nervous parents who have a child that discloses abuse much later into placement. This article from fosteringperspective.org breaks down how common it is for social workers to be unaware about sexual abuse that occurred in their original home or even in another foster home that the child moved from. It is estimated that anywhere between 70-80% of children in foster care have experienced some type of sexual abuse, or were witness to sexual abuse of others. The reality is, most children will hold on to such a painful secret until they start to feel safe, which often occurs months into a foster placement, or even longer before they start to talk.

 

Start with Education: Opening up about past abuse can feel terrifying for a child, and is a time that they will need extra support to know that no matter what they have been through they are worthy of being loved, they have a voice that matters, and they deserve to be safe. Education is one of the best starting points for foster parents. ChildWelfare.gov has a booklet that helps parents understanding signs and behaviors that may suggest sexual abuse has occurred to children and youth, along with ways to seek help and support the victim.

 

Empowering the Child: While parenting a child who is processing sexual abuse, parents will want to be intentional about giving them some control in their daily life through choices as opposed to telling them what to do. This can be as simple as providing one or two options, or helping them be a part of planning the family schedule or weekly menu. By providing areas of control you will be reminding them that they can be empowered again and helping to boost their self-esteem. You will also want to give them a safe and comforting environment that they can escape to in the home if they are feeling overwhelmed and need to calm down or be alone. It is normal for children to push boundaries while processing through painful events. Having a space to go while they are escalated or scared will help resolve conflict without adding to the problem. Children will need time and empathy to process through their experiences and come to a point of healing.

 

It is strongly recommended that you work with the child’s team to get a trained therapist involved who has experience working with children who have been sexually abused. If any new sexual abuse is disclosed by a child, it needs to be reported to your states Child Abuse Hotline and to your foster care team.

written by Deb Uber & Natalie Burton