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

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

 

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

 

Foster Parents Who “Get Too Attached”

As a private foster care and adoption agency, the staff at Nightlight Christian Adoptions have heard many express the fear of “getting too attached” to foster children placed in their home. This fear is real, scary, and full of tension: the worry that the family will grow to dearly love, bond, and attach to a child who is very likely (and hopefully) returning home to his or her biological family. This fear is one for foster families to sensitively navigate as they process what this means for their family as they live in tension with these children and/or teenagers in their home, but also one to embrace for the sake of children in care so that maybe they may grieve a little less.

Children in foster care have experienced unthinkable trauma, simply by being placed into foster care. Children come into care at no fault of their own, and many may not have experienced the kind of love, stability, and security that a family is supposed to provide but may not be able to just yet for a multitude of reasons. The inherent loss in foster care is so deep and raw for these children, as they are removed from their home, their biological family, and much of the time, their community, teachers, friends, and pets. Sometimes, they are even separated from their siblings. Foster parents have a unique opportunity to fill the gap for these children and families. And it is always the perfect opportunity to “get too attached” to these children.

These children likely have many unmet needs (educational, physical, emotional, psychological, etc.). Predominately, these children need caregivers who can provide attachment and consistent, loving care, no matter how short a period these children remain with their foster parents as their biological families work hard to bring their kids home to them. The reality is that children in foster care may not have had the opportunity to experience the kind of care they need. Foster parents can show children, the most vulnerable of our population, what it means to be a family, to have attachment, and to receive unconditional love, with the hope that their biological family will be able to do it very soon.

All children need attachment, especially those who have experienced trauma. Their relationships with their caregivers are the blueprint for all future relationships in their life. It teaches them how to interact with the world and others around them. And for a foster parent to step in, fill the gap, and pour into these children the way they truly can – the results are lifelong and eternal. Foster children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, and we all have a duty to step in for our most defenseless and stand in the gap, no matter how long.

Foster care is messy, but oh so necessary because sometimes families are broken and need help to get back on their feet. Foster care is also costly, as families pour into littles who may not stay. And these children deserve for others to fill these needs for them when their parents cannot for a period of time. Imagine the impact for generations to come, to love on children and families and be an instrument of impacting families in true, lifelong ways. When these children leave, they carry with them the time spent in a safe, secure home where their little souls were dearly loved and a picture of what family can truly mean. In the end, for these children and teenagers, we have a duty to risk our hearts to break so that their hearts can break a little less.

In no way does this diminish or negate the very real feelings of loss that foster parents will feel when children leave. But if we don’t do it for these children, who will? Ultimately, the grief that is so real, so raw, is always, always worth it for the children who already have lost so much.

 

Why Reunification is so Important in Foster Care

 

What is the primary goal of foster care? That’s the most important question to ask yourself no matter where you are on your journey through the foster care world — whether that be a prospective foster parent, a first-time foster parent, a veteran seven-year foster parent, or a social worker.

The answer can be a tough pill to swallow for many.

We often bring these precious children into our homes for one reason – to protect them. We want to protect them from the ones who have in some form or another caused them harm. Our basic instinct is to shelter them, hold them tight, and never let them go.

But the reality is that our job as caregivers to these little ones is to keep them safe and protected until they can safely return home. Until a judge decides that parental rights are to be terminated, reunification is 100% the goal.

Since roughly one-half of foster children are reunited with their parents or a family member, it’s important to refocus our lenses a bit. If we can view foster care in a more holistic approach, focusing on the big picture of reunification, we can work from there to better help our foster children in a way that best prepares them to return to their biological families.

Biological families need and deserve support as they work through the process of regaining custody of their children. What can we provide? As we care for their children, we can provide them with time – plus an open mind and heart.

Reunification can offer the children:

  • Better outcomes – The child is less likely to have to transition again or change home. This gives more stability and security, as well as a feeling of “home.” It puts them back into their own traditions, culture, and maybe even their first language.
  • A positive impact on their parents – Fostering allows parents the time and space they need to make a lifestyle change or to get the medical help they need to become better caregivers. The system offers them accountability.
  • Less stress – Reunification can allow children to return to a consistent environment with routines they know.
  • Positive ties to extended family – Reunification supports more than just the child, mom, and dad. It supports their relationship with extended family as well as they’re often not involved during foster care.
  • Better development outcomes – A fear of moving, changing schools, and living with strangers can cause anxiety and depression for children. When they can return home to healed, prepared, and loving parents, they can develop better socially and academically.

In a perfect world of reunification, these benefits would always be met. Unfortunately, we know this can’t always be the case. Foster parents are already loving and selfless people, and once we can change our focus toward reunification that helps families heal, we can begin to see a positive future for our foster children with their biological family.

Reunification can be difficult for most foster parents, especially after you’ve bonded with your foster child. You’re not alone. Your foster community is here to support you through the process of reunification.

 

written by foster momma, Cristy Buczko

Identifying Signs of Post-Adoption Depression

Much like the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy (also known as Post-Partum Depression), Post- Adoption Depression can sneak up on families during what seems like the happiest time in a couple’s life. Post- Adoption Depression can happen after a family welcomes an adopted child into their home, especially when reality does not meet expectation. Attachment and bonding do not always happen instantly, with biological children or children that have been adopted. New parents can be laden with negative feelings, like some of those listed below, and can often feel very alone during this time. It is estimated that approximately 65% of adoptive mothers experience symptoms related to Post- Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS). Listed below are some signs that you or a loved one might be battling PADS and some suggestions for what you can do!

Signs of PADS:

  • Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you once loved
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or increased need for sleep
  • Significant weight changes
  • Excessive guilt
  • Feeling powerless, worthless, or hopeless
  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Feeling inadequate or undeserving
  • Retreating from friends, family or others sources of support
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

Fighting PADS:

  • Take time for you!
    • You cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of you. Take care of yourself however you see fit- enjoy a healthy meal, spend time with friends, get fresh air, or participate in any other self-care that leaves you feeling a little more like yourself.
  • Remember you are not alone
    • Find other adoptive couples who have experienced what you are going through. Many of our families complete an activity with an “alumni family” as part of their educational instruction, so you already know at least one person who can help!
  • Give yourself time to bond with your child
    • Attachment and bonding are not always instant in adoption. Be patient with yourself and with your child and allow that process to happen at its own pace.
  • Ask for help
    • Never be afraid to speak up and ask for help for you and your family. Call your social worker, your best friend, your preacher, your Nightlight contact, or a licensed professional to help you today. You don’t have to be in a crisis or at a breaking point to ask for help.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is dealing with Post-Adoption Depression, I’d like to leave you with this:

“If you are suffering with bonding issues or Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, there is something you need to hear: There is nothing wrong with you. Bonding issues or PADS have no bearing on your worth as a parent. You are capable of this. There is nothing to be ashamed about. There is hope. You are not alone. This is not the time to duck and run. This is the time to dig deep, make a plan, assess and re-assess, pour your time into this, and fight for your child. You’ve got this, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Keep pushing forward, knowing you’re not alone.” – Melissa Giarrosso

 

 

No matter what problems you’re dealing with, whether or not you’re thinking about suicide, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Other Resources:

https://www.adoptionstogether.org/blog/2013/01/07/why-arent-i-happy-recognizing-post-adoption-depression-syndrome/

https://adoption.com/overcoming-post-adoption-depression-syndrome

 

Trends in Special Needs Adoptions

Why are there less “healthy” children or mild identified special needs available for international adoption?

Many families come into adoption wishing to adopt a young, healthy child and it is sometimes disappointing when they realize that this is not usually possible. Families sometimes look to international adoption because they want to adopt help a child in need. I have often had families ask me where there is the most need and my answer is always the same; we need families who want to adopt waiting children, which means children with special needs and older children. Why be a waiting family when you can adopt a waiting child?

The first thing I want to explain is how a child becomes available for international adoption.

  1.  Child is abandoned, removed from home due to abuse/neglect, or sent to orphanage after death of biological parents.
  2. The first thing that happens:  orphanage and authorities look for biological family to care for the child.
  3. If biological family is not found, then the authorities look for a domestic family to adopt the child.
  4. If a domestic family is not found, then the child is available for intercountry adoption.

 

This means that the children who are available in ANY country for international adoption are children who are older.  Most biological and domestic families are willing to adopt younger children who have no special needs.  This also means that even if a younger child is available that the child will have some type of special need that is not acceptable to biological or domestic families or requires more medical care than is available in the country. Domestic adoption has become more frequent in other countries which is why international adoption has changed over the years.

Even if a child is physically healthy, many of these children have emotional needs that may require them to see a therapist.  The children have undergone a lot of trauma in being separated from biological family, being raised in an orphanage, and then leaving the only life they have ever known.  Some children struggle to attach or bond to their adoptive families initially.  It takes a lot of time and work on behalf of the family for the child to feel secure in their adoptive family.

Please visit AdoptionBridge.org to see the children currently available through many of our programs. Below are some children currently waiting in our programs:

We also would encourage you to research some special needs further. A good resource for this is http://www.adoptspecialneeds.org/. Many families also seek the opinion from a doctor when looking over the list of special needs. You can either contact your pediatrician or seek out a clinic that specializes in international adoption (contact us if you need help locating one).

Keep in mind that there are many countries where it is possible to adopt older children or younger children with special needs who are not able to advocate for the children on Adoption Bridge. There are many waiting children in these countries as well. Some of these would include India, Burkina Faso, and more.

 

 

How to Prepare Biological Children for an Adoption

 

Bringing an adopted child into your family changes the dynamics of your home drastically… whether you become new parents or are a “veteran” parent who is already raising other children. During the home study and the waiting process there is often a lot of emphasis on education and preparation for the prospective adoptive parent/s gearing up for the adoption journey and for parenting an adopted child. However, there tends to be much less emphasis and education that is focused on preparing the children who are already in the home and whose lives will also change greatly through their parents’ adoption.

  • Educate– Talk with your children about adoption and ask them what they think about it. This can be an excellent way to both teach them about what adoption is and process through any misconceptions they may have about it. There wonderful children’s books available that you can read together that can be a springboard for great discussion about adoption. Here is a list of books that could be great resources to use with your children.
  • Encourage them to be a participant in the process– Some families hold off on telling their children much about their adoption process for fear that things could fall through or change. This is understandable of course, because there are so many unknowns throughout an adoption journey. There are ways to invite your children into the process without holding on to tightly to a specific outcome. An example would be to pray together for their new brother or sister and asking God to protect them, and to bring them home in His time. Invite them to help pick out a special toy or stuffed animal or draw a picture for their new brother or sister that can go in their room.
  • Don’t only highlight the good parts of adoption– It is easier to talk with our children about the exciting, joyful parts of bringing a new child into the family such as them having a new playmate, and the many things they’ll get to help teach their new brother or sister. However, it can be damaging to stop there. The other part of preparing your children for an adoption is to talk with them honestly and explain that some parts of adoption are hard. If you are adopting domestically and will likely bring home an infant, it’s important to talk about (in age appropriate ways), that the baby will have grown in another mother’s belly and why she may be making the loving choice for her baby to be placed with a different family. You will need to prepare them that when the time comes you will need to travel to meet a baby and to potentially bring that baby home. It is important to talk with them about who they would stay with, and what they could expect during the days you are gone.

 

If you are planning to bring an older child into the family who has likely experienced complex trauma, then it is important that you explain that they will have challenges to work through in relation to their history (again, in an age appropriate way). A child who has experienced trauma, such as abuse or neglect, or who has lived in multiple placements could have various delays and could bring different expressions of emotions and behaviors into the home that could be unfamiliar and scary to your child/ren. Other challenges could be that discipline may not look the same for your adopted child, and that they may need a lot of your attention after placement because adjusting to a new home can be so hard. It is important for your child to know that these things are a possibility, and that it would be natural for them to feel sad, frustrated, or even left out at times. Reassure them that their feelings will always be important to you, and encourage them to tell you how they’re feeling during every part of the adoption journey. It is not uncommon for children to keep their questions and concerns to themselves after an adopted child comes home, for fear that their parent is too stressed or overwhelmed to talk. Continuing to reassure them that their voice and feelings are important to you is vital, both before and after placement.

 

  • Talk about families that don’t match– If you could be bringing a child into the family that is of another race or culture, then discuss how that diversity will add richness to your home. If you are adopting from another country, talk with your children about the foods, holidays, or customs that their new brother or sister will be accustomed to. Begin celebrating those differences before the placement occurs if possible.
  • Keep having fun! Adoption journeys can involve stress and challenges so it is important to continue to prioritize normalcy and fun while you are awaiting bringing a new child home. It is easy to get caught up in the waiting process and to be future-focused as you dream of bringing an adopted child home, but don’t be so focused on the days to come that you miss filling your present days with meaning and memories.

An adoption will be life changing for every member of the family without question. There is much to celebrate, and so much to look forward to, while also preparing your heart and the little hearts in your home that there are good and hard parts of every adoption. By approaching your adoption journey with your child/ren with honesty and good communication, you are setting a tone that is invaluable and will serve each member of the family so well.