Thankfulness Practices for the Family

 

November is a natural time of the year where our minds gravitate toward thankfulness. Cultivating that practice in your children can be fun and built organically into your family structure, not just in this season but throughout the year. Below are some ideas on how to incorporate expressing gratitude in your family with your children:

  • Add it into your routine – Your family naturally has routines and structures where you can easily add in a time of thankfulness. At bedtime, as children are brushing their teeth ask them to think about 2 things they are thankful for and tell you after they are done. You can ask them while you are reading books or tucking them into bed. Consider adding the question in while eating breakfast or in the car on the way home from school. Sharing “highs and lows” of their day can be easily altered to include what they are grateful for.
  • Gratitude activities – There are many crafts or activities that incorporate thankfulness that you can make at home or find available on a website. You can create a “Thankfulness Jar” or a “Blessing Tree” where children write out something they are thankful for and put it in the jar or add it to the limbs of the tree. Consider making a chain link with colorful paper that is added to each day and strung along the wall or mantel. Another idea is use a corkboard or magnet board where you can pin up gratitude cards to display.
  • Family gratitude journal – This can be used as a family or you can have each child write in their own journal. You can teach your child this practice that is ongoing through the year.
  • Thankfulness in prayer – Many models for prayer begin with praise and thankfulness. As you lead your child in prayer, be sure to incorporate thankfulness for what God has done and will do in their lives. Your prayers should include tangible blessings in your life but also acknowledge the goodness of God in their lives and how He provides for them throughout all areas of their lives.
  • Giving to others – Volunteering or giving items to others can show children the blessing and gifts they have in life and how they can bless others. This cultivates thankfulness by recognizing all they have been given and acknowledging the gift that is to them.
  • Thankfulness in hardship – We all go through challenging circumstances that can make it hard to remember the good things we have in our lives. If your child is going through something difficult, allow them to acknowledge those feelings and difficulties and also acknowledge what remains positive in their situation. Don’t brush off the challenges by only focusing on the positive because their feelings are valid and should be recognized. However, you can show them how to remember to balance the positives and negatives they will experience throughout life.

As a parent, you may not be good at keeping a practice of thankfulness. These suggestions above can benefit you as well as your children. Thankfulness is something that needs to be approached with intention if it is not our natural response to any situation.

We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and are able to pause to recognize all the blessings in your life and family!

Anchored in Hope: Adoption from Foster Care

 

Families are able to adopt children directly from foster care. There will be time of bonding before placement officially happens that allows you to get to know one another and how you all fit together. After placement there is also a period of time (varies by state) before the family can finalize the adoption. This allows for a family to bond, connect, and adjust their daily living to having a child(ren) in their home. Going from no children in the home, to having children, is a very big change that can take time and effort for a family to adjust to their new daily routines and schedules. Even just adding one more child to a family that already has children, will take time to adjust.

Children adopted from foster care tend to be coming from hard places, which can lead to difficult behaviors and emotions. A child may take any amount of time to feel trusting and fully comfortable with their new family and it is necessary that their adoptive parent(s) and sibling(s) in the home be aware of this when a child is placed. Barth et al. (1988) state that disruption is more likely to occur when children of older ages are adopted into a new family; an older child is described to be a child above the age of three years old. Barth et al. (1988) also describe how the number of disruptions have taken a drastic decline since the establishment of agencies and more advocates to be a supportive hand to those children within the system. Examples of these agencies are Nightlight Christian Adoptions, state workers, counselors, and CASA workers. The list goes on. The decision to adopt a child is an important decision that causes change to a family’s overall dynamic. Learn more about Nightlight’s Anchored in Hope Program, that assists families adopting from foster care.

With the establishment of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, the number of families who are now willing to become licensed foster and adoptive parents has drastically risen. This created a monthly per diem that given to foster parents’ to ensure that they are financially capable of providing for the basic needs and wants of another child placed in their home. This assistance can also be very helpful as many of these children need services that are more specialized and therapeutic to address issues from trauma, grief, and loss. It is important to remember that children who were placed in the foster care system were placed there for a reason and they may have triggers that affect them for a lifetime.

To be able to help a child feel safe and have a place to call home is a privilege that more and more people around the US are taking advantage of. Children who are adopted from foster care may have difficult behaviors that take time and a great deal of patience to work through. It is important for adoptive parents to know that working through trauma and traumatic experiences is not an overnight fix for a child. Adoptive parents should not have this expectation as working through trauma can take a lifetime. Providing love and stability to an adoptive child is necessary. However, when this love and care is provided, it does not mean that all previous issues will be fixed immediately. Taking time to listen and support an adopted child is necessary to help them know that they can trust their adoptive parents and work to overcome their traumatic experiences / habits. Being an adoptive parent is one of the most rewarding experiences one has described, but with it, comes a great deal of patience and trauma-informed practices. Nightlight offers a Post Adoption Connection Center that specifically aims at providing additional support and services to families and children after adoption.

There are a variety of behaviors and emotions that a child must work through during the adoption process especially if they are older youth. Children coming from a trauma background may display behaviors such as hoarding food, sleep difficulties, difficulty with self-soothing, attention seeking behaviors, having difficulty concentrating, night terrors, being on alert at all times, and having ADHD like tendencies usually from trauma experiences. These are just to name a few, and no trauma behaviors are the same for all. Just as adults, children deal with their life experiences in ways that best fit them or that make them feel most comfortable. When children are exhibiting difficult behaviors, it is important for a caregiver to:

  • have patience and to form a trusting bond with that child. Utilizing TBRI practices are some of the best ways and procedures for children to feel safe and form a bond with a parent. It may take time to form that bond as children may have difficulty understanding the reason why the adoption was necessary and may want to remain close to their biological family. This is okay and this is normal. Nightlight offers TBRI training to all adoptive families as a part of their training process.
  • never speak ill of a biological parent as this may cause a child to feel as though they cannot confide in their adoptive parent if they have questions about their biological family as they grow older. If you speak negatively about their biological parent, who is a part of that child, then they may question if you are speaking negatively about them.
  • identify a support system during the adoption process and post adoption as well. Ensuring that one has stable friends or family that can be a part of their adopted child’s life, can help the child and their adoptive family feel more comfortable with one another.
  • identify counseling services once the child is placed in your home. This has been known to help greatly with the transition process and also the overall understanding of a child’s new life. Having a counselor allows for the child to have someone that they can speak to of their feelings who is not a new family member. Beginning family therapy to help form attachment between a family and their adoptive child will also be extremely beneficial for the family to learn proper ways of speaking to one another, work on any difficulties that may persist, and also to overall form a stronger family dynamic.
  • find a support group that adoptive parents can become a part of to give you new people with similar experiences you can rely on and trust as you weather the joys and challenges of parenting.

By: Kayla Snow

 

References: Barth, R.P., Berry, M., Yoshikami, R., Goodfield, R.K, & Carson, M. L. (1988) Predicting Adoption Disruption. Social Work, 33(3), 227-233. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/33.3.227

What to do While You Wait

 

After what may have felt like a long and tedious paperwork process you have made it to matching! Have you ever heard the phrase “hurry up and wait”? Now that you have hurried through paperwork and completed everything on your end it’s time for your Foster Care Advocate to work on your behalf. For some families, placement can happen within days of certification, but for others, the wait time can feel impossibly long.  We encourage you to use the time of waiting to continue to prepare your minds, homes and hearts for the kiddos that will one day call it “home” even if just for a while. Here are some tips or suggestions on how to use the time of waiting to its full potential!

  1. Continue to Educate Yourselves –there are so many incredible training out there that are geared towards helping you parent children from foster care. Learn from the experiences of those that have gone before you by reading their stories, watching their talks, and engaging in training to help you be prepared. This is also a great time to get ahead on your annual training hours so that when there are extra schedules to accommodate after placement you don’t fall behind. One specific training that would be great to participate in is TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Interventions). Taking an in-person TBRI class will provide you will so many practical tools that when you find yourself needing to use those techniques later on you are ready to jump into action. If you want more specific training ideas reach out to your Foster Care Advocate to see what they suggest!
  2. Prepare other Kids in the Home – adding children to your home is a big change for everyone. If you have littles in the home they may have a hard time understanding why someone new is sleeping down the hall, calling you mom and dad, and bringing new dynamics to your home. Taking the time to help your children understand why you are welcoming new children into the home, and what their role is as a foster sibling can help empower them and help them feel safe and secure when the big changes come. Build intentional time into your schedules with your children so that it can continue after placement and give them a consistent time to connect with you and talk as they process change.
  3. Get connected to a Therapist – We encourage our families to seek out therapeutic services for themselves as the Fostering process is a lot to process! Also, it helps normalize therapy for the children and youth in your home that will need to their own therapist. Getting connected and building a relationship with a therapist before placement will allow them to get to know you and then better serve you when there are times of difficulty in the placement.  This doesn’t have to be super frequent, but having this relationship established is super beneficial!
  4. Join a Support Group – it truly does take a village! Find a group of people to walk through this journey with. If you need help locating a support group in your area ask your Foster Care Advocate for help. Lots of times there are churches that host, and if not there may be specific ones offered by Foster Care groups in your area.
  5. Stay in Communication with your Advocate – not only will Nightlight need to know about any changes in your home or circumstances, but we also desire to serve you even in the waiting. Maintaining communication will help us share updates with you as well regarding the kinds of placements are needed and also what you can do to serve the children and youth in care.

The time of waiting before placement can feel discouraging, but it can be such a sweet time of preparation for everyone in your home and in your support system.  If you are in that time of waiting and wanting support reach out to your Foster Care Advocate to see what you could do to take advantage of this time.

Tips and Tricks to Use While Handling Big Emotions

 

Children from hard places often lack the skills and coping mechanisms. These skills are typically taught to children from a young age to help them calm down in times on emotional difficulty, but due to living in a constant fight or flight state, this lesson is missed. Therefore, when children in care experience big emotions it can often in turn look like tantrums, outbursts, whining, defiance, and/or fighting. During times of our children’s emotional dysregulation, it may often feel trying for us as caregivers. The good news is that there are ways for caregivers to help co-regulate and teach children in their home to calm down. This blog post will list a few tips and tricks to use while caregivers are handling their children’s big emotions.

Labeling and Rethinking Emotions – Caregivers can begin aiding children by first helping them understand their emotions. From the time that we are young, humans have five basic emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust, and as we develop, we begin to realize how complex those emotions really are. For example, how combining feelings such as anger and disgust would result in the feeling of contempt. As another example, how mixed feelings of a lot of sadness and a bit of disgust would result in regret, but in reverse, the mixed feelings of a lot of disgust and a bit of sadness would result in the feeling of guilt. Some children can be hesitant to identify or acknowledge their negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or fear because they are taught that these are “bad emotions”. Therefore, by helping children label their feelings past the five basic emotions and accepting those

emotions, caregivers can give children a tool to begin to ask for what they need. A tangible tool that may be beneficial while using this technique could be a feelings chart. Our foster team loves this one from the movie ‘Inside Out’ as it displays all of the combinations of emotions one may experience.

Model and Validating Difficult Feelings – When a child is experiencing emotional dysregulation and displaying it through tantrums with hitting, screaming, fighting, or crying it is important to remember where this child comes from. You may never know your child’s full history and experiences; however, children from hard places typically were not subject to a home where their family of origin modeled healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to outlet big emotions. Therefore, in your role as a caregiver, modeling difficult feelings and healthy ways to cope can be very beneficial to children in your care. As professionals, we often tell our foster parents it is okay to tell your foster child that when you get frustrated that you too need to take a minute in the “calm down tent” as well. By modeling healthy ways to deal with big emotions, you are also validating to your children that it is normal to have those feelings and validation is a powerful tool in communicating that you understand and accept what they are feeling. A skill that goes hand-in-hand with this may be using a 1-10 scale to rank the intensity of your emotion. For example, you may have taken the wrong turn to work and now you are going to be late. That escalates your emotional state to a “4”, but later that night you drop your computer and it breaks and that pushes you to a “9” or “10”. Practicing this self-awareness exercise with your children, even in times when emotions may be a “1” or “3” can be beneficial when our emotions get to an “8” or “9”.

Positive Attention and Active Ignoring – One of the most powerful tools caregivers have in influencing children’s behavior is attention. Attention is a reward in itself to children and therefore giving positive attention to good behavior will increase that behavior. Therefore, every time you see that behavior you want to praise it and give a lot of attention to it, all while remaining sincere, enthusiastic, and genuine. For example, you and your child have worked on breathing techniques as a coping mechanism and during a moment of emotional dysregulation, you see your child take a deep breath. Be sure to say, “I love that you remembered to take a deep breath!” and then continue to take deep breathes with them.

On the other hand, withdrawing attention conspicuously or actively ignoring a negative behavior can be used as a way to discipline and reduces the chances of that behavior being repeated. Caregivers can validate feelings while still not giving attention to bad behavior. Therefore, in times of whining, arguing, inappropriate language, or defiance you turn your attention elsewhere that may look like turning your face, whole body, or sometimes leaving the room. However, the most essential piece to this is that as soon as the child does something that you can praise, you turn your positive attention on again.

Special One on One Time – At the end of the day, a caregiver can only be so successful with these techniques if there is not an added level of connection with their child. Connection is important in any relationship as it builds a foundation of strength, trust, and respect. If the relationship between a caregiver and a child does not foster this foundation, there is no room for correction. Therefore, by prioritizing dedicated, positive, one-on-one time with your child regularly, without parental commands, ignoring minor misbehaviors, and just attending to your child, you can build a deeper connection and foundation to build on. Even if this is only five minutes daily, take time and give your child your undivided attention to reinforce that you love them no matter what.

Ways to Honor Your Child’s Birth Father

 

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

Here are some ideas to consider:

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

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

How Can the Community Support Foster Families?

 

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

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

 

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

Why Foster Teens?

 

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

Plus, teens also come with great perks:

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

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

Here are a few tips for fostering teens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion Fatigue in Fostering

 

It’s ok to say no…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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