How to Become an Advocate for Foster Children in School

Children in the foster care system already have a difficult time adjusting to their new setting. This is especially true if they do not feel they are welcomed into their new school environment or find themselves experiencing new levels of trauma in what should be a “safe place”. It is important to understand that not every child who is in foster care has experienced the same type of trauma and that specific trauma experiences can lead to difficult/hard to handle behaviors. This can lead them to be withdrawn in the classroom, defiant towards caregiver, and struggle academically.  

Children in foster care have already suffered from the trauma that led them to be placed into the foster care system and what are schools doing to prevent more trauma from occurring in the schools? Fortunately, many schools are creating an atmosphere that allows foster children to feel safe and understood in their new school settings. Schools are beginning to encourage teachers to take trauma informed training, allowing them to have a better understanding of trauma-based behaviors and how this can affect the overall functioning of a child. It is important for teachers, and mandated reporters in general, to recognize the signs and symptoms of a child currently experiencing trauma or that has experienced a trauma in their past. Trauma can affect children in a variety of ways and it is important for a child to know that supportive adults are there for them. They need to know you will advocate for them in any way possible, allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with you in a world that has been so frightening at times.  

One can become an advocate for a foster child who has experienced trauma in their school by:  

  • helping the child find counseling services to review their feelings towards the incident that occurred in the school  
  • providing the child with choices  
  • making an “out” plan if the child begins to experience unwanted feelings due to the trauma they have experienced or just in general  
  • Being their shoulder to cry on or someone that will listen when they are ready to discuss what happened to them  
  • Communicating with school counselor on the different behaviors a child may be exhibiting  
  • Allowing a child to know that they are safe with you and creating a safe environment for them in / outside of your home or classroom  
  • Communicating with social workers as well if you see a difference in their behavior 
  • Promoting trauma informed individualized programs in their school  
  • Understanding that the child may not have all of the answers for their behaviors or feelings but supporting them anyway  
  • Allowing for mental health days if a child does not feel comfortable going to school / needs time to think  
  • Letting them know that they are supported by you and others around them  
  • Allowing them to ease into a new environment and not pushing them out of their comfort zone  
  • Not sharing their experiences with others unless they give permission 

 

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

 

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

 

Waiting During the Holidays: Survival Tips

The holidays are a time for merriment, cheerful moments, and spending time with loved ones. But for those who are waiting to adopt, the holidays may be a difficult or painful reminder of what is missing.  Waiting to adopt can be hard at any time during the year, but it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 NLT. Here are some things to try as you wait to adopt during the holidays.

  1. Start a new tradition- Putting off creating new holiday traditions because you’re waiting to adopt can be depressing. There is no need to wait! This holiday season, make new memories and start a few fresh family traditions that you’ll look forward to year after year. Bake cookies on Christmas Eve, take a drive in your pajamas to look at holiday lights, have a s’more’s and cocoa night. Creating new traditions as a couple now allows you to have more time to enjoy them together.

 

  1. Taking an adoption “breather”- Taking a step back to think about things other than your adoption process can give you some time to relax and rejuvenate. Hang out with friends or family, read a book, go for a hike, check out a National park, bake, watch a movie. Give yourself time to breathe, and when you are ready to think about adoption again you will come back with a renewed perspective.

 

  1. Self-Care, Self-Care, Self-Care – exercise, take a bath, get enough sleep, eat good food. Buy yourself a gift, go out for a spa day. Channel your energy into doing something nice for yourself. You deserve it.

 

  1. Start a journal- You may consider journaling as a way to express your emotions or save it to give to your child one day to show your feelings while you waited for them to join your family.

 

  1. Do something kind for others- No matter what time of the year it is; random acts of kindness can benefit everyone. They can positively impact others and they are great for the soul. Donate items from your home, send someone flowers for no reason, let someone check out before you in the grocery store line, volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen, cook someone a meal. The list is endless. Also, let others be kind to you.

 

 

  1. Pray and talk to God- Taking time to go somewhere quiet and pray and meditate is something every soul needs. Once we take these moments each day we feel more peaceful and possess the strength in our hearts to truly appreciate our “present”. Thankfully, when you bring God into everything you do, you can’t help but rejoice at all times. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” -1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

 

  1. Be honest with yourself (and others) – It’s okay to feel sad, be honest with yourself and others. Do not feel obligated to attend every holiday event you are invited to. It is okay to decline. Talk with your spouse or a close friend or family member about how you are feeling. It is also okay to enjoy the time spent catching up with family and friends or creating new traditions. Sometimes just talking about your feelings can provide the relief needed to take a step forward.

written by Nichole Chase, LMSW | Social Services Manager

Advocating For Your Adopted/Foster Child’s School Needs During a Pandemic

 

Advocating for a child in regular life circumstances can feel like quite a challenge. When you add a pandemic to the situation, it can feel overwhelming! I first learned about the necessity of advocating for services in the school system when my husband and I first adopted. When I pointed out concerns I had to our daughter’s teacher, she reassured me that the issues would likely resolve on their own and were attributed to the adoption process. I waited a year, seeing our daughter’s frustration growing, as her needs were not being met in the classroom. I will always regret the delay in accessing services.

 

Since March, when the COVID19 pandemic hit the United States, schools were shut down throughout the nation. The challenging process of requesting specialized services through the school district became additional challenging as all services went remote. Requesting testing and evaluations became next to impossible as school districts scrambled to provide the services that were already assigned, let alone trying to evaluate and determine new services for a child who had not completed any sort of evaluation.

 

Special education evaluations and services can and should be provided despite the pandemic situation. The Special Education Services Team for our school district met with parents last week (online) and shared that in-person evaluations will continue despite the pandemic. Masks, shields, Plexiglas or whatever PPD was necessary to keep both the child and evaluator safe, would be implemented. Some testing will be conducted via remote online programs where appropriate and some might utilize the parent as an in-person helper. We have seen our district come up with very creative solutions to the many challenges of providing speech and occupational services online, along with learning programs for all levels of students.

 

I am concerned that families may delay the request for evaluation or services due to issues with the pandemic. Obtaining services for a child through the school system can seem like an impossible task. It is important to address any concerns right away and not rely on a professional assigning the issue to stress over a foster or adoptive placement. Your child is eligible for evaluation at the time of placement, regardless of the pandemic.

 

Any advocating or request for services from your school district for your child must be in writing. For example, if your child is struggling in learning to read and write and you think your child might have a learning disability, it is critical to identify what you have been seeing and put it in writing to your school principal, requesting an evaluation for an Individualized Education Plan or IEP.

 

 

As a parent, whether adoptive or foster parent, we have learned that we are our child’s biggest and sometimes only advocate. We best know our child and can best describe what they need. It is best to begin with your child’s teacher, helping to identify the issues and needs of your child. The next step is to write a letter to your child’s principal. It is important to identify the issues you have observed with your child, noting any detrimental effects on your child’s ability to learn and benefit from the classroom environment.

 

The IEP letter should include a request for testing and a full evaluation, to determine whether your child is eligible for an individualized education plan or IEP. The IEP process is a formal process that is federally mandated and governed. If your child needs special education services those services would be provided under the IEP program. Testing will not begin right away, but your letter formally starts the process. If you just speak with your child’s teacher or the principal that does not initiate the special education or IEP process. A verbal request for evaluation or services can be ignored whereas if the request is in writing, it begins the formal IEP process. Typically several months of testing will follow. At the end of the evaluations, there will be a meeting of the IEP team, which includes the principal, and the many therapists and specialists that have evaluated your child and you as your child’s representative. You might also check with your pediatrician and see whether the pediatrician notes any issues as well that should be included in the IEP evaluation. You can bring outside reports into the IEP meeting for consideration of services.

 

Throughout the IEP process, from initiation to the provision of services, it is important to stay diligent and to make sure your child’s needs are always at the forefront of the discussion. It is important to continually advocate for your child. We learned through the years as we have gone through more than our share of IEP meetings, that unless the parent is willing to politely make a case and push for services needed by their child, they are less likely to be successful. It makes a difference if the adult in a child’s life is assertive about the child’s need for services.

 

If your child is on an IEP or you believe your child should be on an IEP, I would highly encourage you to track down the parent group for special education in your district. This committee might have different names, but each district should have such a parent committee. The parents on the committee might have some good advise for you as you advocate for your child. One or more of the parents in the group may have experienced a similar issue with their child and might be able to offer some advise on how they were successful obtaining services. I also would encourage anyone whose child is in need of services or is receiving services to read through the www.wrightslaw.com website. It is full of fantastic resources, information and programs available to help you with advocating for services your child might need as it is run by Pete Wright, an attorney advocate in Special Education Law. He has written several books on how to obtain special education services and won cases in front of the Supreme Court.

 

Despite the challenges we are currently facing as we live through this pandemic, your child’s academic, behavioral, emotional, developmental and social needs need to be supported and services obtained through your school district when necessary. Advocating for your foster or adopted child might sometimes feel like you are pushing a boulder up a steep hill, but the outcome is so worthwhile. Your are your child’s best advocate and there is nothing like the experience of seeing your child complete a task that seemed impossible prior to the therapy that was initiated through your advocacy.

 

written by Rhonda Jarema, MA

How to Connect with Your Child’s Birth Parent in Foster Care

 

When choosing to grow your family through adoption, studies have shown that open conversations with children and connection with their birth family is best in most circumstances. While this is commonly embraced in domestic infant adoption, other methods of adoption like through the foster system have made slower progress. There are reasons for this, including the reality that birth parents are separated from their children against their will usually relating to the safety of the child. Still, many foster parents are looking at the statistics and wondering if there is a way to connect with their child’s birth parent.

These were things that my husband and I chose to research when we decided to pursue foster care, and eventually adopted twins from the foster system. While the system is designed to give foster parents the freedom to stay uninvolved with birth parents, we chose to ask if more might be an option.

We reached out to their team to ask them to speak with their birth family and see if they might be open to talking regardless of the outcome of the case. We chose a few options that would be safe such as using a P.O. Box for letters, an encrypted messaging app for text and pictures, and pursued more direct contact with our children’s birth grandparents who were deemed safe by their team, but simply too old to case for the twins long term.

We started slow through emails and eventually meeting their birth grandparents at a park. We reassured them that we wanted to make sure out children didn’t have their whole history erased and could still keep in touch with their family. Although it hurts me to say it, they were grateful we would even consider it. That their story wouldn’t have to involve permanently losing these little children that they loved desperately.

We started meeting in person with their grandparents more often after that. I had been nervous from the very start, worrying that I might be making a mistake and make this harder for my kids. But, every time they saw them I noticed the hug my daughter would give her grandparents. I noticed the big breath she would take in that hug and how her body would relax, as if she had been trying to hold it together and pretend like she didn’t miss her family so badly. She always did better the days after, was more relaxed and happier. For us, for her, I knew this was the right choice.

My son responded a little differently, he appreciated more space, and so we worked to find a balance that would give one the contact she craved, and provide freedom for him to distance himself from too much interaction if he felt like it. We also pursued contact with their birth mom through a messaging app to share pictures and updates, providing encouragement when I could. I was even blessed with the opportunity to meet their mom in person for coffee and spend hours getting to know her and my kids before they came to my home. She was not emotionally ready for anything more than meeting me, and that was ok. The stories I learned, I was able to gift to my kids in their Lifebook and when we talked through questions. I now had stories of who their father was, character traits I would never have known without their birth mothers help.

For our story, connection with my kids birth family was one of the best ways I could show them love, and that I accepted all of them, the good and bad stories included.

Some tips on connecting with birth family through foster care:

  1. Use the foster care team to learn more about the safety of the people involved and if advisable, ask for them to set up a meeting time. This can be especially helpful if you are fostering with an intent to encourage reunification, as foster parents are often great advocates for birth family and can help mentor them towards success and reunification. If adoption is the current goal of the case, see if it would be possible to send a letter along explaining your goals in contact and ask if they would be interested. Have the foster care team review the letter with you, since they will know more about the parent and can advocate for your family.

 

  1. Find a few communication methods that are safe and managed by you. This can be a P.O. Box, a messaging app, or an email address created for the purpose of contact that does not include significant identifying information. Begin communication through those methods, and if you get more comfortable with it, consider sending more consistent updates. It is recommended to avoid any identifiable information that the parent could use to contact the child directly, without your approval.

 

  1. Listen to your child’s needs. Contact with birth family can be complicated in domestic infant adoption, and more so in foster care. Observe your child when they get news, it may be emotional for them. While many parents may pull back on conversations because of the emotional nature of it, often kids just need support in feeling those big emotions in their heart. You may want to work with a child therapist that has experience with open adoption and find ways to help your child process. Many situations would not be safe for in person contact, but even some news about birth family can provide reassurance.

written by Deb Uber

Helpful Responses to Questions all Foster Moms Hear

 

Being a foster parent comes with a lot of questions. So many that I have seriously entertained the idea of designing a t-shirt with responses to the top few and wearing it in public at all times. Some of these questions can come off as offensive and it’s true that people can be pretty nosey and invasive. But I have learned that while some folks could use a bit of work on being a tad less tacky in their delivery, the truth is that most people are just genuinely curious and don’t really mean to be insulting. They’ve probably thought about becoming a foster parent themselves and they are expressing some of their own personal reservations.  So, I think this is the perfect time to flip the script and instead of acting annoyed or giving a short answer, we can view these moments as an opportunity to educate our family, friends, or the stranger behind us in the grocery store line.  

The most common comment we hear about foster care is not a question at all. Our family has been fostering for 9 years now and hands down, the most common comment we hear about foster care is not a question at all and it goes something like this, “I could never foster. There’s no way I could give them back.” Ouch! This was tough to hear the first several times. I felt like people must think foster parents are cold-hearted humans and our homes have revolving doors through which children come and go and no one is any worse for the wear. The reality is that it is painful. It’s a loss. There are lots of tears and prayers. There is fear and grief – all the stages.  The heartache is deep and long-lasting. But I am here to testify that my family has a 100% survival rate! The truth is we can give them back. We will never be the same, but we will be okay. We will be okay because we serve a God who not only walks beside us in our suffering, He is a Father that understands our loss completely. We will be okay because we have been blessed to be a part of God’s plan for a child’s life. We will be better than okay because what we are doing is changing the course of a child’s life and making an eternal difference. Will it be hard? Yes. A child is always worth doing the hard things. So, when I am faced with a comment like, “It would be too hard to give them back”, I respond by saying, “Then you are exactly what these kids need.” They need parents who will love them so completely that they grieve deeply when they leave our homes.  Instead of asking what it will mean for us if we do foster, we should be asking what it will mean for the 450,000 kids in the US foster care system if we don’t.  

The line of questioning may continue. When venturing out with your crew, you might hear something like, “Are they all yours?” or even, “Which ones are your real kids?”.  Questions like these are more common than you think and a confident answer will help your kids feel secure about their place in your family. When it comes to strangers, I like to keep it short and sweet. A simple smile and a “They’re all mine” is recommended. Otherwise, the line of questioning may continue, causing things to become really awkward for everyone, especially your kids. If someone seems genuinely interested, you could hand them a Nightlight business card and say something like “Here’s some contact information if you want to learn more about growing your family through foster care and adoption. It is so important to be prepared with a quick response for questions like these so you’re not stumbling over your words.  

Those closest to us often ask the most difficult questions. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “Is their mom on drugs?” While this is absolutely none of their business, it is an excellent opportunity to educate. In this case, you can still respond without divulging and personal or confidential information. Let them know that the reasons why kids come into care vary, but the bottom line is that it’s currently not safe for the child to live with their biological parents.  

“Are you going to adopt him/her?” Unless you have indeed moved into the adoption phase of the process, then you probably don’t know the answer to this.  You could simply say, “We will see what God has planned for our family.” the line of questioning may continue you could elaborate a little more and explain how the process works and even go into detail about where your family is in the process.  

“Why don’t you just stop fostering?” Yikes! This is a tough one that we have heard from a couple of well-meaning loved ones. This question might come if you’ve been venting about your struggles or maybe those close to you have witnessed you grappling with difficult circumstances first-hand. If you’re anything like me, you might be tempted to respond in a defensive way. But, understanding that questions like this usually come from a place of love and concern will help you to respond with grace. Parenting is tough, foster or not. It’s not an option to just quit being a parent. Parenting kids from hard places adds another challenging layer and things can get really messy sometimes. When this happens, we can use the opportunity to remind ourselves and our loved ones why we do what we do – These kids are always worth it! I suggest thinking through all the ways you’ve been blessed by foster care and maybe even writing them down. If you are concerned loved ones aren’t believers, this is an amazing opportunity to share your faith and the example of love that God has set for us.  If they are believers, then they know that following Christ is not about things being easy. Your reliance on Him could serve to strengthen the faith of others. 

These are just a few of the most common questions that foster parents hear. But there will be plenty more. Although these inquisitive people can sometimes test our patience, remember that God has placed them in our paths for a reason. So, before you speak, ask God to direct your words and allow Him to use you. Let your light shine for His glory!   

by Leesa Del Rio

Ways to Partner with Your Foster Child’s Biological Family

 

While children are in foster care, their biological families are provided with resources and plans to help increase their parental capacity, hopefully making them safer parents for children to return home to. For many prospective and current foster parents, interacting with biological families can be one of the more challenging aspects of their foster parent journey. Foster parents may be unsure of how to interact with biological family members or worry if it is even safe in some situations. They may even wonder if it matters, the social workers are handling the biological parents case plan so why should the foster parent get involved?

While foster parents are not asked to be the social workers for biological family members, they can be some of the greatest resources for a biological family. As foster parents open themselves up to become mentors and support systems for biological families, they will see parents grow and change in ways that cannot always be achieved through court mandated parenting classes or workbooks.

Not all relationships will look the same and they may not always end in a lifelong connection, but in many situations that foster parent-biological parent relationship can help to bring permanency and connectedness for the children in the case. It is not always easy, partnering and building a relationship with a foster child’s biological family, but it can be one of the most important things a foster parent does. Children in foster care who are able to see their biological family and foster family work together, even if reunification cannot happen, build a stronger sense of self and can avoid feelings of divided loyalty between the two families (1).

There are numerous ways to partner with biological families and the best methods can vary across cases and situations. We have included a list gathered from current foster parents of ways they have partnered successfully with biological families. Start small at first and work to build a relationship over time. Foster parents should take the first step and initiate the relationship whenever possible. If the biological parent is not ready to reciprocate, leave the door open for the relationship to grow in the future. Relationships and trust take time to build, but when they can be built great things can happen!

Ways to partner:

Visit Journal: Use a small notebook or folder that can easily be sent back and forth with a child during their scheduled visitation with their biological parents. You can include updates from the child’s week, questions you have for their parents about their care, or a suggestion for something the parent could help with during the visit like practicing sight words or multiplication tables.

Letters and Emails: Some biological families may find themselves unable to visit with their child for any number of reasons, especially extended family members. Letter or email writing can be an easy way to foster a relationship between the child and their family when possible. Ask your social worker if you can mail physical letters to and from their office if privacy is a concern. You can also create a separate email account solely for communicating with biological family. This will protect privacy and will keep all communications in one place for easy reference.

Texts/Messaging Apps: Texts and messaging apps are one of the easiest ways to connect with biological family members. You can easily send pictures, updates, or ask questions as needed. Some foster parents may not be comfortable giving out their cell phone number to biological family right away, but there are numerous other ways to text and communicate virtually. Google Voice is a great option for families who want to text with biological family members but want to protect their personal phone number.

Phone and video calls: Depending on the age of the child and situation, these calls could be brief to chat about the child’s day or week, they could involve the biological parent reading a bedtime story to the child, or could be a video call where they play a virtual game together or do some other activity.

Including biological parents in decisions about the child: This could include decisions about field trips, what the child should wear for their school picture day, what sport or activity to enroll the child in, or other every day decisions. While it may be extra work for you as the foster parent to reach out and ask for the biological parent’s opinion on these decisions, it can go a long way in keeping a parent connected to the care of their child and in helping model appropriate decision making.

Inviting them to appointments in-person as appropriate: Whenever possible, invite the biological parents to participate in the child’s appointments and meetings. For example, you could invite the biological mom to an upcoming well check for the child and also offer some suggestions of questions you usually ask the doctor so she knows what to ask during the appointment. These appointments can be a great opportunity to model parenting skills in real time to the biological parents.

Additional visits for holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions: If allowed, offer to facilitate special holiday or birthday visits with child and their family. Let the biological family plan a birthday party if appropriate and have their own special time to celebrate the child. Ask the biological family if they have any other special occasions they like to celebrate, maybe they have a family reunion every year or a day they gather to remember a relative who has passed, and see how the child can still be involved in those unique family events in some way.

Making duplicates to share with biological family: Whenever a child makes a craft, card, present, etc. at school or in another setting ask if they can create two versions. If they are making a Mother’s Day card at their preschool, discreetly ask the teacher if they could make two copies so they can be sure to have one to give to their biological mom and one you can keep as well for any memory book or keepsake collection you have for the child.

 

written by Lexie Fowler

Celebrating Mother’s Day With Your Foster Momma Friends

 

Last year was my second Mother’s Day. A celebration that was hard fought for after several years of infertility, grieving, and then choosing a brand-new journey of foster care and adoption. My very first Mother’s Day went quietly. It was a couple months after our first official placement with twins, and I did not want to make a big deal out of it but was still a big deal to me. At the time I was at home focusing on bonding, worrying if I would be “mom-enough” for these kids in my care, and wondering if they might be reunited with their biological mom. It would be good for them all to have that, to find healing and be together again, though painful for me. It was memorable, but free of people’s expectations about how I should feel about the day.

My second Mother’s Day, however, will always stick with me because we were remarkably close to our finalization date! A staggering amount of people wanted to celebrate my FIRST Mother’s Day with me, because of the adoption. “CONGRATS on your very first Mother’s Day!” they would say. Over and over this happened. They did not ask, did not think, did not know that their assumptions and lack of understanding about foster care would feel immediately painful. I spent many moments correcting and saying “second” Mother’s Day. It brought up an entire concoction of emotions that looked a lot like anger. I did not misunderstand their intentions, they wanted to celebrate the adoption with me. They wanted to share in my joy. They did not know the date of our placement like people know birth dates. It was an easy mistake.

Every time “first” was uttered, I just could not help but think of my foster momma friends who did not get to celebrate an adoption that month. The ones that were battling for the emotional healing of their little fosters. Losing sleep to help their kids cope, cleaning up messes (both emotional and physical) that are bigger than some parents with bio kids will ever understand.

Would those people trying to make a big deal about my “First” Mother’s Day celebrate those moms too?

Would they understand the emotional cost of fostering? Would foster moms be “mom enough” for them to give a happy Mother’s Day to regardless of whether they got to keep their littles? Were those well-meaning people willing to wade into the muddy waters of foster care and recognize the utter PAIN that can come from this holiday? To recognize that somewhere out there is a biological mother who is feeling wrecked about the kids she cannot see? Would they notice that fear that sometimes sneaks in when foster mom’s worry that they are not equipped enough to help these kids through their storm?

I’m not sure. After all that is a lot to unload on a well-wisher.

It is something worth saying though, isn’t it? That mom life doesn’t start when a judge declares it to be so. While it sounds like such a happy ending to focus on the day that things are final, adoption is not the goal of foster care. Being a mom these kids need is, even if they don’t want one.

Foster mommas might wake up to an angry child who is struggling with their first (or fifth) Mother’s Day away from their birth mom. Their kid may have had 6 different mom’s they have lived with in their lifetime. Their kids might love on them, or completely ignore them. They might need someone, anyone, to send them a text and say, “Happy Mother’s Day, you are doing a great job no matter what this day looks like for you!”. It may be a good day for them, a quiet one, or a painful one where they try their best to comfort a child who has melted down into an angry puddle.

What they do need, unquestionably, is to be SEEN as moms. It is who they are, regardless of the legalities. Don’t forget them this Mother’s Day.

 

by Deb Uber