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

How COVID-19 Will Impact the Foster System

 

COVID 19 has quickly swept through the nation as an unparalleled crisis. There is hope that the preventative social distancing steps will continue to protect at-risk health communities. However, this comes at a cost for children who rely on protective adults to keep them safe.

Lengthy school shutdowns have been detrimental for many at-risk children. They rely on school as a haven, a place that provides meals and emotional resources. Having teachers, coaches and school counselors involved in a child’s life help provide touchpoints to identify abuse or neglect that may be going on in the home. School can also often be the safest place for children to be seen and distance themselves from abusive caregivers. With nationwide stay-at-home orders in effect, there are far fewer mandatory reporters who have access to children that may need assistance. This was proven by over the news that there has been over 50% drop in calls made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in Colorado since the beginning of school closures.

Most children coming into the foster system are coming from situations where their parents are struggling with extensive mental health histories, substance abuse or other crisis that are preventing them from having the necessary resources available to provide for their family. COVID-19 will bring an increased need for family support, as many are losing jobs and resources that normally help keep them afloat. When mental health issues and addiction are mixed with a crisis of this kind, it is reasonable to expect a larger than normal increase in the number of phone calls made to The Colorado hotline over the next year as children return to school.

Colorado was already facing a foster care crisis, with not enough foster parents available to provide safe homes and beds for children in need. Now more than ever we need families and individuals to consider foster care or support for those who are fostering. Here are four simple ways anyone can help children in need due to the COVID-19 crisis.

 

  • Adopt a foster family- Consider “adopting” a local foster family, Nightlight has over 50 families caring for children who would love the extra support! This can be as simple as mailing encouraging cards and making a meal once a month, to more involved options like helping with laundry or assisting with transportation for kids.

 

  • Support Homes for Home a local emergency foster care program- A local program designed to provide stability and a safe landing place for emergency foster placements could use your support. The biggest need is respite care, or childcare within the family’s home, as it provides them a much-deserved and needed break. Learn more about Homes for Hope and other ways to support the program here.

 

  • Consider becoming a certified foster home- Learn more about providing a safe space in your own home for children in the foster system. Children are needing families open to temporary, short and long-term foster homes, as well as families open to adopting children who cannot reunify with their families. Email [email protected] to learn more about your options or check out our website at https://nightlight.org/colorado-foster-care/

 

  • Donate your stimulus check towards helping foster children in need- COVID-19 has impacted families in different ways. If you have been fortunate enough to not need the stimulus check to meet your needs, consider donating it to support your local community’s children. Your donation will help provide resources to local foster families as they take on the increased needs of the foster system.

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Basics for Surviving at Home With Trauma-Impacted Kids

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress, anxiety, and fear into our lives in unprecedented ways. As an agency, our hearts are burdened heavily for our adoptive families, knowing that many of you already live in a household full of stress, anxiety, and fear due to struggles and trauma in your adopted children’s lives. School can typically provide a respite from difficulties in the home for both you and your child so in its absence, we wanted to share some helpful behaviors and attitudes you must remember to focus on to help your family survive, and maybe even thrive, during this chaotic time. Our Nightlight offices and Post Adoption Connection Center (PACC) are here to support you, so please reach out for any help you need to any of our staff or Heather with the PACC at [email protected].

 

Keep your child regulated – We all know prevention is better than being forced to respond to a crisis. Stay on top of the simple things you can do every day to keep your child regulated and potentially prevent the tantrums, meltdowns, dysregulation, and outbursts.

  • Keep a regular schedule of healthy snacks and meals, drinking plenty of water, making sure they are getting good rest, and physical activity. As adults, we know how cranky we can get when we are “hangry” and we have the maturity to handle ourselves better. Perhaps your child’s meltdown or bad attitude is due to be hungry, thirsty, tired, or under stimulated. Before you blame their past trauma, ask yourself when the last time they had snack was. If it was more than 2 hours ago, grab and apple or granola bar for them.
  • Create a routine. Children thrive in routine and especially our children with trauma who live in a constant state of uncertainty and hyper-vigilance. If they cannot predict what is coming next, they will get fearful, and be triggered into flight/fight/freeze mode. Make a schedule, do regular activities at times they expect, and stick to it. Not only does this help save you brain power of thinking up how to spend time but also allows your child to rest in what is expected.

 

Self-care for Parents – You cannot give the additional care your child needs if you are not building up strength and patience in yourself, by caring for yourself. You are used to having space away from your child, so create some of that space at home. Take a break from your child every day.

  • If you are married, talk with your spouse about giving each other daily time alone, away from your children, to do activities that refresh you. You need to be intentional to balance the load and work out a schedule during this hectic time. If one parent needs to focus on homeschool during the day, the other parent should handle morning and evening routines with the child.
  • If you are a single parent, utilize “rest time” for yourself while your child does an activity they can be trusted to do alone in another space. Maybe this means is a little bit more screen time than you usually allow if that is an activity that will keep your child occupied for a little longer. Remember this time is not our normal lives and it is ok to do some things you would not normally allow if it will meet the ultimate goal of caring for yourself and your child better.
  • Identify your goals and expectations for each day, focused on your family and child. How do you survive, connect, and give grace to each other today? How will that be different tomorrow? Lower your expectations for yourself and family during this time if needed. It is ok if the laundry does not get done if it gives you some extra time to care for your soul or connect with your child.

 

Increased structure needs increased nurture – With everyone contained in the home, you may see an increase in difficult behaviors from your child. They are reacting to the change in their routine as much as you are, and we encourage you to see this as an opportunity to connect with your child. As Dr. Purvis once said, relationship based trauma needs healthy relationships to heal. Notice where your child’s behaviors push you away from them and develop strategies to overcome this in yourself. It is good if rules and structure need to increase but that must come along with increased connection in your relationship.

  • Only rules with no fun, connecting engagements between you and your child will not develop the much needed trust your child needs to follow those rules with a happy heart. If your child is resisting your rules, engage in conversation with them about your expectations and listen to their responses. You might be asking for more than they are able to give, especially if your child is developmentally delayed in any area.
  • Consider the rules you are setting for your child and what the ultimate goal is for those rules. Is it to teach your child to be a healthy, attached adult or are the rules just to get them to obey what you say? Do your rules and discipline reinforce an attached relationship with your child or do they push them away?

 

Read adoption books and resources – Instead of seeing this time as a limitation, see it as freedom. Our American lifestyles are so busy and we never have time to do the good things that allow us to grow and strengthen ourselves. Have a family reading time and pick up that adoption book you’ve always said you should read, but haven’t. We would recommend:

  • Books
    • The Connected Child by Dr. Karen Purvis
    • The Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Seigel
    • Wounded Children, Healing Homes by Jayne Schooler
    • Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray
    • Raising Adopted Children by Lois Ruskai Melina
  • Online resources from Harmony Family Center
    • This organization has provided wonderful resources for parents, children, and families. There are training resources for parents, giving you tips on how to handle challenging behaviors in your children and sensory resources for children with sensory processing disorders. They also provide activities for children and families at home. https://www.harmonyfamilycenter.org/harmony-at-home 

written by Heather Sloan

Working from Home With Kids

 

With COVID 19 being the main focus of the world right now, schools have closed in an effort to slow the spread. This will give medical professionals a fighting chance to treat the growing number of patients coming in for testing and treatment. While this is a beautiful picture of our nation’s ability to work together to help support our immune-compromised communities, it comes with added stress for parents and teachers. Many parents are suddenly needing to figure out the world of homeschooling, all while potentially working from home. The challenge then becomes keeping kids busy, happy, and learning while schools are closed.

We have found that families that are already homeschooling have been more than ready to jump in and provide support. Thanks to their extensive help (extra special thanks to my sister Bethany) we were able to create a list of educational resources to occupy and keep your kids on track while you work from, home starting with the best overall programs and options and then filtering down to subject-specific options.

Best Overall Educational Resources: There is a large number of educational companies stepping in to offer solutions during this time, this blog provides an extensive list including links. There is also a website called amazingeducationalresources.com that has a comprehensive list of options available for those who have time to review it.

Scholastic Learn At Home: Scholastic has worked hard to keep kids busy and learning while school closures keep them home. They have courses designed for all age groups and a week full of educational content already available, with more coming.

Beanstalk: For parents with kids between 1.5 years old up to 6, Beanstalk is providing free memberships for the duration of the COVID 19 threat.

TurtleDiary: This website had easy to access games on a range of topics that will help your kids learn and have fun all at once.

 

Math:

Khan Academy– Math lessons and practice starting from preschool on up. Along with other subjects available both online and with an easy to use app. This came highly recommended by teachers and is often used in schools.

Prodigy.com– Let your kids play games and collect prizes while they do math. We have it on good authority that a lot of kids consider these video games, but it may be better suited to kids over 2nd grade due to the complexities of the games, depending on your student.

 

Science and Geography:

Mystery Science: K-5 science curriculum with mini-lessons that can be used throughout the week. There are free options, and subscriptions available.

Brain Pop or Brain Pop Jr: Another extensive learning platform that you can access thanks to COVID 19.

National Geographic Kids: Explore a lot of fun topics with NatGeoKids.

YouTube: There are a lot of options on this platform. Some supervision may be recommended to ensure your kids are staying on the right channels instead of exploring YouTube as a whole. We recommend checking out Sci-show, or Sci-show kids, along with crash course and crash-course kids. These four channels were created with the specific intent of making learning fun and have extensive video libraries available immediately. FreeSchool is also a popular channel for homeschooling.

 

Language Arts:

Hoopla: If you are feeling the loss of your local library closing down, try downloading Hoopla and get access to free audiobooks, and e-books using your library card.

FunBrain for Kids: This website covers many topics, but also has a lot of books that kids can read for free.

 

Art:

YouTube– Find “how-to” videos for drawing almost anything. Lunch Doodles with Mo Williams is a popular new choice for younger kids. Older kids may prefer to search for something specific they want to learn how to draw or paint. You can also find plenty of free printable coloring pages.

 

P.E:

GoNoodle.com– this has interactive videos to get the kids moving. I also have it on good authority from my own kids that this website is great.

 

Time for a Field Trip:

Ok, you might not be able to go on an actual field trip right now, but you may be surprised what you can explore through the internet and virtual field trips.

While this is not an exhaustive list of your options, it may narrow things down and help you along as you teach and work from home. For our foster and adoptive parents, we strongly recommend scheduling your day in a simple way to help your kids adjust to this new norm. It would not be surprising for them to face higher levels of stress than children without a trauma background. Let’s face it, we’re a little stressed right now! Most importantly, have some grace on yourself during this time and on the teachers who are trying to figure out how to teach from home too. We will figure this out together, day by day.

written by Deb Uber

Lessons Learned as an Adoptive Mom

 

When my husband and I prayerfully decided we would like to adopt, I was one of those people who read all the blogs, and did my best to “master” this journey in advance. We ultimately narrowed things down to foster adoption as the best fit for our family.

Fast forward through a home study, lots of education, certification, and waiting in matching for about 6 months for the right placement to come along, I suddenly became a mom to 4-year-old twins.

I say suddenly, because the wait feels agonizing, things just HAPPEN, all at once.

So “suddenly” I was meeting the twins first foster family in an Ikea parking lot, loading up all of their belongings, and driving them through a couple hours of traffic to our home, where my husband was nervously waiting. This was a little over a year ago, and we have finalized our adoption with the twins since that time. I am still on this journey of learning as an adoptive mom, but I have picked up some lessons along the way.

You will love them, in your own time, in the way that you love: Moment of honesty here, I don’t bond quickly with anyone. I signed up for adoption knowing that I would not be that person who saw a picture of a child and immediately feel “this is my child”. I hoped for it, none the less. All of the adoption stories I read or listened to had that moment. That time where an adopter walked into a room, or saw a picture, and felt to their core that everything they had done up to that point lead them to their child. I have so much appreciation for people who are able to have that moment. Also my heart hurts for the individuals that don’t, and think there is something… wrong.

Our twins came into our home, and it mainly felt like babysitting, which was not helped by the fact that I needed to record the exact minute of which I gave them a gummy vitamin, each day. Going through all of these mothering steps felt so off, because there was a mother out there grieving the loss of her children, and they were grieving the loss of her. I was grieving for both of their losses. I was in an incredibly tricky state of mind.

I didn’t feel like a parent when they came home, or even many months afterwards. This was not a failure on behalf of anyone; myself, my agency, the kids. There wasn’t something wrong with me. People just bond differently, and some more obviously and quickly than others.

This could be true for yourself, your spouse, or the child(ren) you bring into your home, and it is not a disaster when it happens. When it comes down to it, I made a choice to love these strangers as my children. I acted out what I knew love to look like, and I told myself (sometimes daily) my feelings will come. Not the feelings someone else experienced in their adoption story, but the ones that are true to me. This ended up serving me well, when things got hard, it did not change the fact that I was still simply acting out what I know love to look like. It kept my feet planted.

To keep it simple, don’t compare. Pray daily to love the children in your home just a little bit more than you loved them the day before, regardless of where you started. The feelings come, they continue to grow, sometimes they ebb and flow. Just like the ending of a story book, “happily ever after” in marriage is much more complicated than we once believed as kids. The same is true for adoption.

Love for kids is spelled “TIME” I feel like most parents probably know this. However, I was really surprised at the results that come from playing with my children individually for just 5 minutes a day. Play that involved letting them lead, and either complimenting, celebrating, or repeating back what they were doing during those 5 minutes. This is not naturally my personality, but I learned, and it worked. Not simply time next to them, but concentrated time loving on who they are at exactly that moment. Not who you want them to be some day, just letting them be them, in all their messy imperfect glory.

Also, that TIME can mean taking time to work on yourself. Parenting really puts you under the microscope and brings out some things that you may have never realized were there. Things like a child that reminds you of someone that caused emotional damage towards you in the past. Maybe it’s opposing personalities that you don’t know how to navigate, or a button that they really learned how to push. Let me be brutally honest with you when I say that taking time to work on your own stuff is one of the most effective ways to love your child.

Do not be afraid to get counseling, it’s worth the financial cost. Your house doesn’t need to be figuratively “on fire” for you to drag yourself to an office for therapy. I tell my kids that a therapist is simply a doctor for their emotions. If it’s normal to do a checkup with your physician, why not an emotional check up too?

Be intentional about relationships, they are key to success I’m not talking about with the kids, but your personal relationships, as they are the ones that will help hold your head up when things get HARD.

Adoption, especially fostering or international adoption, will be isolating. Not everyone will understand trauma, even when you try to educate them. They won’t understand cocooning, or therapeutic parenting strategies. If you are like me, and adoption is the way you first became a parent, people will assume you have no earthly clue what you are doing. To be honest, I didn’t! More specifically, I hadn’t mastered a lot of really basic things that parents normally learn through years of trial and error. We got judged harshly on our little mistakes, and that opened the door for strangers to make a lot of assumptions about our parenting in general. I’m not into oversharing my kids personal story for the benefit of a stranger, so taking criticism or ‘tips’ silently is often what makes adopters feel so isolated.

This may make you want to back away from relationships altogether, but in fact it is the reason they are so important. I found that the people who DID understand, listen, and learn with us, were my rocks in the hardest moments. They let me vent when some well-meaning ‘advice’ made me feel extra insecure. I also realized very quickly how vital it is to get to know other adopting families, and pursue relationships with them intentionally. We had none of those relationships to start, and had to start pursuing them when our lives were busy, crazy, and imperfect. The beauty was, those adoptive families were not fazed by imperfection. Life-giving relationships were so key to our journey, that I would recommend pursuing them with the same passion in which you may currently be pursuing an adopted child.

While this is not everything you could possibly need for your adoptive journey, I have found that being aware of each of these has provided the fuel we needed to get through our harder moments, and ultimately lead our family to overcome some tough times. They also made life a lot more fun in the good times.

–Deb Uber | Snowflakes Adopter Inquiry Specialist

In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

Alone: Keeping Siblings Together

 

 

 

A couple of years ago my husband and I got hooked on a survivalist reality show.  The feature setting this show apart from other survivor type shows is that the contestants were entirely alone.  They were responsible for everything (including filming).  Dropped off unaccompanied in a remote area, the participants hunted and foraged for food, built shelters, and risked their lives for the grand prize.  The only margin between remaining in the game and going home was voluntarily sending a call from a satellite phone, in which they were immediately removed. Faced with wild boars, wolves, and poisonous berries…and yet the most common call on that satellite phone was made because competitors were feeling alone. Desperately missing their families, many grown men and women pressed the button on the phone to get home.

Something these contestants quickly learned is the innate human need to not be alone.  Some hit the button after 40 days and some after only 24 hours, but a majority hit it in despair to see family, hug family, feel the safety of family.  The most prepared and capable people of being alone, simply cannot.

Imagine now, a toddler boy.  Bright eyes, long lashes.  Chubby hands and smooth skin.  He is not a wilderness survivalist, but he too has no familiar shelter.  He is suddenly in the home of strangers.  He too wonders about food.  The afternoon eases into evening.  When the lights go out, fear grips this little boy in the scariest moment of his life.  In tears, he turns over his shoulder looking for the one consistent person in his life, his little sister.  The home he does not know, the adults he does not know, but his sister, his sister is like a thread of his own fabric that cannot be unraveled from him.

There is no stress-free way for a child to be placed in foster care.  Abuse or neglect leads up to the removal and the removal itself can be very distressing.  Just like the contestants in a contrived TV show, these kids long for reliable food, safety, and most of all to not feel alone.  In many cases, every effort should be made to keep sibling groups together.  As you can envision, not all foster families have the ability to accept multiple children at a time.  How sad for the toddler boy who looks over his shoulder and doesn’t see his sister. He reaches for the hand he knows, and it is not there. That satellite phone seems like a luxury in life’s true survival situations.

Psalm 68:6 tells us, “God sets the lonely in families.”  We think the foster family must be where God is setting them, but truly, if children have siblings, then in some regards they already have part of the family to not feel lonely.  Nightlight’s Homes for Hope house is making an effort to ensure that siblings stay together during those initial nights, when fear grips as if wild animals lurked outside.  Having a home devoted to emergency sibling placements is a safeguard against the fear and loneliness throughout the transition.  If adult survivalists use the satellite phone to get to their family, how much more do children need family in their reality?

Nightlight and Adams County Social Services have opened two homes designed to provide safety, comfort, and security to children in foster care at a time when they are most vulnerable: immediately after being removed from their family. This new model of foster care, called Homes for Hope, is designed to provide temporary foster care for children in emergency situations. A large focus of the program will be keeping sibling sets together. To learn more about Homes for Hope or the process to become a foster family contact Meaghan Nally at [email protected], call (970)663-6799 or visit https://nightlight.org/colorado-homes-for-hope-program/.