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 This can lead them to be withdrawn in the classroom, defiant towards caregiver, and struggle academically.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 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Benefit of Fostering Older Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

written by Lexie Fowler

Fostering Children With Sexual Trauma

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

written by Deb Uber & Natalie Burton

 

Foster Parents Who “Get Too Attached”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Reunification is so Important in Foster Care

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunification can offer the children:

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

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

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

 

written by foster momma, Cristy Buczko