Monday, December 30, 2013

What Furby Taught Me About Parenting

My daughter got a Furby for Christmas this year.  I found one simple sentence in the instruction manual to contain some very profound parenting advice:
"How you treat FURBY will shape its personality."
Incidentally, two other equally important instructions were How To Turn Furby Off!  (Pull on his tail for ten seconds or place him on his back for fifteen seconds).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Loving Someone When You Don't Like Them

It’s easy to love somebody when they love you back and show their appreciation for you.  But what’s really challenging is loving someone when they don’t reciprocate your feelings and actions or when you try loving someone when you don’t necessarily like them.
This dilemma of loving others when you don’t necessarily like them is certainly not just limited to foster-adoptive parents (or any parents for that matter) but can apply to so many relationships and aspects of our lives in general.  However, I recently came across this topic while reading a blog post specifically aimed at addressing the uncomfortable and sensitive issue with foster and adoptive parents who were really struggling with loving the children in their care- primarily because of the attachment issues or other behavioral problems these children had.  
As a foster parent, I consider myself pretty safe-guarded from dealing with major attachment issues and severe behavioral problems the children in my care might have, mostly due to the fact that the majority of our foster children have been babies and the rest have been toddlers and pre-school age children.  That is certainly not to say that young children can’t act out- but dealing with hitting or tantrums doesn’t seem quite as threatening to me as dealing with lying, stealing, running away, sexual promiscuity, or other behaviors older children might be more likely to exhibit than younger children.
For me it’s always been pretty easy to care for babies.  I don’t necessarily like sleepless nights or teething and changing poopy diapers, but babies are generally easy to love because they so easily accept love.  Without it they wouldn’t be able to survive.  Babies are also easy to love because for the most part they are able to naturally reciprocate love.  For instance, when infants start smiling at you or cooing it makes those sleepless nights worth it.  Similarly, when a toddler reaches out their arms for you and wants to cuddle or when a pre-schooler has earned your trust and wants to climb up on your lap to be read to or play it can be extremely rewarding and minimizes any of the frustrations and drama surrounding potty training and temper tantrums.
But what about parents and caregivers who care for children but who don’t feel any reciprocation of love?  [Reactive Attachment Disorder immediately comes to mind in such instances.]  What about caregivers who continually give and give but feel like all they do is in vain because they feel like they have nothing to show for their efforts?  
I think that’s probably the first problem- giving and expecting something in return.  Or in the case with parenting, doing “X” and expecting “Y” when we try this or that discipline technique and things don’t quite turn out the way we had expected. 
But isn’t the true definition of Christ-like love giving without expecting anything in return and loving unconditionally?  Practicing that kind of love can be very difficult.  And I use the word “practicing” because continued effort is what is required of something that does not come naturally.  I am reminded as I write this that the words “disciple” and “discipline” stem from the same roots.
I can honestly say that I have loved every foster child who has been placed in my care.  But here’s an honest confession:  Just because I have loved them all does not necessarily mean that I have liked them all or felt an immediate bond with them.  I guess I feel the need to share this because sometimes I feel like foster parents are grouped into two different categories: the dichotomy of the evil foster parents who mistreat and abuse their foster children and who are (rightfully) exposed in the media.  These are the horrific kind of cases that make headlines and draw attention to foster parents.  On the other end of the spectrum is the assumption that all foster parents are saints who are willing to open their homes to the most medically fragile or extremely neglected and abused children without ever losing their patience, getting frustrated with “The System”, or grieving when a child leaves their care because of some sort of a superhuman power they possess.  As a foster parent, I don’t fit into either of these categories.
I’m only human.  You know how you just “click” with some people right away and they seem so easy to get along with but others . . . well, not so much?  That’s the same with the foster children who have been in my care.  I care for them no matter what but I get frustrated when, for example, they repeatedly tear wallpaper off of our bedroom walls or continually hoard their food or throw tantrums when structure (or vegetables for that matter) or consequences are introduced into their daily lives.  
Yes, it can be really difficult to like my foster children in such instances and I have to remind myself of a couple of things:
1) They are a product of their environment and are just modeling the behavior/lifestyle  they’re used to. 
2)  Behind any anger/resistance is hurt or fear; therefore, what is this child really trying to communicate to me? 
I do consider myself to be a pretty patient person, but like I said, I’m only human and it’s not easy to be patient and kind ALL the time (rather than just when things are going good) and that’s why I am so thankful that  God’s Grace- strength and power (and I would also add LOVE) beyond my own natural abilities- comes into place to make up for what I lack.
These last thoughts on the subject are not my own, but rather, come from a very insightful comment I read from the blog post I mentioned earlier which addressed foster and adoptive parents having a hard time loving their children.  I can only give credit to the commenter by her first name and last initial- Hannah K- but I can’t tell you anything more about her since I couldn’t find a link to a profile or web page to give her further credit.  

My hopes in sharing Hannah's counsel and insights is that we can all feel a little less frustrated and guilty and a little more hopeful in those aspects of our lives when we know we should love someone- but we don't necessarily like them.
Hannah K's Comment:

"It would be great if we could all experience the same warm, affectionate feelings toward each of our children. But at the same time, it may come as a relief to know that there is NO command anywhere in the entire Bible to *like* anybody—not our children, not our parents, not even our spouse. We are told to love. We are told to respect. We are told to honor. These commands involve behavior rather than feelings. But you are not in sin if you don't like your child—so long as that lack of feeling doesn't take the form of bitterness or anger or impatience or rudeness.

It is perfectly possible to love a person, even to the point of death, without ever *feeling* like it. Ideally, the feeling will be there too, to help motivate the love we give, but we can really and truly love somebody whether the feeling is there or not. The golden rule does not say to do unto others as we *feel* like doing unto them.

Often, the feelings will (slowly) begin to follow when the actions lead the way, and we can pray that they will follow quickly. But even if the feelings don't follow as we hoped, God is pleased when we are following *Him*. When we love the unlovely, we are following in the steps of His Son—and we do not have to pretend that the unlovely really *are* lovely at the moment. If we love our enemies as Christ commanded us to do, we do not have to pretend that they are not, in fact, our enemies. And sometimes, sadly, even our children can set themselves up as enemies for a time. So we can we do? Conquer them with LOVE.

We love because HE first loved us. Likewise, we cannot wait until our children are lovely before we love them, just as we cannot wait until our children are healthy and strong before we feed them. Love is the "food" that will slowly strengthen them to bestow love themselves. Just as we sometimes have to make our kids eat even when they say they aren't hungry, we also have to fill them up with love, even if they seem like they don't want it from us.

The more love we give them (through our actions), the more love they will be able to give. And the more love they are able to give, the easier they are to love. And so on. It's a snowball effect, but it sometimes starts so small that it can be hard to tell that the snowball is actually growing and not just rolling around aimlessly out in the cold."


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Post by Former Foster Youth Killarney Sheffield

What better way to raise awareness about the importance of good foster homes than hearing from the perspective of a former foster youth, right?  Today I am pleased to have Killarney Sheffield share a little of her story:

My name is Killarney Sheffield. I spent my teen years in a foster home. For me foster care was the only alternative when I could no longer take my step father’s sexual abuse. My mother did not want to face the situation so I was left in foster care until I was 18. I was lucky, though I lost my family I gained two caring foster families. My love of horses and reading were nurtured by caring foster families.

I always struggled in school and in addition to being bullied my grades were pathetic except in fine arts, (music, drama and art). In grade 12 I was told I have a mild form of Dyslexia. My goal in life was to be a horse vet, but I struggled so badly in maths and sciences that I soon realized I couldn’t achieve my goal, there was no way I could work to pay my way through college and keep up with my studies. It wasn’t the end of the world for me I could still work with the horses which I loved so I put myself through as many horse related courses as I could. I am now a certified farrier, natural horsemanship trainer, level 1 English and Western coach and a breeder of Appendix horses.

Eventually I met my husband on a farm, we got married and I had five great kids of my own that I would gladly die for. During the time I was having kids (I had 5 in 7 years so I was pretty much pregnant for what seemed like forever!) I decided to dabble in a little writing. One day four years ago I got the courage to submit one of my historical romances to a couple small publishers. Imagine my surprise and thrill to get offers for my book! Into the publishing world I jumped. I have since published 15 different titles, from full length historical romantic adventures, to short stories. Why romance? Well, I’m a Libra and the motto of a Libra is ‘A hopeless romantic who thinks life should be fair.’ I will always be grateful to those 2 sets of foster parents for caring and nurturing me, without their love I would not be where I am today. 
If you want to find out more about my current books you can find them almost anywhere books are sold online and soon in a store near you.
You can follow me at my website: 
My blogs:           
On Twitter: @authorkillarney
FB: Killarney Sheffield.

Thank you for sharing, Killarney!

While we're on the topic of finding permanent and temporary homes for children in foster care I'm going to put in a big plug for the Dave Thomas Foundation's Home For the Holidays Annual Christmas Special featuring success stories of foster children who have found permanent adoptive homes plus performances by various musical artists.  This year Celine Dion will be one of the musical guests and it's on TONIGHT so go watch it!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Safety Requirements for Foster Homes

Today our licensor from the state came to do our yearly walk-through safety inspection of our home in order to renew our foster care license.  I've written about our safety inspection and requirements before on a general level, but I thought it would be helpful to list the specific safety requirements in case anybody out there is interested in fostering but would like to know more about what is required of a foster home.  (Obviously, licensing requirements will vary by state, but this Safety Inspection Checklist gives a pretty good idea of the standards to which foster homes are held accountable)

First things first, if you would like to foster then you obviously have to have the room for another child, so this is what is required in terms of bedroom space:


1.  Bedrooms:  80 square feet of space for single occupant (10 X 8) or 60 square feet per occupant in multiple occupant rooms (10 X 12, 11 X 11, 9 X 13).  Each child has own appropriately sized bed and storage space for belongings.  Note:  You can only be licensed to the size of room and number of beds present at time of licensure.

A few other things worth noting:  Children of the same sex may share a room, but each must have their own bed.  Children of the opposite sex may only share a bedroom if they are both 2 years of age or under.  No more than four children are permitted in a single bedroom.

2.  Working smoke detectors on each level of your home (licensor will test one on each floor)
Carbon monoxide detectors are also highly recommended.

3.  Fire Extinguisher minimum rating of 2A10BC.

4.  Banisters on open staircases and railings on all decks, stairs, and porches off ground level. 

5.  Hazardous areas including (but not limited to) steep grades, cliffs, open pits, swimming pools, hot tubs, ponds, water features, high voltage boosters, canals, high speed roads, deep window wells shall be fenced off or have natural barriers.

6.  Written plan of action for emergencies and emergency numbers posted by telephone (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED safety ladders for 2nd Story Escapes).

7.  Fireplaces/wood stoves need protective screens.  (Even glass front fireplaces can get too hot for a toddler's hand- keep this in mind if you take small children- you need to fence off all areas that get too hot to touch).

8.  Alcohol needs to be inaccessible to children at all times.

9.  If you only have cell phones as your home phone: please be sure there is always one phone at your home when the foster children are present, i.e. if you have a babysitter or child is home without foster parents.

10.  Furnace/ Water Heater adequately ventilated and no flammable storage surrounding them.

11.  First Aid Kits in the car and in the home.  Please remove any medications from your first aid kit unless you intend to lock it out of children's reach.

12.  Medication and Chemicals (defined as any chemical with a warning label stating: "Keep out of reach of children" or "Harmful if swallowed" including but not limited to: prescription and over the counter medications, vitamins, cleaners, gasoline, oil, antifreeze, paint, lawn fertilizers, bleach, etc. must be locked either by key, combination, or magnetic locks.  Soaps and shampoos do not need to be locked.  Remember this guideline: anything a child can consume (whether or not they'll consume it) that could cause fatal or irreparable damage or can be used as a fire starter or inhalant needs to be locked.  Examples: you can lock cupboards, pantry, closets, sheds, file cabinets, metal boxes, safes, plastic bins or containers with locks through the handles, etc.  Remember to make it convenient for you and your family to use because you are REQUIRED to keep these items locked AT ALL TIMES when foster children are present in your home. 

13.  Firearms:  PREFERRED to be locked in a gun safe.  If in a plastic case or a glass front display case, they must be disabled (bolts removed) or have trigger locks.  Ammo must be stored in a separate locked location.

14.  Adequate number of seatbelts in your auto for the number of children you take.

15.  Under age 5:  car seats, outlet covers and safety gates on all stairways.

OTHER BASIC REQUIREMENTS for families to meet in order to provide foster care in my state (taken directly from this Prospective Parent Packet) are:

- Foster parents may be married couples or single individuals aged 21 or older.  Unmarried couples are unable to be licensed.  (It's my understanding that this last requirement is a federal rather than state guideline)

-Foster parents must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents.

-Foster parents and all persons 18 and older in the home must pass background checks.

-Foster parents need to be financially stable and able to support their family without assistance from the state.

-Foster parents need to be healthy enough to care for children as determined by their own doctor

-Foster parents will not be licensed to do both foster care and day care at the same time.

-Foster parents can be homeowners or renters.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Three Months with Jack & Jill

Jack and Jill have been with us for three months now.  In past placements, this could have been considered the "halfway point" of their time with us since babies and younger children in our care have typically had anywhere from 6-8 months until their parents have a chance to get them back into their custody [depending on what the judge rules at their Permanency Hearing].  However, just this year a bill was passed in our state which has extended the amount of time birthparents have to complete everything required of them in their Service Plan to up to 12 months.  I think the main reasoning behind this bill is to give bio parents a better chance at getting their children back rather than having foster children be reunified with their parents after six to eight months of being in foster care only to come back into custody again shortly afterwards. 
As a foster parent I have mixed feelings about this legislation.  First and foremost, I think it's a good step towards making sure bio parents and foster children have a better chance at achieving more successful (meaning permanent) reunifications.  Then again, a year of attachment with a foster child as part of your family equates to even more time getting attached and therefore more grief when they leave. I also admit that I've been a little frustrated in the past when after 6 to 8 months of having a foster child in our home and expecting either TPR or Reunification at the scheduled Permanency Hearing (because I much prefer certainty and predictability to living in limbo-and to think that I'm a fost-adopt parent- HA!) the judge decides that the bio parents aren't quite ready so they get an extension for another 3 months or so till the next Permanency Hearing.  With the extended timeframe of up to 12 months until permanency is decided upon, hopefully such extensions would be unnecessary. But regardless of how I feel about things, foster care certainly isn't about what's easiest or most convenient for the foster family, but rather what is in the best interest of the child.
Three months from now Jack and Jill's parents will have a Review Hearing and in about eight months from now (just short of one year after they will have been placed in our care) their Permanency Hearing will take place.  At this point in time no relatives have worked out for kinship options so their permanency options will basically be either reunification with their parents or termination of parental rights and being adopted by us. 
Another interesting thing about these upcoming hearings is that for the first time in my fostering experiences, the judge has requested that the children appear in the courtroom during the hearings. I've attended some of my foster children's hearings, but I've never brought my foster children with me- mostly because they've been so young and I wouldn't want to be disruptive (Courtrooms make me nervous- everything's so formal- it's not exactly a child-friendly atmosphere).  A baby and a toddler in a courtroom should be interesting.
At this point in time I'm trying not to entertain the possibility of adopting Jack and Jill (though it's obviously in the back of my head) because although both parents have had some major setbacks and have not completed anything required of them in their Service Plan, they do make the effort to show up to the majority of their weekly supervised visits with their children when they can.  However, purely hypothetically speaking of course- if this case did end up in an adoption, one good thing is that Jack and Jill's parents seem to have a good relationship with us- they've expressed thanks to us from the beginning (rather than resentment) and they trust that their children are in good hands.  In fact, last month as the caseworker was visiting with me in my home she said, "I don't know why but she [their mother] seems to really like you."  I kind of laughed at the way it came out, but I'll take it as a compliment.

Now, for a little about how the children are doing:
Jill is thriving.  Although she was slightly premature she has outgrown not only her preemie clothes but a few of her newborn clothes as well.  I was so elated when she doubled her birth weight at her 2 month check-up last month that I shared this on Facebook:
The only time I ever get excited about numbers on the scale going UP is when a foster baby has DOUBLED their birth weight! #weknowhowtofattenthemup
Jill is still not sleeping through the night but having to get up once or twice during the night to feed her rather than every 2 hours is a great improvement for my sleep-deprived state.  She is starting to smile more, coo, and even laugh so being greeted by her cherubic smiling face makes the sleepless nights worth it.
As for Jack, he has made great improvements over the past 3 months, but he still has a way to go.  The first couple of weeks after he was placed with us he would scream and totally freak out whenever I gave him a bath.   This led me to believe one of two things:  1) Either this child is not used to having baths or 2) Something very traumatic happened to him during bath time.  I tend to believe the first option given what I know about his background.  Fortunately now he LOVES splashing, playing with the bubbles and his bath toys, and doesn't fuss at all when I rinse his hair out.  I was so relieved the first time I was able to give him a bath without any protests on his part- it was a huge deal.
We were also very worried about Jack the first couple of weeks he was in our care when he would panic anytime I left the room- even if it was just for 30 seconds or so just while I went to the bathroom or had to change the laundry.  It reminded me a lot of Ian's reaction the first couple of weeks he was in our care.  Jack seems to be much more dependent than Ian ever was though, and whenever I would come back into the room and pick him up he would cling on to me for life.  It made it nearly impossible to put him down- which is especially hard when you have a newborn to care for as well. 

We were equally concerned about Jack when we would try playing patty-cake or peek-a-book and he would just stare at us with a solemn or confused look on his face.  If you want to work wonders for a neglected child NEVER underestimate the importance of the "little" things which can make such a HUGE difference in a child's development- playing patty-cake, peek-a-boo, or wiggling their piggy toes, saying nursery rhymes, reading to them, rocking them, singing to them, cuddling them- really just the "basics" most parents do out of instinct.  These seemingly silly or insignificant activities are not only crucial for building neurons and pathways in little brains but for building bonds which make attachment possible in the first place.  Jack now smiles and giggles anytime I ask him to play peek-a-boo and he is very proud when he can correctly point to his nose or clap his hands on demand.
Jack turned 1 year old a couple of months ago and his parents were able to celebrate his first birthday the day of their weekly visit with a Birthday Cake and some presents for him.  Although he's technically "toddler age" he is not toddling.  He refused to try to practice walking with us up until about a month ago- not because anything is physically wrong with him but just because he preferred to crawl or be held ALL THE TIME.  Although he still prefers to crawl, he has learned to lower himself while standing at the coffee table compared to the first couple of weeks with us when he would freeze and panic if he dropped a toy or wanted to move and he just didn't know what to do to solve the problem.  He will now pull himself up to the coffee table or furniture and take a few steps while holding on to furniture without panicking or becoming frustrated. I know that every child develops at their own pace, and I probably shouldn't worry as long as he is walking by 18 months (which is less than two months away) but just in case he does need a little extra help developing  his gross motor skills or in other areas, Early Intervention will be doing an official assessment on him after the holidays to see if he qualifies for help. 
Jack babbles away and says a few basic words, but I'm particularly worried about the latest addition to his vocabulary: "Mom".  The reason I'm so worried is that he is clearly referring to me when he says it and he has not yet said it in front of his actual mom yet since it's been a couple of weeks since she's made it to their visits.  It's hard to logically explain/clarify to a small child, "I'm not your mommy- I'm the one who changes your diapers, bathes you, feeds you, kisses your boo-boos, and tucks you in at night- but I'm not your mom." And yet I was so excited inside the first time he called me "mom"- I felt like I had earned the title.  Nevertheless, it's always very awkward when a child in my care calls me "mom" or "mommy" for the very first time in front of their mom. 
I am prepared to tell his mom, "He hears my daughter call me that all the time" as an explanation and just brush it off so she doesn't feel any worse than she already may feel considering the fact that she openly cries at the end of every visit when she has to say goodbye to Jack.