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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.
Amazon:  
You can follow me at my website: http://www.killarneysheffieldromanceauthor.com/ 
My blogs: http://killarneysheffield.blogspot.ca                    http://meldermanstables.blogspot.ca 
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:

FOSTER HOME SAFETY INSPECTION CHECKLIST

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. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

National Adoption Month Blog Tour AND $60 Giveaway

Head on over to Foster2Forever for an Adoption Month BLOG TOUR featuring blog posts from foster adoptive families PLUS a chance to win a $60 Amazon or Paypal Giftcard!


You can also enter the Giveaway here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Adoption Month 2013

Ways to CELEBRATE National Adoption Month and/or increase ADOPTION AWARENESS:
 
Click to Enlarge

And a very important statistic to share:

 
For more information on waiting children, Click HERE

Friday, October 25, 2013

How Domestic Violence Affects Children (and What We Can do to Help)

The following facts were compiled by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) in the Information Packet: Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence:
 
The maltreatment of children and violence against women often go hand in hand.  As many as half a million children may be encountered by police during domestic violence arrests [each year].  There is an overlap of 30 to 60 percent between violence against children and violence against women in the same families.  (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Safe from the start: taking action on children exposed to violence. (November 2000).  Publication No. NCJ182789) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.)

Research indicates that males exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to engage in domestic violence as adults, and females are more likely to be victims as adults.  (Whitfield, 2003)
 
Children who witness domestic violence and are physically abused are at risk for increased levels of emotional and psychological maladjustment than children who only witness violence and are not abused (Carlson, 2000; Edleson, 1999; Hughes et al, 2001).
 
Children who live with domestic violence face increased risks:  the risk of exposure to traumatic events, the risk of neglect, the risk of being directly abused, and the risk of losing one or both of their parents.  All of these may lead to negative outcomes for children and may affect their wellbeing, safety, and stability (Carlson, 2000; Edleson, 1999; Rossman, 2001).

The Domestic Violence Resource Center has compiled this list of ways DV can affect children.
 
Children and Domestic Violence
 
Every child has different coping mechanisms and will react differently to violence. The following is a list of commonly identified feelings and behaviors of children who have been exposed to domestic violence.
 
1. FEELING
 
Fear of:
  • violence
  • father / all men
  • abandonment
  • night time

Anger at:
  • father / other men
  • mother (for not preventing violence)
  • self (for being unable to protect mom)
Guilt for:
  • the violence. Children are egocentric, so they feel responsible for and guilty about the violence.
  • being disloyal to family and friends
  • having negative feelings about one or both parents
Confusion:
  • Conflict over feelings toward the parents.
  • Unpredictable reactions from adults lead the child to be unable to trust them.
  • Belief that relationships equal violence.
Learning disabilities
  • Lack of emotional stability at home inhibits learning.
  • Fixation at the developmental level at which trauma occurred.
2. BEHAVIOR
  • withdrawal
  • exaggerated attention-seeking
  • negative reactions to men
  • separation anxiety
  • bedtime fears
  • school phobia
  • acting out
  • aggression
  • swearing
  • age-inappropriate temper tantrums
  • self-fulfilling prophecy: the belief that “I’m bad.” leads to acting out, which leads to punishment, which reinforces the belief
  • loss of motivation at school
  • low self-esteem because of believing that “It’s my fault I got hit.”
  • ambivalent behavior
  • testing adults
  • confused belief systems
  • inability to concentrate at school
  • sleepiness due to staying awake at night
  • regressive behaviors
3. SURVIVAL SKILLS
  • strong resilience
  • maturity
  • well-developed sense of responsibility
  • bonds between siblings
  • unusual sensitivity
  • rejection of violent behavior
So  . . . How do we as foster parents or caregivers or teachers (or whatever the case may be) help support the children in our care who have experienced domestic violence?

I have learned a few simple things:

1)  Use a "we" message when setting expectations about home/school rules.
2) Validate the child's feelings if they act aggressively.
3)  Offer alternatives to aggression.
4)  Be sensitive to raising your voice.

Here's an example or two for using each of these tips:

1)  Use a "we" message when setting expectations about home (or school) rules.
 
I admit that sometimes my first instinct when any of our foster children have acted out aggressively is to say. "Hey- Stop That!"  or "Don't Hit Her!" 

Children coming from an environment of domestic violence already have enough SHAME to deal with, so rather than using an accusatory, blaming tone with them (which will just make them feel worse) try setting boundaries but explaining that this is a rule which applies to everyone in the household or classroom- not just them. 
 
For example, rather than saying, "You're not allowed to hit in this house" calmly but firmly explain  "We don't hit in this house."  And "we" means everyone- parents and children.  Otherwise there would be a huge double standard.  Give concrete examples if that's easier for younger children to understand, such as, "In our home, Daddies don't hit mommies, mommies don't hit daddies, mommies and daddies don't hit or yell at children, children don't hit/bite/kick mommies and daddies or other children."
 
2) Validate the child's feelings if they act aggressively.
 
As noted in the "Feelings" Section of the DVRC Children and Domestic Violence List above, children coming from domestic violence can understandably have a lot of anger issues.  Anger in itself isn't bad, but it's what the child does with those angry feelings which can be harmful.  In addition, children may not know how to react to anger or frustration or feeling insecure without resorting to aggression* if that's all they've been shown from the adults in their lives.  Validate the child's feelings rather than shaming them and then redirect their actions.
 
* Children's brains aren't fully developed (Duh- Thanks for the News Flash!) so they are bound to be more immature than adults when dealing with conflict by resorting to name-calling or hitting or throwing a temper tantrum when they don't get their way or become stressed.  Basically, they're acting with the "primitive" parts of their brain and have not yet learned to engage in more peaceful ways of conflict resolution or to deal with upsetting emotions and situations proactively.  What is even more troubling is children who also suffer the effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and/or drug exposure and who thus have a biological predisposition to struggle with impulse control because of their impaired brain development in addition to suffering from the damaging effects of domestic violence from a purely socialization standpoint.  In other words, as if the "nurture" effects of domestic violence aren't enough, some individuals have additional "nature" or biological factors which compound the gravity of their situation.  Does that make sense?
 
Validating statements might include:

 "Wow- you're really angry right now, aren't you?"  or
"I can sense you're getting frustrated."  or
"Can you help me to understand why you're so upset?"

There's no need to even analyze their feelings or break into a mini counseling session afterwards (which I, for one, might be tempted to do by nature) but sometimes just the act of validating their feelings is enough for the child to separate their actions from their feelings and feel somewhat "understood" by an adult who shows concern.
 
Another plus of validating feelings of anger in the child is that "anger" is one of those emotions which can often be used to mask other feelings such as hurt or fear.  If a child begins to feel validated by a trusted adult, they are more likely to open up or explore their underlying feelings which is much more productive or healthy than, say. lashing out on others or withdrawing,
 
3)  Offer alternatives to aggression. 
 
This suggestion goes hand in hand with the previous one.  First, let the child know that it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hit/bite/scream at others, etc. 

THEN, offer an alternative to getting their energy out. 
 
 "Do you want to jump on the trampoline?" 

 "Are you so angry that you feel like hitting something?  Let's hit your pillow or see how far you can throw or kick this ball!" 

 (Another reason why contact and group sports are a fabulous outlet for at-risk kids or ANY kids for that matter!)
 
4)  Be sensitive to raising your voice.
 
Many people coming from a situation of violence, abuse, or trauma are bound to be a little more sensitive to raised voices or escalated noises- even to the point of being considered "hyper vigilant" in their reactions.  Remember- the only group of people shown to have higher rates of PTSD than veterans are children in foster care!   What a sad finding- nobody's home life should be as traumatic as a war zone, but the psychological effects can be eerily similar.
 
This may seem like a silly example, but I vividly remember one day when my husband raised his voice to me (not because he was yelling at me or trying to be mean, but because we were a bit rushed with our schedules and he was trying to remind me to hurry and get in the shower and get ready).  My husband's raised voice didn't seem like a big deal to me, nor did I take it personally- but I could immediately sense a physiological change in our foster baby- who was only an infant at the time.  Some may say that her reaction was just a coincidence or that any child would have reacted that way, but when we thought about the things she may have heard and seen from her family background (we had a fairly good idea- but certainly not the whole story)  it was a good reminder to be careful when raising our voices- no matter the reason.
 
Any other tips on helping children to deal with or preventing domestic violence?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This week as I took Jack and Jill to their weekly supervised visit with their parents I pulled up to a bright purple sign in front of the DCFS building which read "OCTOBER IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH."

I found the sign highly ironic (and sad) considering that the babies would actually only be meeting with one of their parents for their visit that day since the other parent was put in jail over the weekend for . . .  you guessed it: a domestic violence incident.

Yes, not only is October National Breast Cancer Awareness month but it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well.


When I think about it, I would estimate that 90% of our foster placements have come from families where domestic violence was involved.  Furthermore, do you know what else those 90% of placements have had in common?   They have all had parents struggling with drug addiction. I think that's not a coincidence.

Mind you, I'm not saying that anyone who uses any type of drug will automatically beat their family members and become violent, but I definitely believe that certain types of drugs- meth in particular- produce such dangerous side effects such as violence, paranoia, and aggression that it seems it's not just by chance that users are at a huge risk for becoming violent towards family members and those closest to them. In other words, meth use and domestic violence seem to be causative in their relationship rather than correlative.

Case in Point #1 from my experiences fostering:

Of the 90% of children we've fostered (basically all but one) who have come from a background of drug exposure AND domestic violence methamphetamines was the children's parent's drug of choice. In at least two of these cases (that I'm aware of) the domestic violence escalated to the point of the mothers having to seek safety in a domestic violence shelter.

Case in Point # 2 from my experiences fostering:

About a month into our very first placement when we were fostering 3 year old "Justin" we were able to look extensively at his parent's files- including their criminal background records- since we were told by his caseworker that we would most likely be adopting him (ha!) and thus we were privy to as much information about his background as possible. While I was looking through his parent's files (one of whom had been placed in foster care as a child and hence had a longer recordable history with the state) I was struck by the number of D.V. incidences the police reports and mental health assessments recorded.  And lest anyone assume that the male is always the instigator in cases of domestic violence, I discovered that it wasn't solely Justin's father who became violent but both parents towards each other.

I remember Justin's caseworker telling me something which really struck me: "Yes, they have a lot of DV incidents on their records but they didn't actually become violent in their relationship until AFTER they started heavily using meth." I might also add that one of the mug shots I saw of Justin's mother was almost unrecognizable to me compared to the young woman I would see at his weekly visits.  Justin's mother no longer looked haggard looking or as "hardened" as she did in her booking photo and she was definitely at a much healthier weight than she had previously been. Mind you, Justin had been in care for three or four months in a different foster home when he was placed with us and the threat of losing their parental rights to their only child was a huge motivating factor for his parents to work hard and turn their lives around. They both made significant process as the Permanency Hearing drew closer. 

Case in Point #3 (not from my own personal experiences but from data from this four-part article I stumbled upon when I googled "meth and domestic violence") entitled Methamphetamine: What are the Real Costs to Society?

"Family and close friends are often targets of the meth-user's violence.  Police in Contra Costa County, California, report that nearly 90% of the domestic calls they investigate are methamphetamine related."

Again- a 90% statistic- that's undeniably convincing. Coincidence? I think not.

In light of these facts, imagine the further irony I found when I learned just a few days ago (from a friend's Facebook status who happens to be a mental health professional) that not only is October Domestic Violence Month but it is also Substance Abuse Awareness Month. Seems like these two serious plagues to our society which have the potential to destroy families often go hand in hand, right?   Or for any cynics who might disagree with that assertion (because one might think there's no harm in a mom or dad drinking a couple of beers after work or having a glass of wine without resulting in a D.V. incident or that less "dangerous" drugs such as marijuana don't produce as hazardous side effects as meth and opiate addiction/withdrawal does) perhaps it is more appropriate to say that although substance abuse may not be a proven cause of domestic violence it is certainly an exacerbating factor.

With this in mind, wouldn't the logical argument follow that if our society were to reduce the amount of substance abuse and addiction then we would in turn reduce the number of families who suffer from the ravages of domestic violence?  Perhaps it's too simple of a solution since so many other factors are at play but it seems like it would make sense to try. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt?

The following data was published this week in Adoptive Families Magazine, based on the results of a survey taken by 1500 families who adopted in 2010-2011:

 Domestic Newborn - AgencyDomestic Newborn- IndependentU.S. Foster
Homestudy Fee $1,820$1,538$285
Document Preparation & Authentication$768$680$0
Adoption Agency Application & Program Fees$14,441$4,608$0
Legal Fees $3,536$10,331$686
Advertising/
Networking
$2,172$3,437$0
Birth Family Counseling$1,233$543$0
Birthmother Expenses$3,834$4,274$0
Foster Care$230$38$0
Travel Expenses$1,870$2,285$521
All Other Expenses$4,108$2,488$761
TOTAL$34,012$30,222$2,253
 
Average International Adoption Cost 

 ChinaEthiopiaRussiaSouth KoreaUkraine
Homestudy Fee $2,052$2,107$1,923$2,178$1,886
Document Preparation & Authentication$2,214$1,769$3,258$1,472$1,272
Adoption Agency Application & Program Fees$7,652$11,988$22,173$16,675$6,143
In-Country Adoption Expenses $5,581$1,979$6,709$9,007$13,946
Child's Passport, Visa, Medical Exam, and Other Fees$716$837$1,431$888$1,021
Post-Adoption Expenses$1,576$1,150$1,684$1,775$767
Major Travel Expenses$7,181$7,852$14,748$5,577$9,614
In-Country Travel Expenses$2,704$1,080$6,709$583$2,386
All Other Expenses$2,125$5,363$7,569$8,533$5,000
TOTAL$31,801$34,125$66,204$46,688$42,035

And my personal thoughts after looking at the data:

1) Costliness is yet another factor why I cringe when I hear anyone say "just" adopt!

2)  Adopting through the U.S. Foster Care System seems like a financially prudent way to go about building your family through adoption.

Did you adopt in 2012 or 2013?  Take this year's Adoptive Families Magazine's Cost & Timing of Adoption Survey.  If more than 1,000 parents complete the survey, Adoptive Families will randomly select an adoptive parent and donate $300 to the adoption charity of his or her choice!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

7:12:0 and Two Babies

A few weeks ago we hit a significant milestone of fostering when we entered the "double digits" in the number of children we've fostered.   We welcomed our second sibling group into our home: a newborn baby girl I will be referring to as "Jill" and her 11 month old brother "Jack"- two babies!  Jack and Jill bring the total number of foster placements we've taken into our home to ten and eleven.

I guess you could say that 7:12:0  are my current "stats" for my personal experiences with foster care.*

7 refers to the number of years we've been doing foster care.
12 refers to the number of placements we've taken.
 0 refers to the number of foster placements we've had which have turned into adoptive placements.

We currently have TWO BABIES of different ages in our home and I can't help but be reminded of the first time we had that experience:  Six years ago (about this time of year, incidentally) we were fostering a four month old baby girl and a couple of weeks later we got a call from our adoption agency about our daughter whom we met (along with her birthmother) for the first time in the NICU when she was just three days old.  We were able to officially adopt our daughter six months later, which was about the same time that our foster daughter returned to her parent's care.

Back to our present situation:

My dear mother graciously offered to give me an extra hand for a couple of days this week as I've juggled appointments for both babies with other obligations.  She made the same comment/observation that she made six years ago: It's much more complicated to care for two babies who are not the same age or at the same developmental level than it is to care for twins.  My mother should know as she is both a mother and grandmother of twins.  Needless to say, our home has been extra busy lately and this may be the only time I have to write about our current situation for another few weeks or so.

*Any foster parents care to share YOUR stats in the comments just for fun?