Saturday, April 23, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase GIVEAWAY WINNER!

According to Random.Org, the Giveaway WINNER for a free copy of the memoir Garbage Bag Suitcase is . . . 

 Comment #6 (I didn't count Shenandoah's comment):

CONGRATULATIONS, Suzanne!  I'll be contacting you shortly.

Thank You to all who entered- it is fun to read about how foster care or adoption has affected your lives (or maybe it hasn't necessarily, but you were looking for a good read!)

It also occurred to me that the title of this post is something of a misnomer as the winner of the Giveaway didn't actually win a Garbage Bag Suitcase, but a book by that title!

Q:  When should a garbage bag be used as a suitcase?
A:  Hopefully, NEVER!  Which is why I am  always pleased to hear about organizations such as Together We Rise and Case For Character which work to ensure that no foster child has to use a trash bag to store their belongings when they are removed from their home.

Thank you again, Shen, for sharing your story and to JKS Communications for providing a copy of your memoir to my Giveaway Winner.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase Book Review and GIVEAWAY

I recently finished reading a memoir sadly yet appropriately titled Garbage Bag Suitcase  written by a woman who suffered a childhood of neglect and abuse because of her parent's drug addiction and alcoholism.

Of her early childhood memories Shenandoah Chefalo recounts,

"Already I was wishing myself out of being raised by my parents. When they were home, I spent most of my time locked in my room, hiding, talking to imaginary and stuffed friends.  I daydreamed about becoming an orphan, and being taken away to live with a real family." (p. 27)

Not only did I want to take young Shenandoah under my wing and into my own home as I read about what she experienced as a child, but I also felt compelled to show some extra compassion and affection to my own children while reading her memoir.

Eventually Shenandoah got her wish of living with a family who offered her the safety, security, and calmness she was not able to experience with her own family.  As a young teenager Shenandoah spent a summer with her mother's older sister and a cousin close to her age in their California home.  Of the normalcy and routine of her new home environment, Shenandoah noted:

"In their house, schedules ran like they did on the TV shows that I watched and had longed to be a part of, like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch.  There was a dinner with a set dinnertime, and a standard bedtime with lights out.  Conversations included things like, "How was your day?" and "What did you do today?"  

These things, the questions, which absolutely irritated Michelle [her cousin] and made her feel like her mom was being overprotective and overbearing, made me swoon with delight.  Somebody who cared about what I was thinking and doing?  Someone who was thoughtful enough to put food on the table for me every day?  Sign me up!" (p.59)

Unfortunately, living with her cousin and aunt only offered a temporary refuge.  Shenandoah had returned "home" from her trip to California with essentially no home to go to and no parents to care for her as her mother had {once again} abandoned her.   Staying with her birth father or step dad were not options either.  After a short stay with her grandmother, Shenandoah entered the foster system when she was 13 years old- by her own choice nonetheless!

Shenandoah first lived with another aunt who was a foster parent before eventually moving into another foster home an hour away in a small and unfamiliar farming community because her aunt thought that home and family would be a better fit for her niece.  As with the many other moves Shenandoah was forced to make in her life, she was accompanied, once again, by her garbage bag suitcase and her stuffed animal and best friend, Love Bunny.

I wish I could tell you that Shenandoah was welcomed into a loving home by a wonderful family but that was not the case.  In fact, her foster family is the exact type of family that gives other foster families (the rest of us!) a bad name.  She recounts her next move this way:

"I assumed that families or couples who were taking in foster kids would be top-notch.  Surely someone who had gone through vigorous training, underwent state background checks, and had a caseworker checking in on them regularly would be the greatest parents of all.

     What I hadn't realized or taken into account was that the system is broken,  There are hundreds of thousands of kids in care, and very few options on where to place or even house them.  Caseworkers change monthly, sometimes more frequently.  I lost count of the number of caseworkers I had after receiving three different ones in the span of two months.  Just when I thought I could trust one to share what was really happening in my life, a new one would take over.  My fear of abandonment amplified with each change.  Because the family who was chosen for me had three children of their own, and other foster kids, it was clear that I was not there for them to dote on me like the long-lost daughter they had always wanted.

I had one purpose I soon discovered, and that was to help pay the bills.  I had become a paycheck."  (p.74-75)

Evidently there are foster families that take children into their homes just for the money.  Sad, but true.  When Shenandoah got a job at a grocery store her paycheck didn't go to herself but to her foster family to cover "expenses".  That fact alone speaks VOLUMES about the character of her foster family.

I think it is essential as part of the screening processes for foster families prior to becoming licensed to require proof (by paycheck stub or tax return) that a family can support themselves without having to rely on any public assistance or from using monthly reimbursements meant to cover the costs of caring for their foster children. 

I was heartbroken for Shenandoah when she was hospitalized following a very serious car accident and she was left to recover in the hospital for three weeks pretty much by herself since her foster family didn't bother to stay with her.  To make matters worse, during her recovery in the hospital she received a card from her estranged birth mother reading, "This could have turned out much better if you'd had died!"

WHAT?! That alone tells you all you need to know about what kind of care (or rather, lack of care) Shenandoah received in her youth. 

As though I weren't disgusted enough with Shenandoah's second foster family I was furious to read about how they continued to ask her for money even AFTER she left their care and was trying to support herself in college through working and student loans.  This leads me to some good news:

Shenandoah aged out of the foster care system and I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "aging out" dismal statistics come to my mind, including high rates of homelessness and incarceration.  Although Shenandoah aged out of the system she beat the odds- not only did she go on to college but she became part of the 1% of foster children who actually graduate from college! Today she is a successful businesswoman and Life Coach who volunteers with many organizations. Shenandoah is also married and has a daughter.

To learn more about Shenandoah Chefalo Click HERE.

Shenandoah has shared her story not only to inspire others who have been through or find themselves in a similar experience- but she has the desire to create an open and honest discussion about what it's like to be a child in the foster care system.  Not only does she address the challenges and disruptions that youth in foster care face but in the second half of her memoir she presents possible solutions.   (That is another topic worthy of a separate blog post!)

I would love for a copy of Garbage Bag Suitcase to get into the hands of a social worker or foster parent.  Better yet, I would love to get a copy into the hands of a youth in foster care!  For that reason, I am sponsoring a Giveaway for a free copy of this book which will be mailed directly to the winner from the publisher.


-Entries limited to the U.S.
-To enter, simply leave a comment on this post with your name (your first name will suffice)

BONUS ENTRY:  SHARE about this giveaway on social media and comment where or how you shared

A random winner will be selected by RANDOM.ORG.  I will contact you and get your mailing info for your FREE COPY of Shenandoah's memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase.

This GIVEAWAY has OFFICIALLY STARTED and will end April 22, 2016 at midnight MST.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wisdom from Dr. Karyn Purvis

Five years ago I heard Dr. Karyn Purvis speak at a conference and I was so impressed by her that I wrote about it.  I even went so far as to call her a "hero". 

It wasn't just her broad knowledge of and vast experiences caring for children who come from hard places which impressed me about Dr. Purvis, but her sincere desire and passion she had for giving such children a voice.  I left that conference with a renewed strength and desire to love any child in my care as vigilantly as she has shown can be done and to make a conscious effort to see beyond any behavior or barriers to attachment.

Yesterday I learned that one of my heroes had died as Dr. Purvis passed away after battling cancer.

Dr. Purvis has been a champion for many young people and a great role model and mentor to many others who strive to care for and understand these children.  I am confident that her legacy will continue to bless the lives of many.  

Here are some gems of wisdom Dr. Purvis has taught others. Ironically, many of these teachings and discoveries go right along with topics I explored in my two previous posts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Intro to Emotion Coaching

In my last post I wrote about the undeniable relationship between trauma and brain development.  I also posed the question:

"How can we apply it* to the way we parent, discipline, or teach the children entrusted to our care?" 

*["it" meaning the knowledge of a connection between trauma, brain development, and survival mechanisms children coming from traumatic backgrounds often exhibit.]

I have some GOOD NEWS because last year I attended a training on Dr. John and Dr. Julia Gottman's "Emotion Coaching" which answers this exact question by teaching parents skills of how to be better attuned to their children's needs.  

You'll notice that I didn't necessarily say, "How to FIX your child's behavior" but rather, how to be better attuned to your child's needs.  You see, behind every behavior is a NEED or EMOTION and unless you are aware of that, then fixing any behavior is just putting a temporary band-aid on the problem without getting to the route of things.  However, just as healthier eating is more likely to result in weight loss, being an Emotion-Coaching parent is more likely to result in less behavioral problems in our children because their emotional needs are being met.

While I'm on the subject, let me also take this opportunity to say that one advantage to being a licensed foster parent is that I am required to attend classes and trainings in order to keep my license current. Sometimes I go to the trainings just for the purpose of getting my hours in and I end up grumbling because it's something I am required to do, but other times I come away from a particular training thinking, "ALL parents could benefit from this!  Better yet, it was free training- I didn't even have to pay for a big conference fee for what I just learned."  Yes, there are occasional perks of fostering.  Last year when I attended the training on Emotion Coaching was one such example.

I remember first being introduced to Dr. John Gottman's work in college when we did some required reading for a course on Marriage and Family Relations.  My professor happened to be one of Dr. Gottman's former students at the University of Washington and when he told us about his former professor- a psychologist who, with his team of researchers, would analyze couples in a home-like setting and could predict divorce rates with amazing accuracy based solely on observing how couples interacted with each other I became an immediate fan of the Gottman Institute and Gottman's research.

What I didn't realize (or didn't remember) until I attended last year's Emotion Coaching Training is that Gottman not only focuses on marital relationships but on PARENTING as well!  If you are familiar with John Gottman's research about what factors make marriages thrive (and conversely, what behaviors lead to divorce, (e.g. The Four Horsemen of the Apocolpyse) then it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that these same behaviors apply to any relationship- not just marriage.

I must admit I didn't know much about his wife's work either until this particular training in which we watched her present through some video clips. Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is an accomplished psychologist in her own right.


Here is a definition taken from this complimentary workbook I got at the training:

In a nutshell, the concept behind emotion coaching is for parents and children to realize that EMOTIONS AREN'T WRONG, but not all behaviors are acceptable.  Therefore, the emotion surrounding the behavior needs to be addressed before any possible troubling behaviors can be addressed.

There are five steps to Emotion Coaching, which are:

Step 1: Be aware of your child's emotions.
Step 2:  Recognize emotion as opportunities to connect or teach.
Step 3:  Help your child verbally label emotions.
Step 4:  Communicate empathy and understanding.
Step 5:  Set limits and problem solve.

The goal of emotion coaching is for parents "to respond with empathy and understanding while setting limits on negative behaviors." -p. 23 of Emotion Coaching booklet.

Because this post is only an INTRO to emotion coaching I am going to focus primarily on the first step:

1.  Be Aware of Your Child's Emotions.

(I couldn't resist)

Guess what?  If you aren't aware of your own emotions then you will not be able to be aware of other's emotions simply because You can't teach something unless you have mastered it yourself.

In light of this fact, we did a few exercises from the workbook at my training which helped us to realize what "triggers" us as parents to experience high-intensity emotions.  Examples of "triggers" for me include: mornings in general when I'm trying to get all my children fed, bathed, and for those who go to school- out the door, and anytime I feel like I am "rushed".  Such instances are particularly stressful for me and I find my patience being tested as a parent.

Just as important as understanding one's own emotions is reflecting upon how your own parents or caregivers handled your emotions while you were growing up: Were they dismissing, disapproving, or emotion coaching?  In other words, did you feel comfortable expressing your emotions to them? Were there some emotions that were "okay" to express but others that weren't?  Did your parents acknowledge your emotions or did they dismiss them or even go so far as shaming you for expressing certain emotions?  Were you more comfortable going to one parent than another?  All of these are important questions to explore because they can help us gain insight into why we do (or don't do) some of the things we do as parents.  It was interesting for me, personally, to do some of the exercises in the workbook and recall patterns in how each of my parents raised me.

I also readily admit that I became slightly worried when I was able to acknowledge certain times in my own parenting career when I have been less than stellar as a parent and I would imagine in my mind the worst-case outcome: My children in therapy in the future recounting how their mean mom yelled at them that one time or didn't take the time to fully listen to them and how it ruined their life! I'm exaggerating- but only slightly.  Parenting can be full of so much guilt.

However,  even if you're not a perfect parent or you didn't have a perfect upbringing there is HOPE!  Emotion Coaching, like any skill, takes practice to master.  I was so reassured when I read the following paragraph in my workbook that I made note of it:

Because the Gottmans stress the importance of raising emotionally intelligent children it was not too much of a surprise to learn that they have worked closely with Dr. Dan Siegel, author of books such as The Whole Brain Child and Parenting from the Inside Out.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child is the name of John Gottman's book which addresses emotion coaching.

Now for a brief example of actually applying what I learned about being an emotion-coaching parent:

Just this week, I was frustrated with my 8 year old daughter when, for the second day in a row, she became sassy and resistant when I reminded her that she needed to get her homework done before she could have any more screen time or play dates.  The more I nagged her the worse her behavior got; the worse her behavior got the more frustrated and angry I became.

After I cooled down a bit, it dawned on me that the issue of how my daughter was feeling about her homework should be more important to me than her actually completing her homework. (See what I mean about how it's important for you to be aware of any emotions, issues, or beliefs you might have first before trying to help others regulate their emotions)?  

I knew my daughter wasn't happy- that was obvious [Step 1] so in an effort to find out more I asked her, "So, what exactly is it about doing your homework right now that is bugging you so much?"  (Looking back, I guess that would be skipping to Step 3).  IMMEDIATELY I noticed a difference in her countenance and tone of voice simply from the fact that I was inviting her to tell me how she felt about things rather than telling her what she should do.  She simply answered, "My homework is boring." in a calm and matter-of-fact voice.

I imagine that a skilled emotion coaching parent would go on to validate their child's feelings by saying something next like, "I hate doing boring things, too!  I get so sick of washing the dishes day after day." and then move onto the final step of problem solving.  [Step 5]  I must admit that I was a little slow with the process and was just glad to have some peace for a moment when she told  me what the real issue was without talking back so I was just quiet for a moment and let things soak in.  

I think I did eventually say something like, "Even though you don't want to do your homework I'll let you choose which assignment you want to do first."  Yes, there may have been more creative or effective ways to deal with the issue- better yet helping my daughter to come up with a solution herself- but I was just happy that I had the sense to calm down and give my daughter a chance to express her emotions even if I may have still been trying to "fix" things.

I also realize that it says a lot about me that I was more concerned about my daughter finishing an assignment than I was about her actually being interested in what she's learning.  In fact, I think that's why I was so annoyed- because I knew she could do it and I value when people are dutiful and responsible and get things done.  Certainly brings up a good discussion of what constitutes true education- following up with an assignment and learning to be responsible even if it is just busywork or actually developing a love of learning.

One last thought about Emotion Coaching: In retrospect, sometimes it's okay NOT to have to fix things or come up with a solution right away.  Sometimes it's okay just to be there for your child and to validate their feelings.  (Easier said than done for those of us who want to make everything all better!)  Here are two examples that illustrate the skill of validating a child without dismissing the way they're feeling or trying to "fix" things:

"Name it to Tame it"is a strategy Dan Siegel teaches.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Behind the Behaviors

I recently attended the last half of a required training for foster adoptive parents called "PATH" which is an acronym for "Parents As Tender Healers".  This training was essentially 40 hours of training condensed into 8 hours and the purpose was to lower the amount of disrupted placements in foster adoptive homes.  

Preventing or decreasing disrupted placements is KIND OF A BIG DEAL, so that being said, if I could choose just one part of that training to pass on to other foster and adoptive families, it would be a few pages of the 200 plus page booklet which listed behaviors which children coming from a background of trauma might exhibit AND- this is the most crucial part: the underlying emotional issues behind those behaviors.

Although the connection between behaviors and underlying trauma isn't necessarily new to me, I was drawn to a table in the training booklet which outlined common survival behaviors with corresponding underlying emotional issues.  I guess I prefer for things to be presented as simply and orderly as possible which is why I appreciated the table.

Speaking of the connection between brain development, underlying trauma, behavioral issues, and discipline/parenting strategies, there are a couple of common denominators which I've read or learned about in the work of such professionals as Karyn Purvis, Dan Siegel, John and Julia Gottman, Bruce Perry, and Heather Forbes:

1)  A child's behavior is a symptom of an underlying cause.

As a parent, teacher, or caregiver, this can be hard to keep in mind ALL the time because (at least for me) I feel like my first objective when a child "misbehaves" is to "fix" the behavior of the child.

For example, if I find myself bothered because a child is continually talking back/lying/being aggressive towards others my first instinct is often to say, "Hey- that's not acceptable.  We don't do that in our house!"  After all, isn't one of the objectives of parenting to raise well-adjusted, upstanding citizens who can become contributing members of society (or, in the least, function in society without a criminal record)?

The second thing I've learned from the professionals I listed above is that:

2)  Neurobiology cannot be ignored.

Anybody who has studied attachment and trauma knows that individuals who go through a traumatic event will experience changes in their brain development and wiring.  These brain scans are one stark example: 

So when we take these two truths together:

 1) A child's behavior is a symptom of an underlying cause 


2) Neurobiology cannot be ignored

 How can we apply it to the way we parent, discipline, or teach the children entrusted to our care?

I'm still learning, but the most important thing for me to remember is this:

Behind someone's behavior is a underlying issue or to put it another way- a SURVIVAL MECHANISM- so deeply wired into their brain that "logic" or "manners" or any action which first requires higher thinking and reasoning skills is placed on the back burner (if accessing such higher functions in the brain is possible, that is) so that survival can take over.  It is our job as caregivers to "decode" the need behind a child's behavior.

If you have 10-12 minutes watch THIS clip.  Yes, it's outdated and the musical interludes are cheesy, but it is specifically aimed towards training resource parents and it makes the point that behind every behavior is a need.

I was going to photograph and display on this post the pages from my PATH booklet of the table entitled, "Underlying Emotional Issues of Survival Behaviors", but the results were not the best picture quality so I will transcribe them here.  (Plus, I re-wrote them in alphabetical order for easier referencing 'cause I'm nerdy like that)!

I like to consider the following list a "Cliff's Notes Version/Reference Manual" for Foster Parents.  As you will see, some of these behaviors have a more obvious cause than others.


Aggressiveness ---> Fear of becoming attached.  "I'll hurt you before you can hurt me."  "I can control the situation or influence outcomes by being aggressive."  Aggressiveness may also reflect the lack of previous parental limits on this type of behavior.  

Anger/Depression---> A response to an overwhelming trauma and loss.  Underlying tension that cannot be identified or described in words: "I am angry over what has happened to me.  I'm afraid to get close to you.  You may hurt me, too.  I won't relate to you, and that way I won't have to care about you."

Difficulty at School ---> May indicate learning impairments.  If the child is significantly behind in school, he or she might act out behaviorally as a way to distract parents and teachers from poor academic performance.  Children who have had many placements may have more difficulty adjusting to a new school setting where expectations are different.  Children who don't sleep well may experience irritability and inattentiveness at school.  Children who have difficulty with peers often experience behavioral problems in school as a result of not knowing how to problem-solve.

Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse --->  An attempt to numb painful memories and thoughts.  They may have had direct contact with drugs and/or alcohol in their birth homes.  Some experimentation with alcohol or drugs is typical, especially in adolescence.  Children may think it is a way to escape problems.

Enuresis (wetting, bed wetting) and Encopresis (bowel control problems, soiling)---> Fear of abuse (may have been molested at night).  Protection: "If I am smelly, you won't get too close"
Bed-wetting can be a symptom of physical or sexual abuse.  It can also be a reaction to separation from birth parents.  These behaviors may also be a result of inappropriate toilet training or medical problems.  Generally physical/medical causes should be considered first and ruled out before considering/concluding child abuse.

Foul Language ---> Fear of appearing weak (and therefore a target).  Children may have heard adults or others in their birth homes using foul language; they understand that cursing is a good way to appear strong and tough or to get the attention of an adult even if it is negative attention.

Hoarding ---> Fear of being out of control.  Fear of not having enough food or necessities: "I never was able to count on having enough food, security, or other resources.  I think of the world as scarce, and I need to make sure my needs will be met."

Impulsivity ---> A feature of trauma reaction.  The child has learned that things are always unpredictable; may not have learned restraint or respect for boundaries. 

Lying and Stealing ---> Conflict in values.  "What I learned through my birth family and through the system is very different from your family.  If I tell the truth, I may be hurt.  I've got to take what I need in order to care for myself."

Needy/Clingy ---> A feature of trauma reaction.  The child is very anxious and needs to involve adults as a way of knowing what's going on or a way to feel safe.  Clinginess may also be a symptom of low self-esteem; it's difficult for the child to find out what he or she is good at and how to pursue those activities.

Over Active ---> A feature of trauma reaction.  The child has learned that staying busy distracts you from your frightening thoughts.  Sleepiness can cause children to exhibit excess energy.

Over-competency --->  Need for control: "I don't trust that you can take care of me (or my siblings) so I'll have to do it myself."

Running Away ---> Fear of abuse or becoming attached to someone other than their birth family for fear of being disloyal or fear of being vulnerable: "I'll leave you before you can reject me."  Some children find it easier to avoid (or "run away" from) stressful or difficult situations than to try to work through them.  Other children simply want to return to their birth home and they may think that by running they will be more quickly reunited with family.  Running away may be an attention-seeking behavior or a way to hurt the foster adoptive parent.

Self-injurious behavior ---> Low self-esteem, lack of coping skills, depression, or suicidal feelings.  May include scratching, kicking, biting, or cutting oneself: 'I feel somehow responsible and ashamed of what has happened to me."  This behavior gives children a sense of relief: "I can control when I get hurt."

Separation Anxiety ---> Emotional or developmental delays.  "You will leave me- just like everyone else has."

Sexualized Behavior---> Sexual abuse victim or witness.  "This is the only way I know to get close."

Testing and Control Battles/Temper Tantrums ----> Most adults are unpredictable, and may over- or under-react to a situation, which leads to the child's attempt to control situations: "I feel like my life is out of control, so, I'll try to control you and everything else!"  Some children have never had consistent expectations placed on them.  As a result, they have learned to fend for themselves. Temper tantrums can be a sign that a child is tired, hungry, angry, or frustrated.  Children may throw tantrums as a means to get attention, to get their own way, to hurt others if they feel hurt, or to get others to leave them alone.

Trouble Sleeping at Night --->  Fear of being in a new place.  Memories/nightmares of abuse.  Missing the birth family.  The inability to sleep is related to depressive disorders.  Difficulty sleeping at night may also indicate medication side effects, a fear of trauma reaction.

Withdrawal from Relationships ---> Fear of becoming attached or hurt: "I won't relate to you, and that way I won't have to care about you."

This is the reference for the above list,  taken from pages 59-61 of this book:

Incidentally, I came across two quotes within a day after attending my PATH Training and I feel it's appropriate to share them here:

A friend of mine, who happens to be a foster parent as well as a pre-school teacher (lots of patience required for both roles!) shared this one on Facebook:

This next quote comes from an AdoptUSKids Publication, "Understanding Trauma":

The phrase "bad kid" also reminded me of another quote which is applicable to any parent but especially pertinent to parents with children who have special needs and/or foster adoptive families who may have children coming into their homes who literally cannot master impulse control (or have to work twice as hard as the general population does in certain areas of development) because their brain wiring has been affected by neglect, Shaken Baby Syndrome, drug exposure, or the tragic consequences of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

What is particularly hard for such parents is if their child looks "normal" on the outside (because not everyone who suffers from FASD will exhibit all of the obvious facial features, for example) and the impulsive behavior or lack of attention in their child gets equated with "poor parenting" or the child gets unjustly labeled as a "bad" kid.