Fostering Again…Oh, the Differences!

fostering-again-transfiguring-adoption-rectangle

After a four and a half year period of not being licensed for foster care, we are back at it. We started out intending to do respite care only in order to give breaks to other foster parents, however, we ended up accepting a placement of siblings after two weekends with them. It is such a different experience this time around! One may think the differences have to do with being with a different agency, in a different state, and accepting a placement much different in many ways from our other placements, but that would not be the case.

The differences are…

…all to do with us! Eight and a half years ago, when Jasmine and Dalton first came to our house, we were newbies who had no real idea what we were getting into. The differences all have to do with our responses.

  • Our response to behaviors – We did not have near the training on trauma and how it impacts behavior that we do now when we first started as foster parents. We typically responded the way most parents respond to negative behaviors and found it backfiring. We have more skills and practical strategies now for helping the kids face challenges due to their trauma. We are more laid back now and choose what behaviors to target more carefully.
  • Our response to warning signs – In terms of behaviors, we have seen far fewer negative behaviors than we did when we first started fostering, and from all I can tell, it’s not because of differences in the children. We are much quicker to spot an oncoming issue and diffuse or redirect before a behavior starts. For the past week, we’ve been on our first family vacation since these kiddos moved in. I have been reminded so much of our first trips with the other kiddos and how hard they were, but this trip has been significantly better than those trips simply because we see that kids are reaching their physical and emotional limits, and we simply call it a day and go back to where we’re staying, even if it’s only lunch time!
  • Our response to symptoms -We are quicker to notice something that may need to be evaluated—physically, behaviorally, or emotionally—and to search out services. I am a lot quicker now to talk to medical professionals when something comes up to weed out potential medical causes to behaviors or symptoms. With time as foster parents, one just knows a little quicker not only that something isn’t right, but we learn where to go to get help and answers.
  • Our response to professionals in the children’s lives – Two situations came up a couple weeks ago where, as a newer foster parent, I may have been angry or upset that something was done that I felt was not the best for the child, but I probably would have thought I could do no more pretty quickly. We’ve always advocated for the children in our care, but I feel with time and experience has come the knowledge of the right words to say and actions to take to push a little harder with better outcomes. As a bonus, as the kids have seen us advocate and follow through on our word, it’s helped them to build more trust in us.

Overall, fostering this time around is much different. Are we doing a perfect job? NO! Are we doing the best we can? There are days I think we could do better. Have we gotten worn out and screwed up and had to go back and fix our mistakes? You bet! But, overall, I feel more prepared and equipped, and that has such a great impact on how successful I feel, and I feel less stressed than I did when we started fostering nine years ago.


fostering-again-transfiguring-adoption-square

What I Hate Most (Today) About Foster Care: 5 Things to Do About It

i-hate-most-about-foster-care-5-things-to-do-about-it-rectangle

At this point in our society, foster care is at times necessary to keep kids safe, and when implemented and utilized correctly, foster care can yield success. But, it is always, at least to some extent, messy, traumatic, and problematic. Anyone involved with foster care hates aspects of it. Professionals and foster parents want to quit often and many do, and the children and birth families want out desperately.

Uncertainty

So many parts of foster care are worthy of disdain, but what I hate most, at least today anyways, is the uncertainty of it. As an adult, I can scarcely wrap my head around the maybe’s, the what if’s, and so on, but what bothers me most is the inability I have as a foster parent to answer those questions, what if’s, maybe’s, and such of the children I am responsible for, those whom I am seeking to give “felt safety” to—a sense of security. I can’t make them any promises for the future.

We live in daily uncertainty. These questions break my heart:

  • Can we have a party at Chuck-E-Cheese for my birthday?
  • Can I be a pirate for Halloween?
  • I do not want to move again! What if I get moved this week? What if they come tomorrow and tell me to pack my bags?
  • What if my parents’ rights are terminated, and I never get to see them again?
  • What if I never see my siblings again?
  • What if my next home (insert something undesirable to the child here)?
  • I miss my house. I miss waking up in my own bed! What if I never get to sleep there again?

There is so much unknown about their futures, and this can drag on for months and years. There is such a feeling of powerlessness and lack of control for us and them.


What Can I Do About Uncertainty?

With my adopted children I can now promise that as long as I’m alive, I am their mom forever, I will keep them in contact with their birth families, I will continue to go to bat for them fighting for their best interests and helping them overcome difficulties from their past. I cannot tell foster kids even what their near future holds. I cannot promise them everyone in their lives will react in certain ways, but there are some things I can do.

  1. Safe Adults – Safe Relationships
    I can seek to help them build trust in safe adults in their lives, so I will not make promises I cannot keep. I will not ensure them that [X] will or will not happen when I cannot guarantee that it will or will not. I will let them know I will do everything in my very limited power to ensure something does or does not happen. I will promise to go to bat for them and fight with everything I can for their best interests. I can make sure the decision makers know how the kids feel and what their wishes are.
  2. Felt Safety and Security
    I can do the best I can to make them feel safe and secure while they’re here and give them hope for their futures, but even for a teen who is just a few years away from escaping, the present is most often too daunting and overwhelming to see past. I can show them examples of adults who were in their shoes who made it.
  3. Assisting With Fears
    I can walk them through their fears, helping them understand the ones which are irrational, and helping them think through what the worst realities could be and what they can do about them. This will help take away the overwhelming power of these fears.
  4. Feel Better With The Little Things
    I can do everything in my power to make them feel just a little better. I can print out pictures for a birth mom and buy her a birthday card when they’re sad they’re missing her birthday. I can arrange sibling visits. I can make sure they have good experiences in my home and document it for them to remember in the future, wherever that future may take them.
  5. Validate Feelings
    I can validate their feelings and provide a listening ear.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What do you hate most about foster care, and what are you doing about it?


i-hate-most-about-foster-care-5-things-to-do-about-it-square

Foster Care and Adoption: 6 Things We Would Have Done Differently

foster-care-adoption-6-things-done-differently-rectangle

This November it has been eight years since our first two kiddos were brought to our door and we plunged into the journey of parenting. We have certainly learned a lot in those eight years! We often get asked if we would do life any differently had we known back then what we know now. The answer is a most emphatic yes!

We were once told by a therapist on an adoptive family retreat that we and the other adoptive parents have got to stop “shoulding on” ourselves, that is to say that we must stop saying, “We should have…” or “We should be…” There’s danger in drowning in oceans of regrets, getting stuck, and not moving forward. BUT, there’s power in learning from our mistakes and sharing them with others, hopefully catching them earlier in their journeys. So, in the hope of helping others earlier in their journey…

Here Is What We Would Have Done Differently.

  1. Asked more questions prior to accepting placement
    I’m not sure if we would have gotten anymore information or that it would have been accurate information, but I wish we would have asked more questions before plunging in with rose-colored glasses. At times, we feel we would have done things differently had we known that we were taking on four children with some very intense, long-term needs, one of which is going to need lifelong care (which was not communicated to us). We often feel we would have done a much better job of helping them heal if we had fewer children to concentrate on and weren’t so busy just trying to keep them all safe and their basic needs met.
  2. Put in place better strategies to encourage attachment and bonding
    There are so many strategies we have learned now, several years into our journey, that we didn’t know when our kids first moved in, and implementing them now would not have the same effect. We “should have” kept our family’s world small, creating a cocoon for bonding to take place in, and not introduced the children quickly to so many people and activities. We “should have” limited physical affection, gifts, and feeding to just us for a period of time.
  3. Been more assertive
    Foster-to-adopt parents are limited in the choices they can make and what they can do until adoption is finalized, and we advocated fiercely for our kids in some areas. But, there were areas in which we “should have” fought harder. The biggest example of this relates to school choice for one of our children. A year after placement, the agency’s education liaison—who’d never met the child, us, or the teachers before—looked at me in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting and said, “You’re not [x’s] mom. You can’t make this decision [regarding what school the child would attend].” I cried, mostly because I wanted to slap him and yell, asking “And who’s fault is that? After your agency hasn’t completed the adoption in 15 months!” The school social worker called later to check on me after what she declared the worst IEP meeting she had ever attended. I stopped fighting and later found out I had more rights than I knew. The child, who was thriving and growing in the school we had placed the child in the first year, flatlined at the school the agency chose and really has not progressed much at all in the 6 years since. I “should have” been more assertive.
  4. Pushed for more evaluations
    There are answers to our children’s challenges that we have just had answered in the last year or so, and looking back, I wish I would have asked for more evaluations earlier on so we could have implemented more interventions years ago.
  5. Not used typical parenting strategies
    In the early days of parenting, we used typical, mainstream parenting strategies, such as time-outs, rewards, and punishment. These were so ineffective, and we didn’t learn until at least a couple years into our journey why typical parenting strategies do not work with traumatized children, nor did we know what strategies would work better. Reading The Connected Child by Dr. Purvis, Dr. Cross, and Wendy Sunshine and Adopting the Hurt Child by Keck and Kupecky revolutionized our parenting strategies and changed our family, and I try to revisit them as often as possible to ensure I don’t fall back into old habits.
  6. Not sweat the small stuff, picked our battles, and set the bar low
    So I know that is a string of cliches, but making big deals out of small behaviors, taking on too many problematic behaviors at once, and expecting more age-appropriate behavior out of our children back when we didn’t know better definitely did not help bonding, attachment, and healing. We would have pretty well put aside homework battles, held kids that were “too big,” worked on big problems one by one, and so on had we known then what we know now.

I’m not sure how our family’s life would look had we done these six things differently. I can imagine several different outcomes. I know we can only be responsible for what we know at any given time…I just sure wish I would have known more eight years ago. I hope others can learn these lessons before we did on their journeys.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What would you have done differently early in your foster care or adoption journey had you known then what you know now? Share so others can learn from your experiences.

foster-care-adoption-6-things-done-differently-square