8 Suggestions for Successfully Clothing a Foster or Adoptive Child

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Parents want their children, especially foster and adoptive children—who can tend be targets of stereotypes, bullying, and judgement—to look well taken care of and to feel good about what they are wearing. This can prove a major undertaking for most families, but it can prove especially challenging for foster and adoptive families. Let’s take a look at the added obstacles that impede keeping foster or adoptive children looking like they are provided for.


Barriers Foster and Adoptive Parents Face When Clothing Their Kids and Resources to Overcome Them

  1. Sensory Issues
    Often children who have been through childhood trauma also have special needs like sensory processing disorder or autism which may affect what clothing a child can tolerate wearing. In our home, we have experienced several different issues related to clothing a child will or will not wear. We had one child who developed a sudden aversion to the feeling of jeans. This was of course right after Christmas when we had purchased several new pairs of jeans. The child would scream at the mention of jeans and demand “soft pants.” We suddenly needed clothing that did not feel like torture to the child’s senses. Realize that these children physically sense touch differently and work with them to accommodate their needs and make them comfortable. You will gain their trust, and over time, some issues may be remedied. See #8 for more on how to financially withstand this!
  2. Sentimental Items
    Oftentimes children in foster care or who were adopted have experienced a lot of loss, so it is easy to understand how they may become especially attached to items that were given to them by someone special or items that have some special meaning to them. These items may smell horrible or have holes or stains, but the child may hang on to these clothes as if their very life depended on it and refuse to even let them be washed.Tread lightly here. Do not create more loss. You may just have to allow the child to use the item the way it is, but you may be able to work together with the child to try to find solutions. You can wash or repair the items together. You can find another way the child can feel close to the person while saving the item in a special place.
  3. Control Battles
    Children whose lives seem out of control to them seek any kind of control they can, whether it’s how or where they eat or use the bathroom or what they wear. Clothing is an area where they may really dig their feet in and stand their ground leading to some major control battles. Choose your battles wisely! Foster and adoptive children face so many struggles, and what they wear is often at the bottom of the list of priorities.
  4. Differences in Cultural Norms
    How your family dresses and how your child’s first family dresses may vary widely. What is unacceptable at your house may have been perfectly acceptable at theirs. There can often be so many issues being tackled at once that this is just one more area where a child can feel grief and loss or a feeling like they cannot do anything right. This is a good time to work on compromises. You can show the child a variety of clothing items that will fit the intended purpose and allow them to pick from them. You can alter an outfit to make it acceptable (i.e., a shirt or leggings worn underneath revealing clothes). OR, you may just need to deal with letting them bend your rules a bit when there are more important issues at hand!
  5. Self-esteem Issues
    Often children who have endured trauma experience low self-esteem and low self-worth. They often view themselves as unworthy, and this includes feeling unworthy of nice clothes. They may not wear them because they feel unworthy. They may destroy or hide them. Helping the child gain confidence and self-worth is a whole other but vital area to work on. Repeated mantras that teach them they deserve to be cared for, that they are a valuable member of the family, and that they are provided for will help over time.
  6. Stolen or Unreturned Items
    You may find items disappearing. This can be particularly problematic if a child visits other family members who send them back in old clothes and sell or keep the clothes you sent them in. Foster parents often dress kiddos up nicely to visit their birth parents and get angry when they are returned in tattered or too small/big (or both) clothes.If you find this to be a problem, have a stash of clothes that you do not care so much about. You may send a child on visitation with clothes the family sent them back to your home in, and you may need to enlist the help of someone supervising the visits.
  7. Destroyed Items
    Children who have come from trauma may struggle behaviorally with rages and meltdowns. We have had many a cut or torn piece of clothing during moments when a child was unable to regulate their emotions and became destructive as a result. Teaching coping mechanisms takes time. Be willing to learn new skills in helping children learn to regulate their emotions and how to de-escalate situations. Redirection of behavior towards objects that are less valuable can ease some of the destruction. Some parents have found it necessary to remove extra clothes from a child’s room and place them elsewhere to protect the child (It’s amazing how dangerous clothing items can be to a child with self-harm behaviors.) and the clothes during fits of rage.
  8. Cost
    All kids grow and need new clothes, but foster and adoptive parents especially may face huge challenges when it comes to keeping their kids clothed because of all the aforementioned reasons and also because they often receive children into their home with little to no belongings. It is very costly just to provide all the basic clothing items needed for a child. Sometimes foster children who are just entering the foster care system receive a one-time clothing allotment from the state to purchase some basics, and some states or agencies provide a clothing allowance, but it often does not even come close to meeting the financial needs of everything from shoes, underclothing, belts, pants, shirts, coats, and so on. (See the HITTING THE M.A.R.C. – Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children study for a look at how foster care subsidies do not adequately meet the basic needs of a child let alone “keep up with the Joneses.”) Children who enter foster care or adoption often have experienced a lack of well-fitting and maintained clothing items. It can mean the world to them to go pick out a new outfit of their choice, and I highly suggest doing this! However, I know that it’s often not feasible to get everything new, though I do teach my kids how to find new clothes on the clearance racks for thrift store prices! This is where networking with other foster and adoptive parents in your area can become invaluable. Many locations have clothing and supply closets for foster families to utilize when they receive a new placement. Transfiguring Adoption has been compiling lists of places around the country that provide this type of service. See our Supplies, Services and Wishes Page (on our resources tab) for this list and more! Find a community of support from families like yours and trade supplies if a clothing closet is not available. Social media groups are a great place for requesting needed items and offering those your family no longer needs. 

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What barriers have you faced?
  2. How have you overcome these barriers?

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When Self-Care Means Sacrifice and Not Merely Survival

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At Transfiguring Adoption, we always say we strive to be the oxygen mask for caregivers, but I openly admit that I fail to put mine on all the time. And everyone suffers! As an introvert, I can usually recover when I get a chance at some quiet, but what happens when the quiet doesn’t come for too long?


Survival Mode Doesn’t Truly Equal Survival

When we received temporary placement of two kiddos at the beginning of the summer, we went in to “survival mode,” a just-make-it-through-the-summer-until-they-find-a-placement type of daily existence. We did well and employed some of our best trauma-based care techniques, and all the kids, adopted and foster alike, were growing and doing well.

But were we?

We went out for a couple hours one night over the summer and came back to some major issues and didn’t get any more time alone or alone together. We became so exhausted that all our fave parenting techniques started flying out the window. School started, but so did IEP and support team meetings, parent teacher conferences, emergency calls for sick, misbehaving, or wet kids, and fall began another convention season, meaning any respite we took was used for work purposes. And our temporary placements were still here.

We found ourselves sinking in survival mode, not truly even surviving anymore. We determined that we needed to begin building in some supports so that we could continue to provide a home for our foster children and be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for all our kids. We decided we definitely needed to have afterschool care so that we could continue to work and get things done beyond 2:45 each day, so we put the elementary kids in afterschool care at school, and we hired someone to come into our house to help the teens with homework and other tasks around the house. Was this really in the budget? Well, no, not really, but the sacrifice meant a bit more sanity for us all and ultimately our survival as a family for the time being.

This didn’t fully solve the problem. We may have been getting more done and feeling better about that, but working isn’t really self-care. After a few more months, we were no longer therapeutic parents. I’m not even sure I’d say we were decent foster/adoptive parents. A week or so before our placements left, one looked at me and said, “You guys have changed,” and she was right. We were so burnt out, so exhausted, that we had much lower thresholds for what we could handle patiently and therapeutically. We couldn’t even tap out for each other anymore.

Looking back, I would have started building more supports in over the summer. I would have sacrificed any penny possible to be sure we got time to ourselves to be us and refuel and refresh because the reality is, when we fail to put on our oxygen masks, we stop being what our kids need. Neither they nor we are truly surviving. We sink when we stay in survival mode for too long.


Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What supports have you built in to ensure you can continue to be what your kids need you to be?
  2. How do you know when you need a break?

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Fostering Again…Oh, the Differences!

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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.


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