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5 Ways Foster Children Are Like Dobby the House Elf – Chapter 2 – Parent Discussion

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In Chapter 2 we are introduced to Dobby the house elf. This is Harry’s first encounter with a house elf, and he seems quite perplexed by this strange creature and its odd behaviors and responses to the way Harry treats him. As I read, I began to mull over some of Dobby’s behaviors and responses, even his life, as compared to the behaviors, responses, and lives of children in foster care.

How are foster children like Dobby the house elf?

  1. Dobby cannot believe how well Harry treats him. His experience with wizards has been very negative up until this point. Foster kids’ past experience with caregivers, in or out of the foster care system, may have been negative or limited. They may not know how to handle what others would consider ‘normal’ treatment of a child. They may be used to being the adult or caretaker even as a young child, or they may be accustomed to being hurt. Dobby loses it when Harry treats him as an equal and not as a lesser being there only to serve wizards. Similarly, foster and adoptive children may act strangely and create chaos when treated as a child should be treated.

  2. In the midst of their confrontation, Dobby begins punishing himself because he says he almost spoke ill of his family. He feels his loyalty being torn between the family he comes from and this young boy he adores. Foster children are often caught between two homes, two families, both of whom love (or should love) them. They can feel guilty or like they are being disloyal to one household by loving the other. It can be a very confusing and tough situation for them to be in. They may act or be angry or exhibit other emotions as they consciously or subconsciously struggle through these feelings.

  3. Dobby calls himself “bad.” Children from rough beginnings come to foster or adoptive homes with all types of labels, some which they’ve assigned themselves and others which they’ve been called repeatedly by adults. Two of our children came to our home with preconceived notions of who they were: one was “stupid” and one was “bad.” In an everyday conversation it even came up that one of the children thought it was his fault that the kids were removed from their biological home. As foster and adoptive parents, we often have our work cut out for us as we try to erase these self (or other) imposed labels from our kiddos.

  4. House elves must be “set free.” They are bound to the family they serve, as a foster child is bound to the child welfare system as a ward of the state until they achieve permanency, whether that means they are reunified with their birth family, find another permanent home, or they age out of the system when they become adults. What a helpless feeling!! Furthermore, being bound to the foster care system can have tragic results. History has taught us that servants who are set free most often do not have the skills needed to make a life for themselves, and they have scars from their experiences while bound to their masters. For the tens of thousands of children who are set free by aging out of the system each year, their futures look bleak without the familial support system young adults need. Around the country, organizations like the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative are working to improve the situation for emancipated youth.
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  5. I chuckled at Dobby’s use of manipulation to try to get Harry to not want to go back to Hogwarts first and his later outright bad behavior used to frame Harry. Again, I thought of our kiddos and others from traumatic backgrounds. You find children who may not be able to read or write, children who may have multiple disabilities, but yet they have the street smarts of an adult and the ability to manipulate situations to their advantage. In the moment, as the caregiver and target, it is easy to be overwhelmed with anger and hurt as I’m sure Harry feels toward Dobby by the end of chapter 2. Dobby’s actions have seemingly cost Harry Potter everything important to him. The difference here between the house elf and the hurt child is that Dobby knew exactly what he was doing and why.
    For the foster or adoptive child, it’s a bit more complex. Sometimes they know what they are doing is wrong, and other times they do not. They often do not have a good moral compass because their behaviors in the past produced inconsistent consequences or no consequences at all. Also, their situations have caused them to be in survival mode, doing what needs to be done to make sure their own basic needs are met. They can be unbelievably cunning and charming.


Dobby’s character is one that many Harry Potter fans come to love throughout the books. He rises above his circumstances and does great things. Oh, how I hope for the same for all children from rough starts!

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Parent Discussions: 

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04

Kids’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12

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5 Considerations for Your Foster or Adoptive Child’s Birthday – Chapter 1 – Parent’s Discussion

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The Chamber of Secrets begins with a chapter entitled “Worst Birthday.” Harry Potter is to spend his birthday not receiving any cards or presents and in fact is told he will be spending the night in his room pretending that he does not exist as his aunt and uncle entertain guests. Harry felt a loneliness worse than any he’d ever experienced before. While his friends were off with their families, and his family dines on a delectable dinner with a beautiful dessert awaiting them, Harry sits alone with a measly couple pieces of bread digesting in his mostly empty belly.

“Like Harry, foster children may see their peer’s extravagant birthday celebrations and long for just a small bit of recognition.”

Once while perusing online I stumbled upon a counter that was ticking away missed birthdays of children in foster care for the year. The number was staggering, and while I’ve not been able to find it recently during searches, it left a lasting impact on my heart. Just like Harry, children in foster care or institutions are not experiencing a normal childhood, and many have NEVER experienced a birthday cake or party, playing in a little league sport, having sleepovers, or other activities that we deem a ‘normal’ part of growing up in a first world country. They may have to move homes right before their birthday and not have friends in their new neighborhood/school yet. Their caregivers may not have the money to provide a party or other special birthday activities, especially if they just moved into the home in the last month or two. Like Harry, foster children may see their peer’s extravagant birthday celebrations and long for just a small bit of recognition. Several agencies around the country exist to try and help foster kids have ‘normal’ birthday experiences, such as a “party in a box” that the foster parents can use. We highly recommend if you are a person who would like to help kids from hard places but who cannot provide a home for them, volunteer or donate time or money to help make a foster child’s birthday special.

“For children who are in foster care or adoptive homes, birthdays are often painful and filled with memories of the families they are separated from.”

For children who are in foster care or adoptive homes, birthdays are often painful and filled with memories of the families they are separated from. Kids may act out, sabotage, or withdraw on their special days. They may or may not have birth family contact on their birthdays, which may or may not result in different behaviors. For foster children, upcoming birthdays are part of their future, something scary and unknown. Our daughter used to always ask questions about future holidays and birthdays and make requests for them. For years, we were unable to make promises and were stuck saying things like, “Well, if you’re still living in our house on your next birthday…”

5 Considerations for Your Foster or Adoptive Child’s Birthday

  1. Find out what traditions or events typically took place in the child’s birth family on birthdays. You may be able to incorporate some or all of them into the celebration in your home to make the child feel more comfortable. For example, if the child normally got to select a favorite dish to be prepared for dinner, and it’s a dish you can make or get a recipe for, this is something within your control to make happen.
  2. Create traditions special to your home and family. 
    • We have two crazy birthday traditions that started shortly after the kids all moved in. We’re not even certain how they began! One is that we all wake up the birthday person with a song that Darren made up to the tune often used in restaurants to sing birthday songs.

      “Happy, happy birthday from all of us to you; Happy, happy birthday cause we all love you. Happy, happy birthday, don’t think that we’re rude; Happy, happy birthday cause we’re all gonna pile on you!”

      This is followed by everyone dogpiling the birthday person, usually with mom or dad providing a buffer layer over the child so they don’t actually get squashed!

    • The second tradition takes place after we sing happy birthday and eat cake in the evening. We always decorate birthday cakes with decorator icing with the different throw-away tips. We use the leftover icing to make ‘icing faces’ on everyone who wants one. [Think face painting but with icing!] This is messy, tasty, and hilarious. Somewhere along the line, the icing also started being used for arm tattoos and for ‘caterpillars’ on fingers. The caterpillars in mom’s opinion are just an excuse to put icing on fingers and put them straight in mouths!
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  3. Also, consider whether or not there will be birth family contact on your child’s birthday and prepare for it. This will look different in all households. If a child is still in foster care, they may have a visit on their birthday or near the date. If possible, it’s a good idea to find out what gifts the birth family is giving and what activities they may have planned. This way you won’t get the same gifts and you can consider being careful not to upstage what the birth parent has planned.If a child’s parents no longer have visitation rights, contact is likely up to your discretion. You determine whether it is safe for a bio parent to come along to a party or have a birthday phone call. We no longer live in the same state as our kiddos’ birth families, but we plan that they will likely have a phone conversation with their moms, or we’ll at least be relaying Facebook messages to the kids and sharing some photos. We know how this will affect our kids (some not so much and one negatively) and plan accordingly what we need to do to be prepared.
  4. Sit down beforehand with your child to see what the child’s expectations are. Some of the worst situations evolve from unmet expectations. You and your child should have a heart-to-heart and come up with realistic expectations for the special day. See what they would like to happen to determine if you can make it happen, and let them know what will likely go down on their birthday. This would also be a good time (while everyone is calm and bonding) to discuss and role play appropriate responses for when we are disappointed, things don’t go as planned, or our expectations are not met.
  5. Bonus: Help them make their birthday history.  In my last blog, I focused on how important giving our children photographic and written history is. If you like scrapbooking, you could make a little scrapbook of pictures from their birthday. You could keep cards in a keepsake box and maybe jot down some notes of who the people are to them right now, so they’ll have a frame of reference for the future. You may consider writing down some stats: likes and dislikes, height, weight, etc. You could easily create video montage using software on your smartphone and put it on a thumb drive for your child.

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Parent Discussions: 

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04

Kids’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12

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Chapter 16 – Solving the Puzzle of Our Kids – Parent Discussion

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Chapter 16 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is all about breaking the enchantments protecting the sorcerer’s stone. Dangerous spells are guarding the stone from falling into the wrong hands, but Harry and his friends have come to realize that it is going to happen if they don’t do something since none of the adults are listening to them. (That’s another blog in and of itself!) They have to use not only the touted characteristics of Gryffindor—friendship and bravery—but also the more Ravenclaw-esque qualities of book smarts and cleverness, and all their talents down to how to play a good game of chess.

“As a result of trauma, children in foster care, kinship care, institutions, or adoptive homes have become complicated puzzles, a series of enchantments or spells, if you will, needing to be broken.”

Looking at our kids, they look like “typical,” “normal” kids, but not much about their childhood has been very “normal.” As a result of trauma, children in foster care, kinship care, institutions, or adoptive homes have become complicated puzzles, a series of enchantments or spells, if you will, needing to be broken. A child may be chronologically 10 years old, physically 6, academically 5, developmentally 4, emotionally 3, and experientially 25. The goal is to take their lives and create one piece—one age—that is the child, to bring up the areas that are lagging behind their chronological age and to reign in the ones that have gotten too far ahead.

The only way to do this is to look at the whole child, to use all your skills and knowledge and that of every professional you know, to continue researching and learning more, and to apply all that you learn in any way possible to solve the puzzle of the child in your care, to get the help they and you need. You have to become puzzle solvers like Harry, Ron, and Hermione and determine what calms “Fluffy,” how to defeat the “Devil’s Snare;” which key will unlock a door; how to play your way across the chess board; which potion will advance you, which will send you backwards and which will kill you; what to see in the mirror; and how to protect something precious and valuable.

“There is no magical answer here. It’s a daunting and overwhelming task, and it never ends.”

There is no magical answer here. It’s a daunting and overwhelming task, and it never ends. It can take years to find the correct diagnoses, or therapies, or nutrition, or activities, or relationships, or doctors, or medications (…You get the picture) to get a breakthrough in an area. Halting their experiential age often means putting rules into place that “normal” families don’t have. We have had to enforce rules that neighborhood friends think odd and don’t always want to abide by, such as no sharing blankets, no children allowed in Mom and Dad’s room, members of the opposite sex are not allowed in bedrooms, and bedroom doors stay open when anyone else is in them aside from the child who lives in that room.

Catching up a child’s emotional age may involve doing activities with them that they are “too old” for. This is one area of the puzzle we probably struggle with the most. I, in particular, have had a hard time with this, especially after six years of parenting our kiddos and not seeing progress in some areas. I have a hard time looking at a teenager or tween and not expecting age appropriate responses and behaviors. Also, in preparation for foster care and adoption, professionals may tell you to rock a teenager in a rocking chair to help “unlock” developmental progress which may have stalled when a child didn’t receive the physical affection needed at important developmental stages. Taking in an older male child who wants to snuggle into an adult’s chest can be awkward for moms to say the least.

“As difficult as solving these puzzles in our children’s lives can be, it is also one of the most rewarding accomplishments you will EVER experience…”

As difficult as solving these puzzles in our children’s lives can be, it is also one of the most rewarding accomplishments you will EVER experience, and it must be done to achieve healing, to break cycles, and to help these little humans be all they can and fulfill the purpose of their lives.

Your Turn:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on each child in your care. What is their chronological age? Emotional? Physical? Academic? Experiential? Developmental?
  2. Which areas need to catch up and which need to be halted?
  3. What steps will you take to solve the puzzle of your child?
  4. Comment below with ways you have found breakthroughs with your child to help others.

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Parents’ Discussions:

Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17

Kids’ Discussions:
Ch. 01
| Ch. 02Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 | Ch. 13 | Ch. 14 | Ch. 15 | Ch. 16 | Ch. 17