Advice for 2am

So what do you do when you get an emergency call at 2am?  You get up.  Emergency calls are the hardest.  You usually know the age and sometimes the gender of the children but you rarely know their disposition and why they are coming.

The two things I try to make sure I do is make sure there are clean sheets on the bed and something quick to eat.  Most kids will at least a peanut butter sandwich so we keep peanut butter in the house at all times.  And quite frankly you don’t want to making beds at 2am, especially if you have other foster kids in the room they are going into.

The one thing I learned is that even when you are given information, it is rarely correct information.  In fact, for several weeks I though my five year old was three.  Sure explained a lot when I finally got his file and found out he was older.  Otherwise he would have basically been the smartest, most advanced three year old I have ever met. So never assume what or who the children are going to be.

One time I got in a child that attacked his mother and needed emergency placement.  The officer said the child was basically overwhelmed and the mother was struggling with the role of being a parent.  The officer never told me the child’s age and honestly implied that he was a teenager.  Imagine my surprise when a terrified five year old showed up on my doorstep.

The process of taking emergency placements is confusing and quite frankly not everyone does their jobs correctly.  All you can do is respond the best way you can.

Another thing that helps is not putting a lot of pressure on the child when they come in.  We usually get them settled quickly and then go on with our day like nothing has changed.  This helps them to adjust without being self conscious.  At 2am: get them clean, get them settled, and let everyone go back to bed.

Sometimes this is a little bit easier said than done.  This is one of the few times I break my rule about TV at bedtime.  A lot of times a light cartoon will help get their mind off the frequently traumatic events of the evening.  Emergency placements are not for everyone, but it can be a very rewarding segment of foster care.

I’m Melting, I’m Melting

notice the shower

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Brushing teeth
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Do you ever feel like you are watching the dramatic scene from Wizard of Oz whenever you try and get your foster child to shower?  I know I do.  Many foster children, especially those that have been neglected are unaccustomed to having proper hygiene.  In fact, many of them will down right refuse to have proper hygiene.  It has just never been instilled in them.  So as a foster parent it is up to you to teach age appropriate hygiene and establish consequences for failure to follow directions.

Tips From Temporary Mommy

  • Make sure children actually know how to take a shower.  This includes explaining the process of shampooing and conditioning.  It also includes explaining that everything must be washed with soap.  Do not just assume a child knows what should be washed, with what, and in what order.  We have a training session involving a Barbie hair styling head to show how to shampoo and condition.  Then we use the song “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes… and everything in between”.  It seems kind of trite especially if you have teenagers but even our older kids always laugh when we do it.
  • Explain the bathroom to them.  Simple things such as how to adjust water temperature, keeping the shower liner inside the tub, and not flooding the bathroom may have never been taught to them.
  • If you have older kids, talk to them about special face care to prevent breakouts.  In some older kids, you may even have to teach them how to shave legs, armpits, or beards.  I will never forget the first time I had to sit down with a foster child in our shorty shorts and teach her how to shave her legs.  Let’s just say there was a log of giggling.
  • Make sure children know how to floss and to brush their teeth.  If they never had to do it before, then it can be confusing and they may not be doing it properly.
  • Make a list of expected hygiene behaviors such as daily bathing, brushing hair, brushing teeth, and so forth and post it in the bathrooms with pictures for those who have difficulty reading.  Assign a consequence for failure to follow hygiene rules.  Be patient.  Kids are not going to learn everything perfectly the first day.

Most of all remember to be honest with your foster children.  I ask my children very bluntly when we are one on one if they want to be smelly.  They always unanimously say no.  If you are persistent, you can instill more appropriate behaviors in them for the future.  Children are not always aware that they smell.  If it is all you have ever known, then it is difficult to see another way.

To Discipline or Not To Discipline

FCC program offers child care, career - FMWRC ...

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Disclaimer:  Physical punishment, violent behavior, threats of bodily harm, or threats of removal should NEVER be used when disciplining a foster child.  In most states, this is against the law.  In addition, the psychological toll it has on the children is incomprehensible.

I have heard a lot of people say that foster children should either be disciplined harshly or not disciplined at all.  The case for not disciplining is that they have already had a hard life and we should take it easy on them.  The case for harsh discipline is that their behaviors are extreme and harsh discipline is the only way to control them.

In all honesty, neither is going to be effective.  If you discipline a child too harshly and give them no incentive to comply, they will merely resent you for your efforts and misbehave again the moment they think they won’t get caught.  If you discipline too mildly, they will never learn that certain behaviors are not acceptable in society.

The truth is you are not doing them any favors by not preparing them for the future.  Life isn’t easy and although some kids have already had a rough go of it, life isn’t going to suddenly become simple.  On the same note using too harsh of discipline tactics removes the love that a child needs to develop into a healthy, wholesome adult.

Children need balance in life.  They need protection from not only their own bad decisions, but from the decisions that they might make under the influence of others.  A great foster parent is strict with established boundaries and lots of love and care.

Tips From Temporary Mommy

  • Establish a set of household rules.  The rules should cover all the basic things that would be unacceptable in your home.  Include a rule about respecting yourself and others which basically works as a buffer rule for when your kids think up something outrageous that isn’t technically on the rule list.
  • Assign a specific consequence for each infraction.  This helps to illustrate to children the cause and effect of bad behavior.  (Side note: this also prevents you from varying the severity of the punishment based on your current anger level.)
  • We post the rules and consequences on each level of the house and on each child’s bedroom door.  This removes any excuse of I didn’t know the rules.  The rules are posted and so are the corresponding consequences.  (We also have hygiene rules posted in the bathrooms, but we will get to that in a different post).

Remember discipline is something all people must learn.  Children need to be able to follow rules, understand cause and effect, and be accountable for their actions.

So You Want to Be a Foster Parent

GIRL WITH DUCK AT FOSTER AVENUE BEACH ON LAKE ...

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Lately I have been getting a lot of people asking me about what it takes to be a foster parent and how to get started with foster parenting.  I am always happy to help a new home get started.  So here is the best “Getting Started” advice from Temporary Mommy:

 

  • First and foremost, contact your local Department of Human Services or Department of Children and Families and set up an initial appointment.  If you are even slightly interested now, it could take months or years to complete the licensing process depending on your location and the workload of your social workers.  Get started immediately.  You don’t have to go through with it, if you decide it is not for you.  It only took us three months to get licensed but I have known homes that had to wait over a year before their licensing was complete.
  • Get in touch with the local association.  In Wisconsin, it is the Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.  Each county has their own association.  The association can get you set up with a mentor family to answer any questions you might have.  They are also a great resource for training hours and certification processes.  For areas that don’t have mentor foster homes, the local association can guide you through the foster parenting process.
  • Decide what you want to do and be firm.  If you are only willing to work with children from five to ten years old, make sure it is clearly understood. A foster family can burn out quickly when dealing with children that they are not equipped to handle.  If you are not willing to work with certain behaviors, then be firm.  Everyone has something that is their drawn line and don’t be afraid to vocalize it.  Mine is animal cruelty.  We will not tolerate it and we will not keep kids that are going to hurt our animals.  With more than 30 children, we have only had one incident and that incident wasn’t intentional.  But we stuck to that point and we refuse to take children with a history of it.
  • Talk to your family.  Whether or not your family supports you can play a big role in your future of foster care.  I never really thought about it and we never consulted our family before we decided to do it.  But with our kids, our families are the ones who remember birthdays, babysit on weekends, and spoil them every now and then.  If your family isn’t fully on board, it is not a deal breaker.  But really consider the implications before pursuing it further.  With our family we were about half and half for support. However, our whole family is 100% behind us now.  Sometimes people who are a little skeptical come around when they see how great it is to make a difference in a child’s life.

 

For additional resources check out:

www.fosterparentsrock.org

www.adoptionresourcesofwi.com

And so a year goes by…

Picture taken at the Come Alive New Testament ...

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A year ago I made my first entry into the blogging world.  I began writing about deciding to become a foster parent.  Admittedly, the blog has been relatively abandoned since I have been crazy busy this year.  I can’t believe all the changes in our life since a year ago when we undertook the most crazy impulsive adventure of our lives.

So now that a year has gone by, I want to start giving advice to other foster families on how to successfully survive foster parenting.  I have learned so much in the last year and some of the things I thought I knew turned out to be figments of my imagination.  I want to keep sharing the experiences we have had and would love for people to ask any questions they might have about foster care and I promise to blog about what our experience has been.  And if I don’t have an experience with it, I have met so many foster parents in the last year who I know would be happy to share some of their experiences.

My goal this year is to be the best foster parenting blogger I can be.  You got it.  That is my new years resolution.

So a year goes by. A year ago today we had not had any placements yet and had just completed all of our paperwork and we were waiting for the official licensing.  We were licensed January 17, 2011.  We received our first temporary placement on January 20.  Crazy, huh?  We have had 27 children come through our home this year.  (Now you see why I abandoned the blog?) Our life has been so crazy and I can’t even begin to express the scheduling nightmares we have endured.

What I can tell you though is that it has been the most amazing adventure of my life.  We have laughed, cried, yelled, and growled.  I even occasionally spend an hour hiding in the bathroom just to read a book for peace and quiet.  We have had triumphs and heartaches.  We have had times when we thought we would just give up.  We have had times when we were so happy because we saw a child blossom before our very eyes.  We have grown our family.

We learned to accept that the house will never be fully clean again.

We learned to cook real food and how to budget and how to plan a grocery list.

We learned that even though you have a teenager, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still a child at heart.  And even though you have a child, it doesn’t mean they aren’t wiser than there years.

We have learned to expect nothing because as soon as you do they will do the exact opposite.

We have learned that even a child who hates you, can grow to love you with patience and kindness.

We have learned that love has no limits and it is unconditional.

We have learned that nothing in our life is private anymore because children have ears like hawks.

We have learned that there is always room for one more at the dinner time.

But most of all we have learned that this crazy adventure we decided to go on was the best decision we have ever made in our entire lives.