Food Issues in Foster Children

Crisps!

Crisps! (Photo credit: henry…)

Many times kids in foster care come with severe food issues.  While I am by no means an expert, and I am sure there are a ton more that I have not experienced, I will do my best to talk about some of the ones I have seen and dealt with.

  • Won’t Eat Any Healthy Food.  Many children in foster care come from low income families or come out of neglect situations.  Things like daily vegetables are a mystery to them.  Food that is prepared in a healthy manner (i.e. not macaroni and cheese) are often times alien concepts to them.  It can take a long time to overcome issues like this.  Kids do not always adjust well to change and that can cause long term repercussions in their dietary life span.  What we do is allow the kids to pick 2 foods that they absolutely do not want to eat, and everything else they have to take a “thank you” helping of.  Now be careful for the smart alecs who will inevitably try to pick a whole food group.  (And yes that has happened to me).  No it is one food.  One of my kids picked tomatoes and broccoli so anything I prepare with tomatoes and broccoli, she does not have to eat.  Everything else, whether she likes it or not, she has to have at least one serving of.
  • Consumes Caffeine Regularly.  A majority of my foster kids have come into care as regular caffeine drinkers.  Coffee, soda, redbull, you name it.  I have seen kids as young as one come in with soda addictions.  This is hard to overcome as the bio-parents allowed it so the kids don’t understand why you don’t.  Repeated and firm no’s are really the only way to deal with it.  When asked for an explanation, tell them different families do things differently and in this family that is not appropriate.  Be prepared to deal with caffeine withdrawal in some of the heavy users.  I would recommend asking your doctor how they best think to handle this.  Our doctor recommended Ibuprophen for the older kids and a lot of naps for the younger ones.
  • Does Not Eat on a Normal Schedule OR Eats Whenever.  A lot of kids especially coming out of neglect situations are not used to having three meals a day with scheduled snack times.  Most of the time, they are responsible for feeding themselves if they are hungry. They tend to be very food oriented and do not seem to understand that they need to wait until dinnertime to eat.  In situations like this we keep pre-made “snack packs” of veggies in the fridge where they can reach.  If they need to eat between meals, they can have veggies only.  If they are hungry, they will eat the veggies and it is better for them to fill up on veggies than anything else.
  • Food Hoarding.  It is inevitable that some foster kids will hoard food.  When you never know when your next meal is going to come, it gives the kids a sense of self-preservation to stash food for the next dry spell.  While I have never had a case of food hoarding that wasn’t solved by the free veggies rule, some foster homes I have worked with have.  They have solved this by providing the kids with a plastic bin for them to put “their” food in.  That way the kids know they always have food for the next time in their bin.
  • Obsession with Feeding Schedule.  Children who do not get their food needs met, will develop a preoccupation with food.  Everything is about when is the next meal, where is the next meal, what are we having for the next meal.  I cannot tell you how many times we will be eating lunch and the kids are already asking me what is for dinner.  I deal with this by having all meals and snacks scheduled.  The kids can look at the time and know that is when the next meal is.  We try to keep to the schedule as best we can.  Meals are written out on a calendar and the kids can check the calendar whenever they like to find out what is for the next meal.
  • Texture Problems.  Some kids have texture issues.  For example, I had one two year old who would not eat anything soft.  Mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.  These are issues that need to be addressed by a doctor and/or therapist.

Again these are just a few of the food issues, that I have dealt with and how we dealt with them.  This post in no way should take the place of advice from a licensed therapist but I hope it gives some insight into the extreme food issues that many foster children have.  It is something that is extremely common and new foster parents should definitely be prepared for it.

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What Should I Call You?

Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

The one question that comes up with nearly every child is: What should I call you?

The concept of new parents, no matter how temporary, can be really hard for children.  Kids have many emotions about being in foster care.  Some are embarrassed, some are sad, and sometimes they are even relieved.  This myriad of emotions can cause the kids to have some serious confusion about where they fit in their new family.

My advice is to let the kids decide what they want to call you.  So long as it is appropriate, allow them to decide how they want to fit in.  I have had kids begin calling me mom within hours of meeting me and I have had some that prefer to call me by my first name.  Some call me Aunty because that makes them part of the family without calling me mom.  But it all depends on the child and their case.

My one child has lived with us for two years but only started calling us mom and dad a few months ago when she switched to being an adoptive placement.  She is a preteen and was on her way to reunification before so she wasn’t ready.  Now she is.  The younger ones tend to just slip into calling you mom and dad, especially if you have other kids calling you that.  In general, ages 1 to 3 mom and dad is more of a role in their minds than a person.  What I have noticed is that they see all moms and dads as moms and dads but their bioparents or primary caregivers are Moms and Dads with a capital letter.  The older children tend to vary based on where they are in life.  Some will call you mom and dad based on their desire to fit in and not let people know they are foster children.  Others have a genuine interest in becoming a part of your family.  And some may have a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD.  Other children will only call you by your name.

The biggest thing is to not be offended on whatever the children choose to call you by.  It is not a reflection on your parenting, more a reflection on the children’s personal lives.  And for those of us who are not parents before becoming foster parents it can be awkward to be called mom and dad but you do get used to it.  I don’t have any bio-children or adopted children so when I first started getting called mom it was definitely an adjustment.

When the children ask you what they should call you, just let them know that they have options and it is up to them.

Meeting Safety Regulations

Optical smoke detector

Image via Wikipedia

So we got to spend a day baby-proofing and child-proofing our home.  I mentioned some of this on a previous blog but some comments led me to believe that I should elaborate more.  I have been babysitting my nephews for years.  I never knew my house was essentially a death trap.

Well it was.  There was so much to do.  First, we had to go get those little plastic inserts for the outlets.  Wow are those ever frustrating.  They are such a pain to get out of the outlet for things like vacuuming or using a blender and they must remain plugged in at all times in every room of the house.

We also had to be fire safety compliant which requires smoke detectors in every room and for them all to be wired together.  Therefore, if one smoke detector goes off, they all go off.  Trust me, we learned the hard way.  We also had to put carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the house which comes with it’s own craziness.  There are so many rules as to where you can and can’t place them for accurate readings.  Scary!  Also, we needed to get fire extinguishers for the house.

All drugs, prescription or otherwise including pets, need to be kept locked up.  Many young children are already aware that they have a street value.  In addition one must lock up lighters, matches, plastic bags, and power tools to ensure the safety of the children.

Furthermore, we had to lock up power tools so they don’t hurt no one and household cleaners and plastic Walmart bags and virtually anything else we could think of that could potentially endanger a child.  Surprisingly, we didn’t have to lock up our knives though considering everything else I might just do it anyways.

We also have to get screens on all of our windows.  Fun.  AND we had to put up the stair banister.   I have mentioned this before but that stair banister was TERRIBLE.  We just have the worst staircase angle ever I think because nothing worked.  We had to do some serious improvisation to make it safe and serviceable.  It looks really ugly but it is super safe.

So we decided to just put padlocks on the basement door and might do our bedroom door too.  Now any time I want to clean something I have to schlep down to the basement to get my cleaners.  Crazy.  I never thought about how dangerous all the things in my house could be.

I know this isn’t the most exciting post today, but so much goes into the preparation that I think it is important for people to be aware of what they are undertaking.  Also, we are awaiting our first placement and that is when I think things are really going to get interesting!!!!

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

Image via Wikipedia

Brushing teeth
Image via Wikipedia

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 ...

Image by familymwr via Flickr

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 ...

Image via Wikipedia

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