Advocating at the School for your Foster Children

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The public school system has its good qualities and its bad qualities.  It has its good teachers and its bad teachers.  Unfortunately navigating the different schools can be daunting especially for foster families that work out of multiple homes.  While most foster homes will work with a single school, emergency and short term foster homes work with many schools for varying amounts of time.  This can be confusing as really the only thing you can do is do the most you can in the least amount of time.

I often find the schools unsurprised when children go into foster care.  Teachers and the primary reporters of suspected abuse and even when they aren’t the ones that reported, they are usually the first to know that issues are arising.  The problem with emergency foster care is you need to learn everything there is to know about a child in a short amount of time and then implement a plan.

Using the children’s teachers as a reference with new children is a good resource.  Often times the teachers at the children’s school have been the only stable adult in the child’s life.  These adults have usually built a foundation with the child that can be built upon with the right direction.  The children will usually trust the teachers they already know sooner than they will trust the new foster parents.

One of the first things I do with a new placement is sit down with the teachers and get an idea of the child’s performance, level of education, and broad behavioral challenges.  Then I request (sometimes forcefully) a team meeting.  The team meeting should include the child’s teachers, the school counselor, the school social worker, the principal, the foster parents, and the agency social worker.  When feasible, the bio-parents should also be included.  A plan needs to be made to address where the children are and where they need to be and then make a plan on how to get there.  It is up to the foster parent to be an advocate and enforce the plan.  It is also up to the foster parent to request services for the child.  And then keep requesting until the services are received.

Try not to lose your patience.  These things take time.  Persistence is the key to achieving effective advocacy.

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Interracial Foster Families

English: Children at a parade in North College...

English: Children at a parade in North College Hill, Ohio, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am always surprised that the concept of interracial families is even still considered an issue.  I know racism is still rampant in many areas and I can honestly say that I didn’t think it was such a big deal until I became a foster parent.  Some people are truly racist, others are rudely curious, and some are just ignorant.

I have always considered myself to be an open minded person.  My mother always taught me that color is a non-issue and that people are people regardless. She raised her kids to be color blind.  Further growing up in a rural area, left me little exposure to the bigotry that exists in more metropolitan areas.  So imagine my horror when we became the target of racism.

The first introduction I had to racism was the people who asked us where we got our kids from.  My husband and I, although both white, did not think anything of accepting children of other races.  Whenever we have Black or Hispanic children, people inevitably ask us questions like where we got the kids from.  People literally assume that the kids come from other countries?  I have never justified these questions with answers.  I find it insulting to ask this of a complete stranger.

The second introduction we had to racism was from the children.  In more cases than I would like to admit the black kids we had were racist to white families.  We were told things like black kids shouldn’t be with “white folk” because we didn’t know how to raise them right.  We were also told things like we couldn’t take care of their hair or skin properly because white people can’t do stuff like that.  We were accused of making the kids “wannabe whites”.  I am not even sure what that one means, but it was said to us at one point.

There is no real advice I can give on how to deal with these people.  The reality is some people just suck and that is never going to change. The sadder part of the situation is the adults that drag their children down that hateful path. When strangers ask us rude questions, we very bluntly tell them how rude it is to ask someone those type of questions.  Family members and friends who were not accepting of our mixed family were no longer welcome around us.  We have our family and that is all that matters to us.  And children who acted racist in our home, were immediately told that that type of behavior would not be acceptable in our household.

But the one thing we know for sure is that in our world, people are people no matter what color.

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.

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.

When the Noise Don’t Stop

Own Photograph

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Stop that. Don’t hit him.  Be nice. No pinching.  Don’t pull her hair.

She won’t play with me.  He keeps staring at me.  So and so won’t get out of my room.

Somedays the noise is constant.  Especially when you have older kids in the house.  And it’s even worse when you have a blend of ages because then you have babies crying and older kids fighting.

 

Obviously this is a typical household for everyone with large families, but there are some extra challenges when it comes to having foster children.  I always call it the “don’t eat my children” hormone.  Some people have it, some don’t.

Now I’m not saying I have a desire to eat the children.  But I will be honest with you, the screaming gets on my nerves much faster with foster kids then most people.  And when you blend children from different families the dynamic becomes even more intense.  Children who barely know each other are expected to act as if they are siblings.  This is often easier said than done.  Children are adept at making friends but the novelty often wears off when they are living together.  Just ask anyone who has step-children.

He said. She said. They said.  Sometimes the noise just doesn’t stop.  My recommendation is an ipod.  Gets very loud directly in your ear and covers up the noise. 🙂  Obviously you need to deal with the serious problems but if you try to moderate every single interaction every single child has, then you will very quickly lose your mind.  At some point, you just need to let the kids be the kids.  This is where the headphones come in handy.

Co-Parenting: The Birth Parent Relationship

Sindy-gladis De La Cruz Matia

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To parent a child is difficult enough, but adding in the troubles that come with parenting someone else’s child and the results have the potential to be catastrophic. People often become foster parents with little knowledge of why children enter foster care. Sure, we all know about the parents who starved the children or locked them in cages or did any number of horrific things to their children. Let me just say that these are not the people who have rights to their kids any more.
The vast majority of children in foster care are on the path of reunification. Reunification means the goal is to send the children home to be raised by their biological parents. The myths surrounding foster care are many but this is perhaps the most pervasive. To truly be the best foster parent you can be, involves actively parenting with the birth parents.
Parents that have children removed or choose to relinquish them for a variety of reasons including poor parenting skills, medical reasons, or behavioral difficulties. This does not make them bad parents. Foster parenting is the epitome of the “it takes a village” concept. Co-parenting with the birth parents is better for everyone involved. If the birth parents and the foster parents can get along, then the child will feel more at ease in the home. Smaller children rarely understand fully what is going on, but this is essential in parenting older foster children.
I learned many things in my first year as a foster parent. The most important lesson I learned is that all mothers love their children. Sometimes they just need more help. The cycles of violence and neglect are only cycles until someone teaches them a better way. That is the foster parent’s job. Someone once said to me, “When I knew better, I did better.” I think that just about says it all.
To effectively co-parent, one must form a relationship forged in respect and understanding. You may not always approve of their choices and they may not approve of yours, but you must respect the families as they are.
Foster parents and birth parents often find themselves on different ends of the spectrum. Children are generally placed based on space not compatibility. When children come into your home they are often faced with culture shock and disbelief. Imagine watching TV every night to go to sleep and then moving to a foster home that doesn’t have television. I will admit that is probably our number one complaint from foster kids is that we don’t have a television. We don’t see the need for one.
Due to infertility issues, our family made the decision to only be foster parents and never biological parents. We chose to live in a world where we will always be the co-parents. It is definitely a challenge and one that most of our friends and family do not understand. However, we know that we are making a difference. It does take a village. Our village is always changing and we spend constant hours mentoring biological parents. The end result is always worth it.