Monday, November 17, 2014

Blending Your Foster Kids and Your Bio Kids: Part 3 When Jealousy Rears Its Ugly Head…


By John and Diane

When I first started doing foster care I knew it would be a growing and learning experience for my whole family. If you read Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you can see that the growing has been painful at times, but there have been countless blessings as well. My daughters have met all different kinds of people during our family’s journey through foster care, and some of the children touched our lives and hearts in positive ways.  Sometimes the relationships evolved in unexpected ways.

When I asked my oldest daughter, now 21, to reflect on some of the children that crossed her path, she thought about one girl who really illustrates this point”

“We had a girl that was a grade under me in school move in, her name was Sandy [name changed] she was fun to have around at first.   I really took her in, as my sister I helped her decorate her room, and gave her some of my stuff.  She would sleep in my room sometimes.  It was like having a constant slumber party.
  She quickly became jealous of me and everything that I had; she wanted to be just like me.  She started destroying my stuff. Just little things,  like once I caught her putting gum in a tie blanket my mom had made me.  We started getting in arguments and things would get pretty hostile.  Then one day I went to school and came home and she had been moved out.  I was told that apparently she threatened my life so my parents had her removed from the home.”

We thought it would be a good idea to have a foster child around the same age as our own for the following reasons:
1.     Our child would have a friend to keep her occupied
2.     They would grow up and be best friends and be supportive of each other
3.     They would be going to the same school so they could share transportation and activities
4.     They would be like real siblings and could share clothing etc.
5.     The foster child would need us to love her/him and provide the things she/he wasn’t getting in the first place
6.     We would provide family structure that she lacked in a previous home

What we found was that the age of the child was less important than the child’s history and experiences. In this case it was young girl who had a troubled life, she was the type of child that acted out in school, had very little social skills and we later learned she both lied and stole. 

The caseworkers told us that she just needed to be loved and to have a strong family structure to keep her safe. 

My wife took her in and took her shopping for new clothing to help her feel and that she was a part of the family.  We did not attempt to dig into her past as we thought that they had professionals dealing with those issues and we would just let her start fresh with us.

 As time went on we felt as though she was manipulating us and making demands of us, often saying that we were treating her differently then our biological children. 

No matter what we would provide for her we could not fulfill her need to belong “to” us.  She was also still involved in the court system and having visitation with her bio mother, which did not help the situation. 

It is a balancing act that foster parents have to do between the foster children and biological children. You must make sure that your own children feel loved and the foster kids do not feel like they are being treated differently.  We tried to compensate our bio kids for the lack of time given to them with more gifts and monetary things, and spent more time with the foster kids, thinking they needed and wanted more nurturing and attention.

So all the good intentions that we had fell through, it wound up that this child wanted to be in our family so badly that she wrote a letter stating she wanted to get rid of our bio daughter so she could take her place. This resulted in her immediate removal from the house. 

I would suggest simply getting foster children who are younger than your bio. kids. This way some discrepancy in the way they are treated can be attributed to age differences.

So, here are some tips on dealing with jealousy issues between your bio kids and foster or adopted kids:

·      Be sure they know there is enough love to go around.
·      Try to spend time with each child separately. Have a “date” time with each kid or a special activity you do with each child once a week or once a month.
·      Play family sports or games and have the all the kids be on the same team where they can work together to bond. Give them a chance to work together and not to compete against each other.
·      Treat children within the home equally, shower all of them with love and make them all follow the rules.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Into the Fold: Blending Your Bio Kids with Your Foster Kids - Part 2: Rooms to Grow…


by John and Diane

I asked my daughter to write down her thoughts on growing up in a home with foster children and I thought that her advice and insights would be very valuable to new (and experienced) foster parents out there. I feel that foster parent training may not really prepare families for the realities of bringing children with complex emotional, behavioral and cognitive issues into their home. Caseworkers and counselors, though they may be well meaning, do not always “have your back” and you must take the reins and lead your household in the safest and most nurturing way possible for both your biological and foster children.

My wife and I made some mistakes early on, which have shaped everyone in my family to some extent, as all experiences do, and it is my hope,that by sharing our past, we can help others to avoid the pitfalls that we lived through.

At one point we had 4 foster children in our home, plus our own daughters. We grew close and some of the foster children we had began to feel like true siblings to our own two children. It was easy to get comfortable in the home and feel safe. That was a mistake.

From my daughter, who was 13 or 14 at the time:

“For some reason my parents thought that it would be smart to put all three teens together downstairs, let me forewarn all the future foster parents right now when you put teenage girls and boys together things happen. Although I will not go into details if you have daughters I STRONGLY advise against allowing boys within a 3 or even 4year range of your daughters in the house or even just older boys period. They were fun at times for me to hangout with but because we didn’t have the blood relation naturally people become attracted to each other as inappropriate as it might be. Young girls are very impressionable andit’s just not a risk worth taking. “


I thought that because the bedrooms were at complete opposite sides of the finished basement, and I had monitoring cameras and had clearly discussed boundaries with the children that this was acceptable. I can see that it was foolish.

Conversely, I have also learned that no matter the gender of a foster child, or even if they are blood-related, each foster child should have their own bedroom. Meaning each girl, each boy, brothers, sister each child should have their own room.

Sometimes foster children come into the program with sexual abuse issues (as discussed previously) that have not been discussed or discovered, hence, it is easy to inadvertently put children at risk for being abused by other children, including siblings, when they are sharing rooms.Rooms should be single occupied onlyand the house rules (as detailed in Importance of House Rules/Chore Lists for kids with Trust Disorders and RAD) state that children are not allowed in each other’s rooms, must be enforced.

I cannot stress to you how important this is. No matter how pressured you might feel to take more children, unless or until you know for certain that there are no sexual or abuse type issues with the child, it is not worth the risk to anyone under your roof to share bedrooms.

So, again, perhaps you think I was too naive, or that my story is atypical, but I am sure that there are many foster parents out there that are learning by trial and error; which is an unfortunate state of affairs when we are dealing with troubled children already.

Hence: Lessons learned thus far in this series:
Part1.
· Insist on getting new foster children’s criminal and personal case records
· Do not rely on your own children telling you the truth in regards to foster children’s behavior

Part 2
· Keep teenaged and younger children on separate and well-monitored floors or better yet, do not take foster kids who are older than your own children.
· Each foster child should have their own bedroom,no matter if they are of the same sex, or are related.

More to come....

Please share your experiences and thoughts...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Into the Fold: The Effect on Your Bio Kids When Foster Kids Come Home: Part 1.



 by John and Diane
Becoming a foster parent when you already have children of your own is a big decision, and one that is sometimes made with well-intentioned naïveté. At least, it was in my case.

Ten years ago, I led my family, (2 daughters and my wife) into a life helping children in my community. I already had a lot of experience dealing with troubled kids at my job where I frequently supervised kids doing community service hours. I found out that bringing them into my home and making them part of my family was both rewarding, and a much greater risk than I had anticipated.

My daughters were 10 and 12 when we began fostering kids. Although I had talked to caseworkers about the type of kids I was willing to work with (behavioral issues, but not sexual abuse or other overtly risky behaviors that would be dangerous to my family,) before we began to bring children into our home, I later realized one simply cannot take for granted that the “system” will always protect you and yours.

I started this blog and am working on a book to help new foster parents prepare for things that aren’t necessarily covered in the training classes. With this in mind I asked my now 21-year-old daughter her thoughts on growing up with foster kids.

Here are a few of her insights:
“ Each foster child who entered the home affected me in a different way. The first kid we had was an older teenage boy. He was 16; I was 12. It was unique having an older sibling for once, and I got to hang around with his friends, but I was exposed to things that I shouldn't’ have been at a young age. I kept a lot of secrets from my parents when he was living there, a lot that my parents still to this day do not know.”

My daughter and I have talked about these things, and I have learned a great deal from her experiences. The lesson I want to pass on here is this:
Do not expect your child to be honest with you and tell you what is going on. I had a long talk with my kids before bringing foster children into our home. They were told to tell me if anything happened between them and any of our other foster kids. I said plainly, “If they come into your room, touch you in any way, or say anything inappropriate, come to me.” They didn’t.

In spite of having video monitoring cameras in the public areas in my home and what I thought was open communication, I wasn't able to protect my own kids from negative influences I brought into my home.

Although ultimately, my own naiveté was partially to blame, poor communication with caseworkers and counselors was also a contributing factor here.

The “professionals” gave me a false sense of security. Either they didn’t know how to deal with sexual issues themselves, or they weren’t sure where the line of confidentiality should have been drawn, but when a dangerous child or a child-predator is in your home, you should know it.

My advice to foster parents is this: ask for all the child’s court records and all the information about the child before they come into your home. You are entitled to it. Do not take anyone else’s word that the child coming into your home is “safe.”

If that doesn’t work for you, treat every child who enters your home as if they were a predator, liar and thief. I don’t mean that to be unkind, or that you should treat them in an unloving or un-nurturing way, but in the way that you provide safety and security for everyone in the home, including the other foster children and biological children in your house.

See the Blending Families Tab at the top of our blog to read the whole series.

image: flickr: License
Attribution Some rights reserved by Tammy McGary

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What Do I Do When My Foster Child Hits Me?


By John and Diane.

Foster kids often have behavioral issues and hitting or striking-out at a foster parent or sibling is not uncommon. The first time it happens to you can be confusing.

There are steps that must be taken to protect yourself and the child in the foster care system. A discussion with your caseworker and pre-planning for such an incident would be the best way to approach this likely event, However, I wanted to offer some advice for those of you who might be caught off guard or otherwise confused or unprepared for this type of behavior.

The first thing you want to do is make sure yourself and the other children in the home are safe from the child doing the hitting.  Send the other kids out of the area and make sure that you have an open route of escape should the situation escalate.  I know that sounds dramatic, but safety first.

After the incident, write down everything you can remember about what happened. Write down what you were saying and what the child was saying. Was the child mad at you or at another person or child in the home? 

If you are not sure, you can write down your thoughts or guesses as to what happened, but be sure to note that these are only your impressions of the events and not facts. You want to think about the cause of the incident so that you can trace back the trigger for further counseling work later.

Report the incident as soon as you can to the caseworker or counselor.  I have 24 to 72 hours to report something to a caseworker with the organization I work with, but yours may be different. Check with your caseworker to be sure you know your requirements.

You may be thinking: “Why do I have to report small hitting incidents if they aren’t really big deals. No one was hurt and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

The answer to that is this: The hitting behavior is a red flag and undoubtedly only the beginning of what could be escalating aggression. Not doing anything about it implies that there are no consequences and the child will think it is okay to continue the behavior.  It also must be addressed for the child’s own benefit to give him or her help for their behavior.

The other reason it is important to document these smaller incidents is so that you have evidence of previous behavior should it happen again.

 You can’t report an escalated incident later on and say, “Well, he has hit me in the past and this time he really hurt me so, I just grabbed him so he would stop hitting me and the other children in the home ” without being able to prove it.  Now it’s your word against the child’s.   You or the child will be calling the police for an escalated incident and you will have to answer questions like, “have you ever hit any other children?”  When you try to tell them that the child has a history of hitting, you had better be able to back that up with documentation and the child should be working on that issue in counseling.

Now, how to handle the child that has hit, you when it happens...

You may hold them in a safe manner to protect yourself or to protect the child from hurting himself. Get training on how this is done or talk to the caseworker and ask them how they would want you to do this.

Try to calm the child down. You will not be able to get a caseworker or the police to help you immediately so you have to take control of the situation yourself.   Get the child to a safe part of the house. Sometimes I had to just put them outside and wait until the police showed up to talk to them or even take them away.  Sometimes you can’t help the kids and that was the hardest thing for me to learn.

If you can get them to talk about what happened to make them want to hit, don’t forget what they are saying. Write it down. This may be the only time they will open up and share.  If they can identify what started the incident they are helping you identify their “triggers.” Learning and remembering the child’s triggers are an important part of later therapy and future growth.

Hitting behavior and anger is a symptom of a bigger problem or of changes happening in the child, good or bad. So, even if you can stop the hitting at home, trust me, it will happen somewhere else, like at school, if the root cause of their anger isn’t addressed.

 Get help for hitting or fighting from caseworkers and counselors and keep a record of all the times that it happens. This will help. You will see a pattern develop and will be on the path to discovering the underlying issues.

Most importantly, protect your family and educate yourself. Learn the history of the kids coming into your home before you take them on, determine whether you and your family are mentally, physically and emotionally able to handle kids with behavioral and anger issues and then take all available training on dealing with tough kids. Although challenging and heartbreaking at times, these are the kids that need you the most. 

image: 
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AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by glowbird

Monday, October 6, 2014

Being Good Through Competition: Pigs Trough Syndrome


by John and Diane.
I have this theory I refer to as the Pigs Trough Syndrome (no offense to pigs or kids out there.) The theory is based on this: A farmer can’t raise just one pig, because it would starve to death. One pig will not eat; it needs another pig at the trough to compete with for food, in order to stimulate its appetite, and inspire it to eat and thrive. I have noticed similar behavior among some of my past foster kid’s with attachment disorders.
I had one child who loved to clean the house and do chores to please me and make me happy. He would receive praise for these activities, and would do these things without being asked. The other child (who had an attachment disorder) would never normally initiate doing routine chores without prompting and would usually not complete his normal assigned chores on his assigned day without continual prompts and encouragement. Even then, his cleaning or assignments were done quickly and without care.
Once the child who enjoyed cleaning came into the house, the other boy observed the positive feedback he received, and began cleaning and performing the same tasks to compete with the other kid for attention and kudos. The competition for attention and praise compelled him to behave in a desired manner where monetary rewards, activity rewards or other routine household allowances or reward programs failed.
If the other child weren't around to do the activities, the inspiration to perform the tasks would be missing. Without the competition, and the feeling that one child could “win” the affection or praise over the other foster child; the normal lazy approach to chores would continue.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the good behavior inspired through competition does not become a habit for kids with attachment disorder, once the competition is gone. That is the problem with attachment disorders, the child doesn't’ really seek the affection or praise of the foster parent, so that is not the reward… in this case, the reward is winning a competition or beating out another child.
This behavior could be monitored. However, over time to see if it does continue without competition. This might be one way to determine if an attachment has formed between a child with an attachment disorder and his foster or adoptive parents.

photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeryjl/888931891/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Importance of House Rules/Chore Lists for kids with Trust Disorders and RAD


by John and Diane
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Having and posting house rules in any home with children is useful, but in a foster home or in a home with RAD kids or children with Trust Disorders it is especially important.

House rules and written chore lists provide a feeling of safety and security to enhance a loving and trusting environment vital to RAD and TD kids.They, especially, need to prepare themselves for each day and enjoy a routine they can count on so that they can feel safe and secure.

Develop your house rules with the natural flow of the day and the household in mind. Start with the morning activities and grooming and end with bedtime. Include interactions with others in the house, and pet care.
The presence of the house rules and chore lists allows and insures equal justice for all the kids in the house. Everyone in the house is aware of the rules and can point out other kids breaking the rules or inconsistencies in the rules to the caregiver. RAD and TD kids always feel like they are being cheated and this allows them to feel like have recourse in the house.

When a foster child first the enters the house, you go over the rules with them and make sure they understand them. Rules are posted in the home, and each child is given a copy. Kids are asked to sign a copy of the rules and an agreement with the parent that the parent can search the child’s room (amongst other things to be discussed in later posts) and enforce the rules.

There is also a disciplinary chart and a reward chart. Again, giving the RAD and TD child a clear understanding of what to expect, therefore helping to build a sense of situational security and safety. (We will discuss these charts later as well.)

House rules may be adjusted to the child’s abilities to follow the rules (for example, ability to clean his or her room.) It must be explained that the house rules are not there as a punishment but as a way to help everyone get along in the house and to create harmony. It is not wrong or being “mean” to say to someone in the house “I am sorry honey, but you broke the house rule and you have to be punished because it is not fair to the other people in the house that you didn’t follow the rules.”

Never refer to the house rules in an angry fashion, but in a sincere, “teaching moment” fashion. This way the child doesn’t resent the presence of the house rules, but sees them as a guide to live peacefully with others as part of a family.

Follow up on the discussion of the breaking of the house rules with the Love and Logic or 123 Magic systems, but begin the initial discussion of the breaking of the house rules in this calm manner.

The other benefit of the House Rules is that they extend to friends of the children. When a friend visits, they, too, are instructed of the rules, and thereby feel safe in the home, and have a clear understanding of what behavior is expected of them, and others in the house.


Always have as the last thing on the House Rules list, “ Rules can be Modified by (your name)” as undoubtedly you will need to modify them, and one of your kids (a future lawyer) will tell you that you can’t unless you have this on the sheet. Be prepared to defend this stance.


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Here are our house rules you can use as an example:
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CHORES
Morning:
Make your bed
Clean your bedroom
Get dressed
Turn off your Lights and night light
Eat breakfast
Brush your teeth.
Make sure you have everything you need for school or work before you leave the house.
Go to school/go play
Afternoon:
Do homework
Put your clean clothes away and bring back your basket to the laundry room. Dump your dirty clothes in the laundry room on laundry day.
Do chores that are asked of you
Take a bath or shower before bedtime when told.
Clean your bedroom.
Brush your teeth
Go to bed and be quiet and turn off your lights you may have a nightlight.
John will check your bedroom each day they must be as neat as possible based on your age and abilities will check all bedrooms.

HOUSE RULES
Do not steal
Do not lie
Do not swear
Do not fight
Do not back talk to adults
Do not enter other people’s bedrooms without permission from John.
Always knock on the bathroom door before entering, wash hand after using, flush toilet, and put toilet seat down.
Always pick up your toys or anything you were using and put them back.
Always ask before taking food. Pop/ juices/milk can only be drank at mealtime. All other times. water is available for you to drink.
Do not eat in your bedroom or any other room other then the kitchen and dining room area with out permission from John. Always put your dishes away.
No cell phone or computers in the bedroom after bedtime.
John can modify any of these rules at any time.

flickr: License Attribution Some rights reserved by DrGBB

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tough Love: Fostering Young Kids with Attachment Disorders and Dysfunctional Parents



I know, of course, children who have signs of attachment disorders must have dysfunctional or non-functional parents right? Probably true, but kids are not always kept from their natural parents once entered into the foster care system. In my experience, neglected children who enter the system sometimes end up going back to the family members who put them in the bad situation in the first place.

Of course, the hope is that the parents are trained and educated between the time we take in the children, but as a Foster Dad I always feel a sense of urgency when I get a young child with an attachment disorder that is going back to his parents.

Children develop their foundations (trust, safety, security, love) between the ages of 0-5, and even the very most neglected and under-developed (mentally, socially, etc) kids with the beginnings of attachment disorders can make great headway if treated intensely early on.

For example, a 5-year-old child came into foster care with minimal verbal skills, in diapers and with a diagnosis of attachment disorder or autism. His parents were expected to get him back after retraining in spite of his regressed behavior and skills. Although he was not where he should be verbally and socially, he was independent in other ways (feeding himself, structuring his time by watching TV) and spoiled (didn’t respond well to having his established routine changed.)

Although I didn’t have this child in my care, I have had children like him and I have found that with intense, 24-7 care, and treating the child like you would an infant, the child can begin to attach and learn the social and verbal skills he has missed, in a short period of time. You must lovingly taking away the independence he had established and provide the dependence and nurturing an infant would normally experience.

This means limiting his independence, setting boundaries and rules that would limit his independence and bring him back to a point where he would be tended to as if he were an infant.

This approach, of course, requires a full time foster parent, just like a full time mother or father would care for a newborn, and the toughest part of all, restricting the biological parents from visitations for 6 months while the attachment and foundations can form between the foster parent and the child.

Hopefully, with this kind of approach and all the constant attention, talking to, and love a parent would give a newborn, a regressed child like this will gain skills and perhaps avoid the challenges children with attachment disorders suffer from throughout their lives. Prayer, of course, can’t hurt either.

image:AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Dawn Ashley flickr.com

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