Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gift Giving Guide: ADD/ADHD Foster Kids

By John and Diane.

It is a delicate balance between wanting to make your ADD or ADHD foster, bio or adopted kids happy for the holidays, keep them occupied and out of YOUR hair, and avoid overstimulating them.

Of course you want to look for items that are age appropriate and sensitive to any learning or physical difficulties they may have, as well as any other special needs or issues that need management like post traumatic stress issues (for instance you might want to stay away from toys that make loud, abrupt noises.)

For the most part though, you would want to look for toys and games that will stimulate the mind and senses without "revving" up the kids to the point of no-return.

Sites like ADDitude (Living Well with Attention Deficit) recommend gifts like the Wii Kinect that features games that get kids up and physically active in game play.  Pick up some sports, fitness and dance titles to get the party started Christmas morning.

Don't forget even though it's cold outside in many places, dressing for the weather means they can still have fun outside.  Think about sleds, ice skates, snow fort kits, and snow ball shooters.  Remember sunshine is important for everybody to avoid the winter blues so getting the kids outside to enjoy time together is vital.  Mom and Dad, get out there with them and build a snowman and burn off that excess energy with a snowball fight.  Take lots of pictures to remind the kids of the wintertime fun later. 

Lego's and the other building-block type toys are no-miss gifts for kids of all ages and will occupy hours and hours of playtime.

Teens will enjoy stuff for their computers and software that combines educational and game play plus organizational lessons are perfect for ADD kids.  Colorful computer organizational software makes it fun to stay on top of school activities and homework and introducing teens to creative hobbies like digital photography and photo editing software may even inspire a future career!

A computer-journal program can be a priceless tool for a teen whose moods can be unpredictable and give them an outlet to express their feelings in a novel way that they may relate to and use more regularly than a paper and pen mood diary.

If you are receiving children into your home in the months of November and December, it may be the first time they are away from their families for the holidays.  Spending extra time with them and providing some one on one time will mean so much more than any gift and can help during this difficult time of transition for them.

Good luck with your holiday shopping
Resources:
http://voices.yahoo.com/top-ten-gift-ideas-adhd-child-117659.html
 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/entrepreneurs-adhd/201112/tips-buying-transformational-christmas-gifts

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Foster Parent Survival:Preparing Kids for Holiday Parties and Travel

by John and Diane.
Do your foster kids get a little TOO excited by holiday get togethers?


The holidays can be stressful on foster families for numerous reasons, and joyful as well, and with everything to do with your little holiday elves, planning and preparation make all the difference in getting through holiday events with a smile on your face. Holiday get togethers with family and friends are no different.
Foster kids that have been in your care for a while may be all excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles and may forget the rules while an influx of new children might be entering your lives and looking for calm in a time of happy chaos. 
Although you may ask Santa for your eggnog and fuzzy slippers, your work is never done, but make the next month easy on yourself and Analyze, Prepare and Partake.
Analyze a Newcomer
As sometimes happens, you may have just met your foster child right before the holiday season, and behavioral issues may be masked or undiagnosed.  Spend some time and figure out what kind of issues you may be dealing with before you jump right into holiday parties and trips.  Ask yourself these questions:
1.     Are they hyperactive because of ADD or ADHD or is it just because everything is new to them?  Do they become so excited that they make themselves sick?
2.     Are they afraid of new people and new places? Do they exhibit increases in anxiety in new situations?
3.     Are they able to control themselves in the car?  Can they settle down and control their hands and feet for a short road trip?
Get a handle on your new foster child’s issues and although you may be in the honeymoon period over the holidays, be sure to monitor him or her with other children and in other people’s home until you know the child’s history, mental and emotional background.
Preparation for your Average Foster Child:
For Foster kids who show the normal range of anxiety about new circumstances it is important to simply give them some guidance and forewarning about events and what is expected of them.  Boundaries and expectations, as always, help kids with or without ADD or impulse issues and provide a clear idea for kids as to what will happen.  The clearer a situation is the lower the anxiety will be. 
1.     One week before a trip or party tell the children where they are going, and who will be riding in the car with them.   Tell them how long it will take to get there, and any other details about the trip.  Trust me it’s better to do this before you’re driving down the road and have to answer this question while you’re driving.
2.     If you don’t already have Car Rules now is the time to do this and go through them with the kids. Start to use them before the big trip any time you get in a car so they know how you want them to act when the car is moving.  I can cover the rules for car/vans later in another blog post.
3.      Discuss what other children will be at the party and cover any “friendship” rules while you are in the car. If your foster children need monitoring be sure to tell the kids that the rules are not changing and that Mom and Dad will be watching or that the kids must sit next to Mom and Dad at all times if necessary.
4.     Have a game plan for discipline. Talk to your host about a place for time-outs and let the kids know, again, that if they misbehave or break the house rules you have at home, or rules for behavior, you will still discipline them. Be prepared to have one parent leave with a child who is breaking the rules.   Only one parent should leave if possible so that the child can’t win by stopping the whole family from having fun.  The parent that leaves must let the child know what he or she is missing and how that makes them feel.
5.     Know your foster children so you can keep them safe.  This may mean if you have a child with sexual problems you may not want him or her playing with young children or even some time older children unsupervised.   They may get themselves hurt or act out and get a child from some other family in trouble because they were pulled into something and did not know what to do.    So “keep you child safe” means keeping them from being hurt or hurting other children one way or another.
6.     Role-play and go through how the other children will act to help them get over the nervousness of meeting new people.   Give them ideas on how they can handle situations that are unfamiliar to them.  Tell them basic things like, “just stand by Mom and Dad until we introduce you to the other kids ”or “bring a game you can play until you feel like joining in.” 
By talking through unfamiliar scenarios you can squash a lot of the nervousness and fears and make foster kids feel more comfortable with holiday get togethers.
The High Anxiety Kids
Now, there are some kids who cannot handle the excitement of holiday get together and parties. The mere thought of festivities and whether they are happy-excited or anxious about it, talking the situation over in advance is not the right approach. 
Now I know about kids like this first hand.  I had a child who would work herself up into such a state of anxiety and excitement that once she knew we were going to a holiday get together; she would end up making herself sick.  By the time everyone was ready to go, she’d be throwing up and then we would have to cancel our plans.
Now for the little girl, we could not tell her anything.   Even as we left home, we made up a story saying we are headed to the store or to Grandmother’s home, as long as it was in the same direction as where we were really going.  We would then keep her distracted with games to make the ride fun until we got to the real destination. Once there, she had no trouble fitting in and enjoying herself. Eventually the trips were easier for her and she got over her anxiety problems.
Partake… and have fun….
Overall, getting through holiday parties with your foster kids means letting your kids know that no matter how long they have been part of your family, they ARE part of something good, something bigger then themselves, and that being part of a family means respecting others as much as it means having fun. Try to keep your sense of humor and take time for those deep breaths always reminding yourself the real reason for the season…

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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