Thursday, November 12, 2015

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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Friday, October 23, 2015

Is Your Foster Child SAD?: Identifying Seasonal Affect Disorder

By John and Diane.

It might be hard to tell with your foster kids, but at this time of the year if they are especially anxious, grumpy, sleepy and have difficulty concentrating they might be suffering from symptoms of SAD: seasonal affect disorder.

 When days get shorter and the amount of sunlight exposure your kids have because of school and time spent indoors because of the weather changes, a study by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that three percent of kids may suffer from seasonal depression or SAD.

Now, with foster kids, who may already have many of the issues that are part of the seasonal affect disorder symptomology, more notably a change in eating (a craving for sweets)  or sleeping patterns may be the key to determining if your child is also affected by the seasonal light changes.

Treatment for SAD is usually non-drug related and focuses on light-therapy, including dawn-simulating light alarms that gradually increase the light in the child's room to simulate a normal summer sunrise. Increasing outdoor winter activities to spend time in the sun and a healthy diet also help seasonal depression.

For more information check out the below article:

Seasonal Affective Disorder in Children

By Deborah Gray

Did you know that children can suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? I'm embarrassed to admit that I just found this out recently, after years of writing about mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that can cause depression, fatigue and overeating, among other things, and it is brought on by the change of seasons. According to Winter Blues by Normal Rosenthal, M.D., a survey done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) showed that about three percent of children suffer from SAD, with a greater incidence occurring in the last three years of high school.

I'm surprised that it hadn't occurred to me before. After all, if children could have clinical depression and other depressive disorders, why not SAD? Apparently even animals can suffer from SAD. Of course, it's worth nothing that all creatures on earth have a tendency toward SAD symptoms in the winter, but when normal functioning starts being impaired, it's time to take a closer look.

So, is there a chance that a child you know has Seasonal Affective Disorder? Well, if he starts off the school year doing well, but his grades start dropping after the holidays, it's possible. If she bounces out of bed after eight to ten hours of sleep in the summer but can barely drag herself out of bed after more than twelve hours of sleep in the winter, it's worth looking into.
SAD in children can go undiagnosed fairly easily, especially in adolescents, who are expected to be moody and have trouble getting out of bed. A few seasons may need to pass before anyone notices a seasonal pattern in behavior.

Symptoms of SAD in Children

  • A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Anxiety
  • A drop in energy level
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • As with diagnosing SAD in an adult, the single biggest clue is whether the symptoms are seasonal.
    It's important that your child be evaluated by a qualified professional. If you think that your child has SAD, chances are good that your instincts are correct. But she still needs to see a doctor and have other possibilities eliminated first, and any treatment should be under a doctor's care, even if the treatment is purely non-drug.


    Read more at :  Health

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    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Hoarding Food Behavior Amongst Foster Kids: An Opportunity for Understanding and Building Trust

    by John and Diane

    Hoarding behaviors of all kinds are not uncommon amongst foster or adopted kids. Hoarding food is especially common and often times overly worrisome for new foster or adoptive parents.  Food issues can be scary.  Let’s face it, watching your new kids gobble up the food on the dinner table can be a bit distressing and although your first approach might be to simply try to teach them some table manners and basic etiquette, the behavior can be a symptom of something bigger.

    Typical types of food behaviors foster parents will see are:
    ·      Eating too much- weight gain
    ·      Not eating enough – weight loss
    ·      Monitoring food supplies
    ·      Hoarding and hiding food

    Most of these issues have some kind of relationship with control and comfort. These kids have just been removed from a place where they felt some measure of security, even if the home was neglectful or abusive, so controlling food by eating too much or too little or by hoarding it, is a way to get control over their environment.

    Children that seem to monitor the amount of food in the house, or hoard food so that a sibling or others in the home have food, are dealing with a continuance of the caregiver role they most likely had previously.  Often children in neglectful homes took on parental responsibilities and continue to exhibit survivalist “hoarding” even when they first arrive in a safer environment.

    Some children will gain weight or lose weight in response to a history of sexual abuse. They will attempt to alter their appearance to make themselves less attractive, even after the immediate threat or actor has been removed.

    Other times children will simply turn to food as a form of comfort to help them deal with their new surroundings. 

    No matter what the circumstances, your approach towards a new foster child’s food hoarding behavior is to… do nothing.   

    Make sure the child is safe, allow the child to have access to food and monitor the situation.  Your focus at the beginning of your relationship with the child is not to monitor their weight gain (although extreme weight gain or weight loss should be brought to the attention of doctors or caseworkers) but to gain and build their trust. 

    Work towards assuring the child that there is plenty of food for everyone and that they have ample access to it.  Do not allow caseworkers to make you the “bad cop” and to force you to deal with a pre-existing obesity problem. Your main concern will be to build trust and provide a sense of safety and security.  Once you have a well-established relationship with the child you can gently work on better eating and a more active lifestyle along with the child's doctor and caseworker.

    Fighting over food hoarding with your new foster or adoptive child will only create distrust and prevent you from building an important bond with the child.  Fighting the hoarding behavior without having a trusting and solid relationship with the child will only make the behavior worse.

     Allow the behavior to happen and view it as an opportunity to learn about the child’s history and background… why they do what they do.  Ultimately, this knowledge will help you and the caseworkers work with the child and the hoarding behavior will eventually stop on its own.

    Food hoarding is only a symptom of bigger issues, so do your best to allow it to happen safely (provide a fridge in the room if necessary) while you work on the more important goals of building trust, and making the child feel safe and secure.

    See also:Help: My RAD Child Needs A Door Alarm....

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    Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    Back to School Planning for Kids with ADD, Trust Disorders and More

    By John and Diane.

    NOTE: This posting is about ADD and Trust disorder kids who CAN attend school.  For all those parents who are dealing with kids who aren't attending or cannot attend school yet due to behavioral issues, we have information for you as well, and are working on our post about home-teaching and transitioning to school.  We know you are out there... and we hope you are hanging in there.... 


    All parents are anxious to get their kids back to school, but those of us with high energy ADD, ADHD or kids with other impulsivity issues and trust issues, well, we are even MORE excited about the prospect of a break from the endless attention-needy kids.

    If you have been successful and diligent about sticking to a schedule as I suggested in my blog post  
    The ADHD and RAD Kid Summer Planner: or "Why I Didn't Lose My Mind While My Kid's were on Summer Vacation"  then the transition won’t be too difficult. Having a routine that you have stuck to with wake up and bedtimes means less of an adjustment to your routine-loving kids, so that will be to your benefit.  If you haven’t been able to keep the school routine going, you still have a chance to create one that will make the back –to-school transition less dramatic for your kids.

    So, let’s just focus on the most important thing that kids with ADD, ADHD and trust disorders need and want.  STRUCTURE AND ROUTINE.   If you have fallen out of the usual wake and bedtimes from the school schedule, begin adjusting those times now so that the child is waking and going to bed at normal school times at least three weeks before school begins.

    If you haven’t done any homeschooling during the summer and have let your ADD and RAD kids do their own thing, start pulling in the reins.  I had recommended keeping to a regime throughout the summer of learning and exercise programs to mimic lesson times at school to keep kids use to the school day schedule and to minimize anxiety and tantrums. If you have done this you are probably having a realatively decent summer.  If not, you are Definitely ready for school to start. :)

    Re-introduce a daily schedule of play, chore and learning times. ADD and RAD or kids with trust and impulsivity issues do better when they have structure and routine, so their anxiety levels will decrease and outbursts will be limited. A schedule similar to their school day with outdoor play and lunchtimes about the same as at school will help them make a smooth transition back to class.

    Finally, get yourself organized. Start planning now for doctors appointments, teacher meetings and purchasing school supplies so that you don’t feel stressed as the big day approaches. Your kids can pick up on your stress levels, which will set them off, so do yourself a favor and plan ahead for all those things you need to take care of so that you aren’t feeling pressure.

    Here is a week to week planner for you that might help:
     July 9 – 15   Start adjusting the child’s schedule to school schedule times.
    July 16 – 22  Make doctors appt. to check on medications levels, get immunizations, and physicals for sports if necessary.  Update immunization records.  Update your emergency contact numbers. Make sure any medication changes are given to school nurse. Start putting together a file to give to the school with the list of medications,caseworkers names and numbers, your phone numbers and doctors and any allergies. Very important for New Foster Kids! (sometimes the schools have this information from the year before if YOU need it for new foster kids!)

    July 23 – 29  Get back to school clothing and shoes.

    July 30 – Aug 5 Get list of school supplies needed and shop the sales. Child should be on School Day time schedule now.

    Aug 6 – Aug 12 Kids clean and organize their rooms and homework spaces. Get kids hair cut and prep for school pics.

    Aug 19 – Aug 26  Get teacher’s names and email addresses, Get digital copies of IEPs that you may have to send to various caseworkers, teachers or doctors throughout the year.   Start a file folder with the new school year marked on it for all of the upcoming paperwork you may get and want to keep track of. Put a list of child's meds in the folder for easy referral.
    Get new school year calenders printed up to mark days-off, events and appointments.
    Everyone celebrates a new and happy start back at school

    Good luck everyone!

    If you have more tips on how to make the transition easier on your foster, adopted or bio kids with issues like RAD, ADD or Aspergers, please comment here or on our Facebook page!

    For more information, check out these resources:

    Getting ADHD Kids Back to School

    Saturday, August 1, 2015

    Every Kid Has Their Currency: A Story of Persistence and the Bathroom Lights

    by John and Diane

    I want to share a little story with you about the bathroom lights.

    My (adopted) son "Steve" is now in his mid teens, but still suffers the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and has devastating memory issues.

     His long term memory is really bad, and his short term memory is terrible.

    We have spent years trying to find ways to deal with this and find tools to help him remember things like where his back pack is, where his phone is and, I swear, where his head is at sometimes....

    So, the latest battle has been trying to get him to remember to shut off his bathroom lights.  I know, it doesn't seem like ground-breaking stuff.. but these are the day-to-day issue we work on.

    I tried for weeks to get him to remember.
    I'd find his bathroom light on, and I would call him back to turn it off.  Inconvenient, but it didn't stop the behavior.

    He'd be outside, a mile down the road, I would find the light on, I'd call him in to come and shut it off.... still, I would find it left on a few hours later.

    I then decided that each time I would find it left on, I would unscrew one of the four light bulbs... until he was in the dark.   This. Did. Not. Work.  (groan.)

    Mind you... and THIS IS IMPORTANT:  When I would call him back to turn off the light, I wouldn't just ask him to do it, he'd get a whole speech on the importance of Energy, the cost of Energy, the necessity of responsibility and most importantly, I would tell him, "I'm not angry with you, I just need you to remember to do this, and Im trying to help you."  He understood, and amicably turned off the lights when asked.. (I was tired of asking...)

    As you all know, the trick with Foster or any kids, is finding the one thing that works with that kid... their "Currency."  Once you know how a kid's mind, or Memory works, you can use that to teach them anything.  That's why I had to go thru all the different techniques to try to get him to remember... until I found one that worked... and I did.

    Finally one day I called Steve down to turn off the lights.  This time I said, "Okay Steve, Every time you leave the light on, and I have to call you back to turn it off, you have to drop and give me 10 push ups."
    "WHAT? UGH!"
    and he did....

    Again, I told him, this isn't a punishment, its just a way to try to get you to remember... I said it in a loving voice, in a friendly and supportive manner and I patted him on the back and said "good job." when he was done.

    I haven't had to call him back to turn off the light since then.

    I wanted to share this story with you all to remind you about Currency.  Every kid has that "thing"  that "trigger" that is going to work with them. Persistence is what it takes to find that magic word, action or object that can help change behavior and create change.

    This was just a behavioral modification, but it has clued me in to something about Steve that might help me further with his memory issues.  Steve remembers things via a physical connection!  Now this can be applied to anything he needs to remember.  I'm not saying he'll need to do Push-ups for everything he needs to remember, but perhaps some kind of physical action to remember important tasks... this is how his memory makes its connections in the brain.   Now I can apply this to other things and see if it helps in other areas of his life.

    What do you think about Currency?  Share your stories, we'd love to hear them.

    Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Aspergers Syndrome and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) : Let's Talk

    by John and Diane
    UPDATE July 2015
    Hi Friends,  Please read the update following this blog post from 2013. 

    Lately I have been hearing from a lot of parents of children with Aspergers syndrome and hearing that the behaviors are often compared with that of RAD kids.  Before I get into this discussion, let’s clarify our terms.
    Aspergers Syndrome, (in brief,) according to WebMD is defined as: a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.
    Although Aspergers syndrome is similar in some ways to autism -- another, more severe type of PDD -- there are some important differences. Children with Aspergers syndrome typically function better than do those with autism. In addition, children with Aspergers syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating, as they get older.
    RAD is Reactive Attachment Disorder, defined, again, by WebMD as:  a condition found in children who have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers -- usually their mothers -- before age 5.Common Symptoms of Inhibited RAD Include:
    ·       Detached, Unresponsive or resistant to comforting, Excessively inhibited (holding back emotions), Withdrawn or a mixture of approach and avoidance. 
    Common Symptoms With Disinhibited RAD Include: Indiscriminate sociability and Inappropriately familiar or selective in the choice of attachment figures
    Well, I have been listening to people with Aspergers children and they have a lot of the same problems as RAD kids and act the same in many ways:
    1.   If they don’t get there way they may get angry with you
    2. They may get physical with you or others in the house
    3. Threaten to hurt themselves or others
    4.  Verbally abusive: call names and say they hate you and everyone else
    4. Try to use their problems to get their way.
    5. Blame you when they are mad, destructive or injure themselves during tantrums
    Well, this should sound familiar to all of us who are working with kids with trust problems and ADHD etc.
    But there is a difference with Aspergers children.  They may act this way, but they are focused on a long-term plan. They don’t need to control their surroundings completely, they just want to control it enough to get what they need to finish what they have started.
    From what I am learning about Aspergers kids, they are very intelligent and can be almost obsessive when it comes to learning things that gain their interest. However, they don’t focus on a broad range of topics, such as “normal” students must, and so they can’t always function in a normal educational system.
    This is also how they learn behaviors and how to function in their families.  If you have allowed them to “win” arguments and to get their way by having tantrums or by behaving badly, the parent has taught them that behaving badly works to get them what they want.  Once they learn that, they will stick to that method and it will be very difficult to break them of that behavior.
    RAD kids, however, will be more flexible in their approach. If a behavior is accepted at one time, and become unacceptable later, they are more able to change the behavior once told of the new rules. They are basically very adept at change, while children with Aspergers seem to find something that works and sticks with it, even if it doesn’t work anymore. Do you all find that that is true in your cases?
     It is harder for them to unlearn something they have learned early on, so even if it seems so hard to teach them that you are the one in control and “yes is yes” and “no is no,” it would be a lot harder for you when they are teens.  Instill good habits and be stern with bad behaviors early with Aspergers kids it seems is the lesson here.
     Now I know I did not talk a lot about the RAD child here, but I have in so many of my blog posts, and we know their behaviors pretty well. 
    I will say this though: I find that the kids I work with (RAD) want to control me and they only want to get what they can get for the day. They don’t think about tomorrow. They live for the day.   That is the other thing I find different about the two kids. RAD kids live for short-term things, and the Aspergers kids think long term.
     Now I don’t have a lot of time working with Aspergers kids so I would love to hear from you and share where you differ with me.  I sure don’t mind being wrong and if I can learn from my mistakes, it’s a good day.
     Thank you and God bless you all.
    (Note: we use the terms “Aspergers and RAD kids” not as a disrespectful label to the children, just as a more conversational term to use here amongst us parents.)

    UPDATE JULY 2015

    We recently were so glad to receive an email from one of our readers here who shared with us this rare perspective on this topic.   Please read her story and learn more about the differences between RAD and Autism from her own unique perspective. We thank her again for sharing her story.

    I will start out with I am not a foster parent and have no children, but I did read your article pertaining to the confusion sometimes between RAD and autistic spectrum disorder in children. 

    I am by no means an expert, but I was diagnosed with Aspergers in 2007 (I am 58 years old) and I have had several years of therapy, starting in my 40s for PTSD, etc. I was told by more than one therapist that they suspected my Mother had RAD (I am now estranged). 

    Her real mother died shortly after her birth, her father was overwhelmed, passed her around to a couple different women to nurse, when she needed to be in an incubator due to a juvenile kidney, he stated he could not afford it, and then agreed to let her aunt and Uncle adopt her. Needless to say, my mother did not bond. I can feel genuine empathy for her, but the cruelty and abuse I suffered at her hands is another story.

    Without getting into details, I’d like to offer some insight into what I feel the difference may be.

    a. My mother was known to throw cats up on a roof and let them fall off... she claimed she heard they had nine lives! In contrast I always loved animals. I was given a puppy when I was young and one day when I came home from school, the puppy was gone. My mom claimed he burned himself on the hot water tank and she gave him back. I really think that was probably a lie. Aspies tend to love animals, almost using them as a replacement for people, whereas RAD children tend to be cruel to animals.

    b. My mother was a pathological liar. I’m sure this probably started as a child. If you caught her in a lie, it was deny, deny. On the other hand, as an Aspie child (and adult) I am very honest, sometimes to a fault. I would always tell my parents the truth, even if I would have liked to get away with something.
    c. I have lots of Integrity. My mother does not. She will say and do anything to get her way. I tend to always keep my word, even if it’s difficult for me.

    d. I am not manipulative, whereas RAD children tend to manipulate the adults in their life.

    e) My mother often told me her Mom (aunt) did not like her sitting near her father (Uncle) in the car. Her Mom seemed jealous of her father paying her attention. With what I know now of RAD, RAD children can act like adults sexually and flirt with the parent. I still have trouble flirting as an adult, let alone as a child with a parent. My mother seemed to be crazy about her Dad (he died when she was 10) and hated her Mom. (another characteristic of RAD... hatred for the mother). I, on the other hand, loved my Mom dearly as a child (Of course I had no idea I had bonded with a crazy person)

    f) Aspies are very intelligent and good in school overall.... little professors. My mother was not a poor student, but seemed to have some learning difficulties. I think RAD children have more problems learning in school.

    g) My mother took delight in other’s suffering... especially mine. She would deliberately say something if she knew it bothered you. I, on the other hand, and even as a child, was sympathetic if I understood someone’s problem. Even to the point of internalizing their suffering. I once wouldn’t eat my dinner because the nun had told us about starving children in Africa.

    I think there are many difference... the biggest being, we do not lie, manipulate, deal in hidden agendas and take delight in getting our way or causing pain.
    Something to think about. If you do know of any resources about having a parent with RAD, please let me know. I can only find information on parents raising children with RAD.
    Thank you,

    We thought our Friend gave us a very clear definition there, and felt it worth sharing.  If anyone is aware of a support group for Children of Parents with RAD, please post it in the comments section here.

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    edited by Diane 

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    The Facts On Foster Care: Real Info based on Data - Not Myth

    Hi Friends,
    We are lucky enough to have resources tap us on the shoulder, and the Good people at SocialWork@Simmons created this really interesting Info graphic that paints a picture of who and what makes up the current state of the Foster Care System.

    I think you'll all find it interesting - and perhaps it may help you all explain it to your families and friends, - those of you who struggle with the issues we brought up in our post about Getting Rich in Foster Care- the Great Myth...

    Some of these figures may not fit your particular circumstances, and they don't offer data - vital data such as children's diagnosis- which could relate directly to their future crime/school/and social data- but here seems to reflect badly on the Foster Care system itself.

      Remember, these figures are to be reflected upon and discussed.  The poor outcome for many of these kids cannot be blamed on struggling foster parents (although more training for how to deal with RAD, ADD, and other complex issues is something we think is necessary - not to mention support groups!) but may reflect more upon our inability to address these truly difficult PTSD issues and Attachment disorders in an effective way yet. 

    We think this is a terrific graphic to show where we are, and where, as a "system" and as individuals, we need to improve, or strive to learn more, to make our Foster Kid- Graduates into Super Heroes.

    What do you think? Comment here, on our FB page or join our Google Plus group to discuss.

    Demystifying Foster Care, SocialWork@Simmons