Holiday Traditions Create Strong Family Bonds

The holiday season is upon us and it is such an exciting time with so much to do! We get to see friends and family who travel long distances. We bake, cook and shop. We buy gifts, decorate our homes and attend parties…the list of holiday activities is long!

Yes, the holidays are a busy and exciting time that are full of family traditions. Through the ages, in primitive and modern societies, our customs anchor and connect us to each other. Rituals and shared practices are the glue that binds families and social groups together. Traditions form our group identity and give us fond childhood memories.

What happens if you are a new member of the family? Perhaps you are a foster youth participating in a family tradition that only makes you feel like an outsider. Maybe this is your first holiday season with your adoptive son but you realize that your traditions have no connection to him?

It is important to involve your adopted and foster child in your holiday traditions, so they feel included. Be sure to discuss how and why your family started each tradition and what it means to each of you. Ask your child how he feels about the holidays and discuss his own traditions. Then create new holiday customs that are meaningful to your newest family member.

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Here is a list of ideas to help create new holiday traditions for your family:

  1. Make homemade gifts and cards to send to friends and family.
  2. Try a family baking day to make traditional favorites or find a new holiday recipe.
  3. Plan to watch your favorite holiday movie as a family or organize a family sing-a-long to your favorite holiday songs.
  4. Make your own holiday-themed family movie.
  5. Ask each family member to read his or her favorite holiday story aloud.
  6. Light a candle to remember someone special that you may miss.

Most importantly, make sure that everyone in your extended family is sensitive to the newest member of your family. Remember that holidays can be very unsettling for foster youth or newly adopted children and can result in feelings of grief, anger or memories of their past trauma.

Talking openly with your child about your customs, starting new traditions and understanding their feelings will help create a happy holiday season and new memories for your entire family.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Foster Care & The Holidays

Guest post by Dr. John N. DeGarmo, Ed.D Originally written for Foster Focus Magazine https://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/foster-care-holidays

The stockings are hung, by the chimney with care, in hopes that…In hopes of what? For many children who have been placed into the foster care system, they have come from homes where there was no Christmas, there was no hope. They have come from families that did not celebrate a holiday. They have come from environments where there were no presents, no tree. They have come from homes where there was not holiday joy or love.

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The Holiday season is upon us. Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, Kwanzaa; these are times that can be extremely difficult for many foster children. During this time of Holiday Cheer, many foster children are faced with the realization that they will not be “home for the holidays,” so to speak, with their biological family members. When they wake up Christmas morning, and are surrounded by people who just may be strangers to them, strangers who are laughing and having fun, it can be a very difficult time for them, indeed. To be sure, it is a day that is a stark reminder to these children that they are not with their own family. It is during the holidays when families are supposed to be together, yet these children in care are not. They are not with their families, and they may not know when they will see them next.

Along with this, foster children also struggle with trying to remain loyal to their birth parents while enjoying the holiday season with their foster family. There are those moments when a child from foster care may feel guilty for experiencing joy and laughter with their foster family, they may feel that they are not only letting their birth mother or father down, they might even be betraying their birth parents and member of their biological family, causing even more grief, guilt, and anxiety within the child during this season of holiday joy. Indeed, this can be a very emotionally stressful time for all involved.

As one who has fostered many children, myself, during the holiday time, I have found that it is important to address these issues beforehand. Before Thanksgiving, before Christmas, before Hanukah; even before family members and friends come to visit, foster parents need to prepare their foster child ahead of time.

To begin with, foster parents can best help their foster child by spending some time and talking about the holiday. Perhaps the holiday being celebrated in their new home is one that their birth family never celebrated, or is a holiday that is unfamiliar with them. Let the foster child know how your family celebrates the holiday, what traditions your family celebrate, and include the child in it.

Ask your foster child about some of the traditions that his family had, and try to include some of them into your own home during the holiday. This will help him not only feel more comfortable in your own home during this time, but also remind him that he is important, and that his birth family is important, as well. Even if his traditions are ones that you do not celebrate in your own home, try to include some of his into your own holiday celebration, in some way and some fashion.

Far too many children have come to my own home and have never celebrated their birthday, have never sung a Christmas carol, have never opened up a present. Perhaps you have had similar experiences, as well. Sadly, this is not uncommon for children in foster care. It is important to keep in mind that many foster children may come from a home where they did not celebrate a particular season, nor have any traditions in their own home. What might be common in your own home may be completely new and even strange to your foster child. This often includes religious meanings for the holiday you celebrate. Again, take time to discuss the meaning about your beliefs to your foster child beforehand.

More than likely, your foster child will have feelings of sadness and grief, as he is separated from his own family during this time of family celebration.

After all, he is separated from his family during a time that is supposed to be centered AROUND family. However much you provide for him, however much love you give to him, you are still not his family.

Like so many children in foster care, they want to go home, to live with their family members, despite the abuse and trauma they may have suffered from them, and despite all that you can and do offer and provide for him. Therefore, this time of holiday joy is especially difficult.

You can help him by allowing him to talk about his feelings during the holidays. Ask him how he is doing, and recognize that he may not be happy, nor enjoy this special time.

Look for signs of depression, sadness, and other emotions related to these. Allow him space to privately grieve, if he needs to, and be prepared if he reverts back to some behavior difficulties he had when he first arrived into your home. You may find that he becomes upset, rebellious, or complains a lot. Along with this, he may simply act younger than he is during this time. After all, he is trying to cope with not being with his own family during this time when families get together. These feelings and these actions are normal, and should be expected. You can also help your foster child by sending some cards and/or small gifts and presents to their own parents and birth family members. A card or small gift to his family members can provide hope and healing for both child and parent, and help spread some of the holiday cheer that is supposed to be shared with all.

Each family has that crazy old Aunt Ethel, loud and obnoxious Uncle Fred, and the ever hard of hearing and over whelming Grandma Lucy.

Your family is used to these relatives and their personalities, your child in foster care is not.

If you have family members visit your home, prepare your foster child for this beforehand. Let him know that the normal routine in your home may become a little “crazy” during this time, that it may become loud, and describe some of the “characters” from your own family that may be coming over to visit. Remind him of the importance of using good behavior and manners throughout this period. Along with this, remind your own family members that your foster child is a member of your family, and should be treated as such.

Remind them that he is to be treated as a member of the family, and not to judge him or his biological family members, or fire questions at him. This also includes gift giving. If your own children should be receiving gifts from some of your family members, your foster child should, as well. Otherwise, your foster child is going to feel left out, and his sadness and grief will only increase.

Be prepared, though, for some in your family not to have presents and gifts for him. Have some extra ones already wrapped, and hidden away somewhere, ready to be brought out, just in case.

With a little preparation beforehand from you, this season of joy can be a wonderful time for your foster child, one that may last in his memory for a life time, as well as in your memory, too. After all, the gift of love is one that can be shared, not only during the holidays, but all year long.

Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.  Watch my TEDx Talk on Foster Care HERE

 


 

Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Everyone Can Be A Youth Advocate

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Every year more than 20,000 youth across the country age out of the foster care system. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties is one local organization that is trying to help older foster youth make lasting connections and prepare for adulthood if they leave foster care without a permanent home. As many as 50 percent of youth who age out of foster care are likely to become homeless.

CASA has seen first-hand the negative effects of youth lingering in the foster care system. Youth ages seven to 17 are at greater risk of not finding a permanent home and aging out of the system. This means many age out of the child welfare system at age 18 with no family to call their own. These youth have minimal skills, a high school education, at best, and lack the basic knowledge to live on their own. You can imagine what happens to these youth. Homeless, jobless or underemployed, these youth can turn to crime and drugs as a means to survive. A young person bereft of any family ties lacks the foundation and guidance that all youth need as they mature into adulthood.

Having permanent adult and family connections, like a CASA volunteer, provides teenagers with the critical legal and emotional support that all young people need as they transition into adulthood and possibly continue their education, seek employment, and start new relationships.

CASA volunteers specifically help this age group by encouraging educational achievement, ensuring sibling and parental visits to keep family relations intact, recommending appropriate long-term placements and helping improve social relations. CASA’s number one priority is to help them find a permanent home so they do not age out of the system. If a permanent home is not possible, we want them to be as prepared for the future as they can be.

Not everyone will be a CASA volunteer, but everyone can be a youth advocate.

Here are some thing you can do to help older youth in need:

  1. Become a CASA volunteer or mentor an older youth
  2. Financially support organizations that work with teens
  3. Volunteer with an agency that provides assistance to teens
  4. Support legislators who promote laws supporting positive outcomes for foster youth
  5. Speak out and advocate against laws that may negatively effect foster youth
  6. Help others understand the need to help all youth experience equal opportunity

When we work together to protect vulnerable youth, it literally saves lives. We all have a role to play, what will yours be?


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Permanent Homes

In honor of National Adoption Month, we are featuring four short antidotes from CASA volunteers that highlight the joy of helping a child realize their “forever home.”

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CASA John

“For me, finding a forever family for a child means I have kept my word to a frightened/grumpy six year old who had experienced a removal from a possible forever home when her older sister was told by their resource Mom to “get lost” and ran away.  The girls were back at an Aunt’s house when I went to visit them after this incident.  The six year old was sulking on the top bunk bed in their room as I was sitting on the lower bunk talking with the older girl about her recent adventures. Despite my friendly “hello” to her, she’d already announced that she wasn’t going to talk to me. All of a sudden, this little face, upside down with pigtails pointed toward the floor comes nose to nose with me and she shouted “I just wanna know one thing – am I gonna have to move again?”  I firmly stated, “not if I can help it!” At that point I would have moved heaven and earth to make my statement a reality. Attending their eventual adoption ceremony was, and always will be, one of the most satisfying moments of my life.”


CASA Nina

“As a  CASA, my experience with helping children find a forever family has been very rewarding and most of all humbling.  The children that I have advocated for were so loving and so forgiving, and most of all resilient, as a volunteer advocate this process of gathering information and inquiring about certain situations and circumstances made it possible for my horizons to be broadened. Finding the forever family is an experience that is so uplifting that it encourages one to always better themselves therefore, always striving to better the life of the next child or children that have the great advantage of being advocated for by a CASA.”


CASA Jack

“Yesterday I delivered two “adoption bears”, ending a long saga of three + years.  It was great to visit these brothers, now six and five, and realize they are now part of their permanent family and that I had a role in this successful outcome!”


CASA Carol

The day that Sandi was adopted is Carol’s most significant memory as a CASA volunteer. “She saw me and ran down the hall yelling my name and wrapping her arms around my legs.” Carol said. “I lifted her up, and she was all smiles. That experience was more than enough reward for my efforts.”

Many children, like Sandi, have no hope of being reunified with their biological families. Even if it is in the best interest of the children, “the voluntary surrender of the parental rights by the parents is a difficult process for me personally to witness,” Carol said. These children deserve a proper start in life, and without adoptive parents, they will be surrendered to growing up in the foster care system.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

When Something Goes Right

Merv was looking for something to do in retirement. Something meaningful. As a former trial attorney, Merv knew the court system and bureaucracy and felt comfortable advocating on behalf of others, so he felt well prepared to take on the role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

Through his professional experience, Merv knew that the wheels of bureaucracy move slow, and working within that system takes persistence, and more often, strong-willed persistence. Ultimately, it was Merv’s prior work as a family therapist that he believes prepared him for his work as a CASA volunteer. His perspective into socioeconomic issues facing families gave him the knowledge to effectively counsel parents and sort through the challenges facing the children and their families. These insights proved the most helpful as he took on some of the more challenging cases as a CASA.

Merv is no stranger to the unique challenges children in foster care face. Now advocating for a brother and sister, placed in separate homes, Merv does what he can to help the siblings connect. Recently, the sister made a birthday card for her brother and asked Merv to bring it to him. The brother was overjoyed to receive a special message from his sister on his birthday – so much so that he asked Merv to read the card to him twice.

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While Merv acknowledges that some cases can be frustrating, he knows that he is striving for what is best for that child.

Merv’s dedication to making a difference in a child’s life keeps him engaged during the toughest situations. Merv notes that, “you may not always get the outcome you may want most for a child – such as reunification or adoption, but the people who work on behalf of these children have good intentions and work hard to get them services they need.” Sometimes, even the toughest cases have silver-lining outcomes. “It is rewarding when something goes right for these children,” Merv says.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

A Child You Know is Being Bullied: How to Recognize Bullying and How to Help

Guest Blog by Dr. John DeGarmo. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

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To the surprise of many, 1 in 5 children in the United States between the ages of 12–18 has been bullied at some point while in school.

Perhaps even more surprising is that over half of adolescents and teens have experienced cyberbullying or been bullied online.

Bullying, in whatever form, can have profound effects upon young children. Indeed, children who have been bullied often experience anxiety and depression, as well as increased feelings of sadness and loneliness. Along with this, children who have been bullied may also experience changes in eating and sleeping habits. Frequent headaches and stomach aches are also signs that a child may be bullied.

In regards to academics, those students who have experienced bullying often perform lower in reading, math, and science courses. Indeed, school aged children who have been bullied are more likely to skip school, with 160,000 of teens reporting to have skipped because of bullying.

If you are a parent and suspect your child is being bullied, it is imperative that you take this seriously. Sit down with your child, and listen with a sympathetic and compassionate ear. Do not over react, or for that matter, under react, not taking it seriously enough. In no way should you blame him or give him cause to think he is at fault. Indeed, ask him when and where the bullying is occurring and who the bully is. Make sure your child has your phone numbers and let him know he can call you anytime he is being bullied and needs help.

Talk to him about bullying, and how he can report it to you and to others. Reassure the child that you will help him, and that he is safe in your home. Your support and your love is most important to him at this time, and your words of encouragement are also important. Remind him that he is important and that he is loved.

Contact your child’s school and the child’s teacher immediately, informing them of the bullying towards the child. Request that the school separate the child and the bully, at all times and in all places while at school. While it may be difficult for your child, encourage him to walk away any time he is being bullied. Remind him to find an adult if he feels he is being bullied. Remind him that retaliation in school, or hitting another child, will not be permitted by the school.

Cyberbullying is the platform in which the 21st century bully uses to inflict pain and humiliation upon another. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to embarrass, threaten, tease, harass, or even target another person. With the use of online technology and social networking sites, today’s bully can follow their targeted victim where ever the child may go. Whether the child is in school, at the park, at the movie theater, or at home, whenever that bullied child has a cell phone or access to online technology, he can be bullied. In essence, this form of bullying can be non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If your child is being bullied online, or cyberbulling, there are a number of ways you can help to protect your child, as well. The most important thing you can do as a parent in protecting your child from cyberbullying is to stay heavily involved in all aspects of the child’s school life. Ask your child each day how school was. Enquire about your child’s friends. Keep in regular contact with your child’s teachers, and ask for updates on the child’s behavior and academics. If possible, become a volunteer at the school. Not only will these strategies help monitor any possible cyberbullying behavior, you will also help your child with any academic challenges they might be experiencing. Watch for sudden mood swings that might suggest the child is being bullied, as well as signs of depression, isolation, and separation from others.

No matter the form of bullying that your child is a victim of, it is important that you seek professional help and therapy if your child is struggling to overcome his depression.


Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Representing the Children in Foster Care

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Bounced among foster homes, lawyers, and caseworkers, children in foster care need a consistent, caring advocate, and for children of Hispanic heritage, it is particularly important that their Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer understand and respect their culture. In many instances the number of Hispanic and Latino children in foster care outnumbers the number of CASA volunteers, which means children are often assigned to a CASA volunteer with a different ethnic background.

 

Former CASA volunteer and Pleasantville resident, Yasna finds her heritage allowed her to develop a closer relationship with the children on her case. When Yasna first took her, her CASA child was frightened and unresponsive to those trying to help her. Then the young girl met Yasna, who spoke in the girl’s native Spanish language, and she immediately became comfortable and opened up to Yasna. “Everything totally changed when she could speak Spanish. We had a communication bond, and she came to me when she needed help,” Yasna said. Growing up in Miami, Yasna explained, it was easy for her to find someone who spoke Spanish, but in many communities, fluent Spanish speakers are rare. Navigating the foster care system is already complicated, but with English as a second language, the experience can be overwhelming.

 

Cultural competency is more than overcoming a language barrier; sensitivity to traditions and values builds trust between the CASA volunteer and the child. “Every single Hispanic culture is different, but the method of upbringing with a foundation of family is there (in all cultures),” Yasna said. Despite their differences, with most Hispanic and Latino cultures, there is a commonality of having deep passion for family. “We love to fight, but at the dinner table, we all love each other,” she said laughing. Although the CASA children have come from an abusive home-life, their propensity to reflect their culture is still there, she explained.

 

As a CASA Volunteer, you try very hard to keep emotion out of your interactions with the children. However, for Hispanic culture, Yasna says, “you need to bring emotion out to form a trust with the child.”

 

According to Casey Family Programs, Hispanic children are more likely to be placed in foster care and for longer periods than their White, non-Latino peers. Because of this, it is essential that the CASA volunteer and child relationship be based on trust, rapport, and an ability to understand and appreciate the child’s culture and traditions.

 

A more diverse volunteer base will better match the cultural make-up of the children CASA serves, but a shortage of Hispanic and Latino volunteers makes it difficult to meet the need. Understanding how children feel about their heritage and being able to communicate and relate to their traditions can make the difference between the child feeling alone or appreciated and self-assured.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.