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.

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.

Summertime in Foster Care

Finally, the end of the school year, it’s summertime!

Childhood summers prompt memories of the beach, heading off to summer camp and playing outside with friends until dinner. Summer days should be for making lifelong, cherished memories.

When you live in foster care, however, just because the school year ends, does not mean that your life is any less upended or uncertain. Unfortunately, for children living in foster care, the normally carefree summer months can signal more uncertainty and despair.

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The little things that make the end of the school year special – making plans with friends, signing yearbooks, and looking forward to family vacations – can be a source of increased anxiety and depression for youth living in foster care.

Changing of schools and homes happen frequently for foster youth, meaning many youth do not know if they will be living in the same home next month, let alone going to the same school the following September. Frequent moving also negatively influences educational achievement – on average every time a youth moves, they lose three to six months of academic progress, which further alienates them from their peers.

Foster youth may enter a new school mid-year, so they might not even be part of the yearbook, their picture missing from the smiling-faced rows of their classmates. Entering school late, changing schools or moving as much as foster youth do also hampers their ability to create bonds that lead to lasting friendships, especially when their classmates may already have deep friendship bonds from growing up together.

As for vacations or any activity that takes a foster youth out of their placement, approval from the courts must be sought. That means that for a foster youth to attend summer camp or visit a sibling, who lives in a different foster home in a different town, is at the mercy of a slow-moving court system that is buckling under the weight of too many children under their care. This process halts the freedom of planning trips or the ease of participating in activities that could a provide much-needed distraction for the youth.

These challenges can lead children and youth living in foster care to see the summer months as an extension of ambiguity, confusion and isolation, rather than as a time to enjoy.

For these reasons, we must continue to fight and advocate for all foster youth so that they realize a permanent home – reunited with their family, placed with relatives or adopted as quickly as possible – so they too can enjoy the lazy, sun-drenched days of summer and create their own lifelong summertime memories.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (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.