A Bumpy Road Leads to a Happy Ending

Life is complicated. Life is really complicated with parents living apart, sharing custody of six kids, one works two jobs while the other is trying hard, but still self-medicating to cope with the stress. Yeah, it is complicated.

ibuI meet Ibu on his day off.  He rides up on his bike to meet me, eager to share the story of the day his children were removed from their home by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). That was two and a half years ago.

This is how it all started…a fight between two of the boys, landed one in the ER. A well-meaning aunt took the boy from the ER to another hospital in Philadelphia, leaving a discord between the boys’ mother and her well-meaning sister and an open door for a DCP&P investigation.

When DCP&P showed up at the home, mom was, understandably frightened. Strangers were coming into her home to investigate the welfare of her children and potentially their removal – that would frighten and anger anyone and perhaps make you not very cooperative. Which was the case for Ibu’s ex-wife. Once the investigation was complete, all of the children were removed from her care. Another aunt took in Ibu’s two girls, the two older children went to live with their biological father and a foster family takes in Ibu’s two boys.

DCP&P, CASA and the courts, work hard to keep families together, that is always the first choice whenever possible. Cooperation from all parties, especially the parents, is the key to ensuring reunification. Ibu understood this immediately and made sure he did everything necessary to bring his kids back home. Ibu’s ex-wife took a little longer to understand the process and the importance of her cooperation, but eventually she did, entering a recovery program for her drug addiction.

At first, DCP&P only granted supervised visits with their children in public places. Next, DCP&P allowed supervised visits with Ibu, then sleepovers supervised by Ibu.  Then Ibu’s six and 10-year-old sons returned to him.

Still, challenges existed that needed solutions. Childcare was a big obstacle, Ibu had to work, but who would watch the boys? Luckily, DCP&P helped secure affordable childcare. Ibu’s two girls were unhappy living at their aunt’s home so DCP&P granted permission to stay with Ibu’s girlfriend – a week before a court hearing. The two younger boys had trouble in school, so CASA Merv helped get them into an aftercare programs. The children’s mom continued to struggle with her addiction so CASA Merv helped her get the services she needed that would bring her kids back home.  Even transportation was an issue – Ibu and his ex-wife had to take two to three busses every week to visit their boys in their foster home.

The process was slow and difficult, but it was working and support came from all corners.

CASA Merv said, “The first time I met Ibu, he stood up in court, and clearly stated his intentions to reunite his family. I was so impressed with Ibu. We became friends.  Ibu did everything.”

In time, mom became more and more cooperative. She too, began to do what needed to reunite her family.  One by one, the children returned to their parents’ homes. Ibu has his two boys.  The others are with their mom.

Ibu finished our talk with on a positive note, “In the end, good came out. My kids never had Godparents. Through my visits with my kids while in their foster home, I came to know this wonderful couple. During a phone call, after the boys returned home, the foster parents asked if they could maintain their relationship with my boys. They asked if they could call the boys once a week and sleep over once a month to see the friends that they had met in the neighborhood. They also asked if they could be the boys Godparents.” Ibu responded to this heartwarming request with, “I’ll check with their mom.”  The kids now have Godparents and monthly sleepovers with their new friends.

Ibu said his relationship with CASA Merv continues with calls once a month to check in to say, “If you need anything at all, just ask.” Ibu said, “CASA Merv’s role was instrumental in getting my kids back home. He cared, was always there, and gave us the resources we needed.”

CASA Merv and DCP&P told the judge that this foster family has fostered many children but Ibu’s children, “are the best kids we’ve ever had, they were kind and respectful and well mannered.” As a parent, those are the best words that you can ever hear, especially with the challenges that this family faced.

We all know that life is complicated, but helping each other over the bumps in the road makes our journey together a little lighter.

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Domestic Violence Has Long Range Consequences

What happens to children exposed to domestic violence? A lot–and none of it is good.

Children not only watch the abuse. They hear the sounds of abuse, see the bruises, and of course, very often, they too are the victims. They are taught to keep the family secret. They suffer in silence and shame.

The effects follow into adulthood with long range consequences. Several studies agree that children who witness domestic violence have a variety of effects depending upon the their age, the severity of the abuse and length of time and frequency of the abuse.

dvhurtsallInfants will exhibit:
Extreme irritability
Immature behavior
Separation anxiety
Difficulty with toilet training
Sleep disorders
Problems with language development

Older children experience:
Problems with schoolwork
Attention disorders
Depression
Suicidal tendencies
Bed-wetting
Teenage pregnancy
Criminal behavior
Substance abuse

Later in life they can expect:
To be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence
To lose empathy for others
Social isolation
Aggressive behavior
Difficulty forming friendships
Difficulty maintaining employment

The list of problems goes on. Anyone can infer, that once domestic violence enters the life of a child, the cycle of abuse has been created. And in many cases, it continues into future generations.

What do children victims of domestic violence need?

To start, children need to be heard and believed. Adults that work, live and interact with children and the family members need to be aware of the signs of domestic violence and they have to be willing to break the silence and speak out.

Children also need support services to begin to heal. A holistic, individualized plan is important as each child can be affected differently from exposure to domestic violence. Additionally, studies show that interventions for abused mothers and fathers will ultimately help the children involved as well.

Children must be taught – repeatedly – that domestic violence and aggressive behaviors are wrong. They need positive relationship role models to understand how to avoid violence in their own personal relationships. And finally, and most importantly, they need what we all need – love, understanding and compassion from everyone around them.

Holiday Traditions Create Strong Family Bonds

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The holiday season is upon us and it’s such an exciting time! With so much to do! We get to see friends and family we’ve not seen in far too long. Don’t forget the food shopping, baking and feasting. The parties to attend, decorating to do, gift buying and wrapping…the list goes on and on!

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.

But what if you’re the new guy? What if you’re a newly adopted or foster child invited into a family’s long history of shared traditions but these traditions only make you feel like an outsider? What if you’re a newly adoptive family and this is your first holiday season with your child and you realize that your traditions have no connection to him?

It’s important to bring your adopted and foster child into 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.

Some ideas for new holiday traditions could include:

Craft day – Make homemade gifts and cards to send to friends and family

Baking day – Someone chooses the treat and leads the baking

Music time – Everyone shares their favorite holiday song (any talented members?)

Holiday skit – Each family member plays a role in a holiday themed skit

Holiday story time – Each night a family member reads their favorite holiday story

Candle lighting – Light a candle as you think of someone special you may miss

Find a new holiday tradition that fits your family’s personality. It’s a way to celebrate the season, your family and its newest member. You can be sure these traditions will be treasured throughout the years.

CASA wishes all families a happy and joyful holiday season!

It’s Thanksgiving!!

So much food! A house full of family and friends! So much laughter and all those hugs! There’s just so much to be thankful for!

“But this is not my family. These are not my friends. They are all strangers. The food looks yucky. These people are all so noisy. And, they all look so happy. I miss my mom and dad so much. I miss my sisters. I just want to be in my own bedroom. In my own house.”

If there’s a foster child sitting at your Thanksgiving table for the first time, this may be their experience. As a foster parent, you have generously opened your home to a child. You want to share your traditions with her and welcome her into your family. But instead of a happy child, you see a sad child.

Consider this. It may be her very first Thanksgiving dinner. Ever. Instead of being thankful, she may feel that she has nothing to be thankful for. She’s never seen so much food at one time. Her family never had this much food all at once. Many days, they couldn’t even feed themselves. She feels guilty that there is so much food in front of her and she knows that her family has none. In fact, she never celebrated Thanksgiving with her biological family. Ever. Beyond making hand-single-mom-thanksgivingprint turkeys and talking about the Pilgrims at school, she never really understood what Thanksgiving, or family traditions, meant.

All of a sudden, this little girl is thrown into a celebration that she doesn’t understand, with people that she barely knows, without her family. And none of it is familiar.

If there’s a foster child joining your family this year, please take the extra time and care to make them feel welcome and a part of your family’s Thanksgiving tradition.

1. Before the big day, tell her what your family does for Thanksgiving and what it means to you.
2. Let the child know how many guests will be coming and that it may be noisy.
3. Give her an exit plan if she finds herself overwhelmed and needs to take a break.
4. Take the time to tell each of your guests a little something about your foster child so they can engage her in conversation. That way she’ll be able to make new friends and feel a part of your family.
5. Ask her what some of her favorite foods are and how her family prepared them – and make sure that food makes it onto your table.
6. And most important of all, let her participate. Let her mix, chop and help set the table. Because even though you may not be her biological family, being a part of a family celebration, and the traditions that go along with it, is something that everyone can be thankful for.

CASA’s wishes all families a happy and joyful Thanksgiving!

 

The Effects of Foster Care on Mental Health

The path to sound mental health is really quite simple. Over an extended period of time, a child needs a nurturing home that’s safe and secure, loving and responsive caregiver(s), and stability. In this environment, strong bonds are built, a sense of self worth is developed and a joyful life is possible. However, the complex trauma experienced by most youth in the foster care system often sets these children on quite a different path for their mental health.

Their mental and behavioral health is affected by what can often be a long history of abuse and neglect. And that’s before they even enter their first foster home. Broken family relationships, multiple transitions, and inconsistent access to mental health services along with poverty are all contributing factors.

Exacerbating the problem is the risk of unresponsive care once placed in a foster home. If physical needs are met, but caregivers are insensitive to attachment signals and emotional needs, the child is at a high risk for attachment disorders as well.

Young children removed from their home who experience attachment disorders are more likely to exhibit oppositional behavior, crying and clinging. As time goes on, severe disturbances in their relationships with caregivers can occur.Any of several disorders can manifest in adulthood.

In fact, up to 80 percent of children in foster care experience significant mental health issues. When compared to the general population of approximately 18-20 percent, it’s clear that children in foster suffer greatly in terms of mental health.

The chart below, taken from the Casey National Alumni Study, demonstrates clearly the differences between those with foster care experiences compared to the general population. As can be expected, the PTSD and panic disorder rates are especially high and disproportionate to the general population. Drug dependence and bulimia are also quite disproportionate.

Microsoft Word - Casey_Natl_Alumni_Study - Mental_Health_OutcomePlease Note: Chart republished from The Foster Care Alumni Studies Stories from the Past to Shape the Future. For more information on the mental health outcomes  in the Casey National Alumni Study visit http://research.casey.org (enter username: researchguest and password: caseyguest).

Another component of this complex issue is medication. The propensity to medicate is of particular concern in this population. Psychotropic medications treat behavioral and mental health problems. These medicines include anti-anxiety, stimulants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. It is estimated that youth in foster care use these medicines at significantly higher rates (13-52 percent) than the general population (4 percent). Often, multiple medications are prescribed without any conformity.

Finally, it appears that there is no significant delivery of mental health care services to these youth. The majority of services rendered are referrals to mental outpatient treatment centers.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done in this area. Is there any good news? There is some. That these mental health studies are now being performed, sheds light on the important issues facing foster care youth and foster care alumni with regards to their mental health. Other than PTSD, once in recovery, foster care alumni recover at the same rates as the general population. And, since 2011, over half of the states have enacted legislation regarding the use of psychotropic drugs. It’s a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 8 Ways To Help Your Foster Child In School

Top 8 Ways To Help Your Foster Child In School

By Dr. John DeGarmo Leading expert in Parenting and Foster Care Field.

Published in The Huffington Post 08/19/2016 04:35 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2016

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School. For so many children, it is a place of learning, of laughter, and a place to make friends and form relationships.

Not so for children in foster care. It is a very difficult place, where academic failure and behavior problems are the norm.

 

For your child from foster care to truly have a chance to succeed, you as a foster parent must lead the charge and blaze a path as an advocate, fighting for your child’s every chance. Most likely, you will be the only one fighting for your child, as the caseworker and teacher are overwhelmed with all they have to do. Therefore, it is up to you. You need to become as involved as possible. The more active foster parents are in school and activities, the more likely children will succeed. Here are the top eight things you can do to help your child from foster care succeed in school.

 

1. Keep in Contact.
Reach out to school employees and form a positive working relationship with them. Let school counselors, teachers and administrators know that they can always call or email you if needed. Also obtain contact information from your child’s teachers. Attempt to remain in regular contact with them. Use all forms and means of communication. Through text messages, email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, there are numerous ways to reach out to teachers and school employees. It is essential that you remain up to date with your child’s progress, both with academics and behavior.
2. Update Teachers
Not only should you as a foster parent request regular behavior updates from the child’s school, but a responsible foster parent will provide such information to the school as well. If your foster child is having a particularly difficult time at home, let the teachers and counselors know, allowing these educators to be prepared and equipped to handle any difficulties that might come their way.
3. Let School Know About Visitation Day
Visitation day can be hard sometimes. It is likely that your child from foster care will have a difficult time concentrating and focusing on school work the day of a visitation, and many times the day after, as well. When your child is having a emotional or challenging time with visitations, you can help your child by informing the teachers beforehand, giving them some notice in advance. A note in your child’s school agenda, an email, a text message, or a phone call are all means that you can use to notify teachers and school counselors. Along with this, you can suggest to the child’s caseworker that visitations and medical appointments be made after school or on weekends, in order to not miss any more days of school, so the child doesn’t fall even further behind.

 

4. Help with School Work
School work will likely not come easy. Foster children, in general, tend to perform below level in regard to both academic performance and positive behavior. And most children in foster care are behind in math and reading skills. It is important that you and the child’s teachers set realistic goals for the child. Find out where the child’s learning ability and level of knowledge is, and work with him at this level. Talk to your child’s teachers about his/her abilities and if any accommodations need to be made. You should encourage your child to set goals and expectations, and celebrate every success, no matter how big or small they may be.

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5. Be Involved
You can help your foster student in his development by encouraging your child to participate in activities outside of the classroom. Many schools have extracurricular organizations and activities with various school sports, music, and clubs. Along with this, community sports and organizations also allow kids the opportunity to not only participate and develop these skills, but to learn new skills, develop talents and to exercise.

 

6. Be Ready
It is going to be tough for your child. A child in foster care often has a very hard time exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day, as school is simply a constant reminder that they are, indeed, foster children without a true home. The continuous reminder that their peers are living with biological family members, while they are not, is a difficult reality for them and can be manifested in several ways. Some foster children simply withdraw and become antisocial in an attempt to escape their current environment. Others may lash out in violent behavior.

 

7. Take A Tour
This is yet another unfamiliar place for your child from foster care. Before his very first day in class, take some time to go on a tour with your child through the building. Ask an administrator or school counselor to guide you and your child through the school. This will allow your child to feel more comfortable once he begins class.
8. Understand This Is Probably Not Fun
School is the last place your foster child wants to be at. He wants to go back to his home, his famiyl, and is simply trying to survive each day. Foster children often have a difficult time exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day. For many, school is a constant reminder that they are, indeed, foster children without a true home. The continuous reminder that their peers are living with biological family members, while they are not, is a difficult reality for them and can be manifested in several ways. Some foster children simply withdraw and become antisocial in an attempt to escape their current environment. For many foster children, violent behavior becomes the norm, as they not only act out in a negative and disruptive fashion in school, but in their foster home as well. This can prompt yet another move to a new foster home and another school.

Your child from foster care is depending on you to help him, not just in your home, but at school, as well. Quite simply, if you don’t help him succeed, who will?

 

Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

Learn more at AtlanticCapeCASA.org