My Two Moms

The following excerpt is from an essay written by a foster youth applying for a special summer education program at a local university.

My two moms are the most influential women in my life. In deciding who I want to become and what I want to accomplish in life I look to them. In some ways they are so different but when it comes to what matters they are the same. My birth mom, Kaya, is black and was born in South Africa. My adoptive mom, Alice, is white and was born in New Jersey. My mother, Kaya, had a hard life in Africa and wanted a better life. She moved to America all by herself. This is important because she has had to do everything on her own and make her own way. She struggled for a long time and we were homeless for years. Having lived in various homeless shelters made me realize that I needed an education to be successful so I would not have to go back to the shelters.

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For nearly five years I have lived in foster care with my soon to be adoptive family. My family tree is pretty complicated with a lot of branches! My adoptive family consists of my mom and dad, their two birth children, one adopted daughter, me, and my little sister who is also being adopted. Alice, my adoptive mom, is a strong and amazing woman like my birth mom. She has had a very different life though and is finishing her fourth advanced college degree. She works two jobs while getting this degree and still manages to make dinner for the whole family each night.

As you can see, both of my moms have worked very hard to get where they are. They are both an inspiration and I love them both equally. They have both impacted me in different ways and have made me into the young woman I am today. I hope to continue the path of helping others for the rest of my life.


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.

5 Tips to Prepare for Back to School for Foster Children

Guest blog post by Salendria Mabrey, embrella (formerly FAFS) Communication & Development Associate originally posted September 17, 2014. Link to original post 

 

The times of sleeping late on weekdays, summer camp and family trips to amusement and water parks are over for your child in care – at least for now. It’s the season to get him back in the routine of going to bed and rising early to his world of lockers, gym and lunch periods. He may drag his feet when it’s time to get up early and get prepared for school. It is also possible he will grumble about not being able to watch a certain show that comes on later in the evening because of his new bedtime. Like any kind of change, it is uncomfortable and may take a while to adjust. Here are a few tips that should help you as a foster parent to prepare your child in care for a new school year.

Build Excitement

In addition to attending class and doing homework, the school year will bring chances for fun and exciting moments. Talk to your child in care about the many opportunities that will be available to him. It would help to do research on the school and learn the activities that interest him. If he loves music, try to get him excited about and involved in band, chorus or glee club. If he loves sports, encourage him to try out for basketball, football, tennis or any other athletic team available at the school. Explain the reward gained when he is a part of a team – not to mention how great it can look when he applies for college in the future.

Parent Teacher Conference Tips for Foster Parents

Let Them Be Involved

If he brings his own lunch, let him be a part of choosing what wants to eat for the day – and let him help you pack it. Also, allow him to pick out his own clothing. He knows the latest styles and trends in his school. Didn’t you know that his finger is on the pulse of the latest fashions? When he exercises his independence, it drives him towards growth and maturity. Packing his own lunch and picking out his own clothing gives him a voice and lets him know that his opinions matter. Now, if he only wants to eat candy bars and wear his clothes inside out all of the time, you MAY need to take the upper hand.

Revive Sleep Routines

For your child in care, there will be no more sleeping without alarms during weekdays for a good while. It may take some time, but sending him to bed early is your best bet for a productive day. It is generally known that getting the right amount of rest each night can give the body what it needs to function properly. Determine the best time your child in care should go to bed for a guaranteed good night’s rest, and stick to it – and, if there is a monster in the closet or under the bed, you’ll have to get rid of it immediately so there will be peaceful sleeping for all throughout the night.

Create a Dialogue with Teachers

When you have the contact information of your child in care’s teacher, letting him or her know you have a foster child would be a great way to prepare the teacher for possible challenges. Give the teacher an overview and as much information concerning your child in care as you can without breaking confidentiality. Let the teacher know your involvement in your child in care’s life and any challenges you know of that he is facing. Chances are, the teacher will understand and be willing to work with him to ensure he has a successful school year.

Get Involved

In addition to receiving progress reports, reach out to your child in care’s teacher to stay on top of how he is doing. He has been through some traumatic experiences; there could be many distractions he may be dealing with, so it’s in his best interest when you are aware of any hurdles he may need help overcoming. Arrange monthly meetings with teachers and get as involved as you can. A good way to get involved and stay up-to-date with what’s going on in his school is to join the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

embrella (formerly FAFS) is Here to Help

embrella (formerly FAFS) is here for every season you face. Our Backpack Program is available year-round to help foster parents welcome foster children into their new home. The program also provides backpacks to children in care as they begin their new school year. If you have already received backpacks, please share that with us! Here’s to a successful and productive school year!

 


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.

Youth Pursues Dream of Going to College with Help of CASA Volunteer

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Allan, a semi-retired pharmacist, read a book years ago that affected him profoundly, “Throw Away Children”, by Judge Lisa Richette. In her clarion call for reform, the author recounts many heart-wrenching cases of children who fell through the cracks of the juvenile court system – children who are left feeling unprotected, unloved and bereft of hope or opportunity. Allan remembered those stories when his wife, Bobbie, mentioned that she thought he would be a good Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

“She thinks I can get things done and some of these kids just need someone to help them get things done,” Allan explained. “I just naturally advocate for those who need help. When my mother was in a nursing home, I was there all hours ensuring she was well cared for. I bring those skills to my role as a CASA.”

In February 2018, this naturally gifted advocate attended a CASA training and was assigned his first child, a teenager who had bounced around in the system and had recently been rejected by his mother again. Allan is the first one to say he was lucky to get this young man as his first CASA child: “Despite all the hurdles this young man experienced during his childhood, he was motivated to do well in school and to strive for a better life. He just needed some assistance to get into a situation that was supportive and stable.”

One of the many roles CASA volunteers serve is to navigate the complex system in order to get the best possible outcome for the children. They coordinate with social workers, educators, the courts and different agencies, an often daunting task even for seasoned professionals. Working with others, Allan’s ability to network and advocate helped him cut through some of the bureaucracy to see that his child got the resources he needs to pursue his dream of going to college. Allan also worked well with the young man’s social worker to get him into a stable environment. The judge assigned to the case commented on their effective teamwork on behalf of the child. Lately, Allan has been helping the young man with college applications.

“He blossomed from a reticent child into a young man who has been better able to confide in me and to trust again. It is gratifying that he wants to study social work so he can help others,” Allan said. Allan encourages those who desire to make a difference to explore becoming a CASA. “I made my difference,” he said. Thanks to Allan’s advocacy one child, who could have fallen through the cracks, is on his way to realizing his dreams.

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.

Campus Moving Day

As my friends are all dropping off their nearly adult children at colleges and universities this month, I am reminded of my parents dropping me off at college for the first time. I stuffed everything that I could into the gigantic trunk of my father’s baby blue Caddy – which was a lot – and traveled north to Rhode Island where I would begin my life as an “adult” – or so I thought – unfettered to parents, making my own daily decisions. This was what I had been waiting for.

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So, we drove and drove and finally arrived with all of the other freshman, whose families had packed their cars and driven distances great and small to give their children a better opportunity, maybe one that they hadn’t even had for themselves. Families filled the whole campus and not once did I ever think that a freshman might not have a family. The notion never even crossed my mind. I am sure that there were kids moving in the same day as I, without a family, without a trunk filled with their most prized possessions.

At the time, of course, I was not looking at my first day on campus through my parents’ eyes, or through the sacrifice that they made for me. However, as I see my friends making the same drive now, I finally see it through their eyes – the optimism of what is to come for their children, being proud of their accomplishments, and worried over the missteps that they will – undoubtedly – make along the way. Knowing that their relationship with their children will forever change the day that they leave them at their dorm room and drive away.

As I think about that day now, I have a different perspective. Not just from the experiences of my friends taking their children to college, but because of my work with an organization that advocates for youth living in foster care.

With this new viewpoint, today I think about the thousands of kids moving onto campus across the country this month, I think of the many foster youth who will not even have that opportunity – 70 percent of foster youth want to go to college, but only 39 percent enroll (Courtney, Terao, & Bost, 2004). I think about the only 10 percent who will graduate with an advanced degree by the time they turn 25. (Courtney et al., 2011; Pecora et al., 2006). I think about all of the foster youth who will drop out of college after their first year (Day, Dworsky, Fogarty, & Damashek, 2011) and I think we can do better; we must do better for these youth.

Once in college, foster youth struggle with the same matters that have challenged them their entire lives – making and keeping friends, mental health, lower academic achievement, getting and keeping employment, lack of healthcare, and, poor independent living planning. Add to the mix that many of these youth do not have the financial resources or strong adult role models to help guide them through difficult times and you have a recipe for adversity.

With all of these factors creating a barrier to a college education, one of the most significant is the lack of emotional support. These kids just do not have the support, that I had, or my friends kids have, to make it – only 34% of youth leaving foster care report a long‐term significant relationship or mentor (Munson & McMillen, 2009). Supportive adult connections – mentors, teachers, CASA volunteers, community leaders – are critical to a foster youth’s success, not just in college, but also throughout life.

These connections will empower a youth to realize their own potential, help them through challenging situations, point out resources and, help ensure that they too have a trunk full of their most prized possessions and the tools that they need to begin their successful “adult” life – after all, isn’t that what we want for every youth?

 

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.

 

References

Courtney, M., Terao, S., & Bost, N. (2004). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Conditions of youth preparing to leave state care. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Day, A., Dworsky, A., Fogarty, K., & Damashek, A. (2011). An examination of post‐secondary retention and graduation among foster care youth enrolled in a four‐year university. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(11), 2335–2341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.004

Hayes Piel, Megan (2018) Challenges in the Transition to Higher Education for Foster Care Youth https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.20288

Munson, M. R., & McMillen, J. C. (2009). Natural mentoring and psychosocial outcomes among older youth transitioning from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(1), 104–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.06.003

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., … Herrick, M. A. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the Northwest foster care alumni study. Children & Youth Services Review28(12), 1459–1481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003

Pecora, P. J., Williams, J., Kessler, R. C., Hiripi, E., O’Brien, K., Emerson, J., … Torres, D. (2006). Assessing the educational achievements of adults who were formerly placed in family foster care. Child & Family Social Work11(3), 220–231. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2006.00429.x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Cultural Competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses being aware of one’s own worldview, while gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews.

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, we meet families who may be very different from our own friends, families and colleagues. Their cultures, values, and parenting styles may be completely unfamiliar to us. Even though our brains naturally categorize information with negative judgments, as a CASA, we want to suspend those judgments so we may develop higher levels of cultural competence.  This will allow us to be more effective with the various and diverse parties involved in our cases.

Image via Taney County Partnership

Image via Taney County Partnership

Our cultural competence affects how we respond to those of a different race, gender, and socio-economic status, just to name a few. It is not always easy to release years of carefully, or carelessly, formed opinions and values when we encounter new people. When we considers the myriad of verbal and nonverbal communications we use, poor cultural competence skills open the door to misunderstandings and unintended insults. Our own biases can led to ineffective interactions, to hurt feelings or worse. As CASA’s, we must not only understand our biases, but learn to recognize and put aside these feelings in order to best serve the children on our cases.

Consider a woman executive as a new CASA entering the family home of a patriarchal culture meeting the family for the first time. Deeply ingrained stereotypes and judgments are likely on both sides. To be an effective CASA, she needs to be the one to create a bridge to cross this expansive cultural gap.

Stereotypes are even more complicated and can derail the best of intentions. Recent studies in neuroscience show our brains function in ways that predispose us to negative stereotypes. In fact, scientists believe that our brain’s predisposition to categorize information with a negative slant is a primitive survival mechanism.

Something as simple as the use of silence in different cultures can lead to dramatic misunderstandings. The Greeks use silence as a way to refuse things but Egyptians use silence to communicate consent. Alternatively, Americans can see silence as a void to fill, or an indication the person is indifferent, angry or disagreeing with them. It takes hard work and a willingness to be flexible to unlearn deeply ingrained stereotypes. The ability to set aside our stereotypes can be a powerful tool in developing cultural competence and reaching our desired outcomes.

Four components to cultural competence exist:

Awareness — The first step in building cultural competence is developing an awareness of our own, sometimes deeply ingrained, prejudices and stereotypes, which can create barriers to our learning and development. It is also important to be thoroughly acquainted with our culture – and the identity we have taken from that culture. Taking the time to openly, and without judgement, discover our blind spots when it comes to our beliefs, will take us to a deeper understanding of the families and all those involved individuals we meet as CASAs.

Attitude – How open are we to differing views and opinions? If we feel strongly about our beliefs and values, we are more likely to react emotionally when we encounter a cultural difference. If we react emotionally, we are more likely to convey our disapproval to those we encounter. With awareness and intention, we can develop new habits – we can decide to suspend our views and opinions before we walk through the door.

Knowledge – As a CASA, we regularly cross cultures that are not limited to the families we visit. We likely hold opinions and beliefs regarding social workers, lawyers, as well as educational and medical professionals. To stay connected in cross-cultural situations, we need be open to learning as much as we can about those we encounter. We want to really question what it like is to walk in someone else’s shoes. How much we learn and assimilate into our own worldview affects or ability to work effectively and respectfully with people from all different backgrounds, experiences and cultural norms.

Skills – To build skills, we can interact with diverse groups.  Attend cultural events or religious services; this can put you in situations where you are the only one of your cultural group.  Ask others questions about their beliefs, culture and values.  We can also read books about different cultures and expose ourselves to the discrimination they can experience – memoirs are a great opportunity to discover insights into another culture.  Being careful not to stereotype, we can then apply our new understandings as we interact others.

Sources:
The Guardian, [Neuroscience] Human Brain is Predisposed to Negative Stereotypes.
Diversity Officer Magazine, What is Cultural Competence and How is it Measured?  American Psychological Association, How do I become culturally competent?

 

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.

Change a Foster Youth’s World

My siblings and I were all exposed to prenatal drug and alcohol use at birth. For the first 12 years of my life, I was never allowed to be a child. My mother beat me every day – sometimes so severely I thought my last breath was imminent. At 12, I was desperate to find help and confessed the abuse to a coach. Shortly after, we entered foster care.

During our time in foster care, we relied on our CASA volunteer. She comforted and guided us through the process. She was a constant in our lives and our voice in court.

The support of my CASA volunteer enabled me to see my past as a source of strength. It allowed me to leave the suffering behind and graduate valedictorian of my high school class.

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My focus and worldview – believing that we must rise every time we fall – is due to the attention that my siblings and I received from our CASA volunteer.

She transformed our lives.

 

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.