Poverty and Toxic Stress in the Womb

Excerpted from: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to
Click video link at end for full video

We all know about the effects of toxins, such as alcohol, drugs and lead paint, that are passed on to the developing infant during pregnancy. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child is breaking new ground in neuro-chemistry and neuro-biology to expose the effects of toxic stress on the developing brain in the womb – and how to break the cycle. Poverty is a constant threat to the developing baby’s brain.

hqdefault

At birth, the infant brain already has nearly all the billions of cells of a mature brain. The chronic stress a pregnant mom, living in poverty, experiences actually alters the infant’s brain. The mom’s stress system is constantly activated – and the baby’s stress system, in the womb, mirrors the mom’s. High blood pressure and high levels of cortisol rewires and prepares the developing brain for a dangerous world. These babies are born with hair trigger stress responses which affect every aspect of their lives, such as academic struggles, failed relationships and incarceration. However, the poverty cycle can be broken in utero.

An organization, The Nurse-Family Partnership provides struggling mom’s support systems which include food pantries, access to prenatal care and education. These caregivers provide one of the most important contributors to stress reduction – love. Some of these moms have no family or friends as a support network. Sadly, an overused coping strategy for those living in poverty is substance abuse. Studies show dramatic reduction in stressors and the associated toxins, with loving caregivers.

As a society, early intervention to break the poverty cycle benefits us all. We could see quantifiable improvements in chronic diseases and emergency room visits, education, unemployment and incarceration. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child estimates dollars spent on early intervention will be recouped in 2-3 years.

You can view the full video (approx. 35 minutes) by clicking this link: Harvard Research: Impact of poverty begins in the womb, but doesn’t have to

 


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.

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.

pexels-photo-3171348

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.

vol-5--iss-6-img12

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.

Staying Positive and Reuniting

fostercare_istock

Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the family.

  1. We realize you have been through a challenging journey in being reunified with your child – will you share with us a little about your story?

“I was addicted to cocaine and so I lost my baby. I was stubborn and thought I wasn’t addicted. Then CASA Linda came into my life, she was such a positive person and I still talk to her. She gave me the boost my baby and I needed. She always stayed positive. It is a wonderful thing, she is still there if I need someone to talk too and I still talk to her every couple of weeks. The help and support she provided me was just great. My child will be three next month and I wouldn’t have her without the help of CASA Linda.”

  1. What is the greatest impact CASA had on the case or in working with your child?

“CASA Linda was just so supportive of me and my baby. She was just that extra person to check on me and make sure I was okay. She was always supportive and positive of me and I think you should give her to all of your hard cases.”

  1. Can you think of a specific example where CASA really helped or made an impact?

“When I had to go to court and I was away from my daughter, CASA Linda wrote these positive notes for me and she told me not to give up. She told me to keep fighting and she was just so positive. From the beginning, she realized I was trying to do what I needed to do to get my daughter back and she gave me a chance. Even when I sometimes gave up on myself she was there. It was great just to have that person in  my corner encouraging me and seeing that I was doing well. It meant a lot.”

4. What did you think about CASA Linda in the beginning?

“In the beginning I just thought of her as one more person who was going to tell me what to do, one more person who was going to put me down, one more person who was going to keep me away from my baby…but actually it turned out as quite the opposite. She gave me more strength to do what I needed to do and gave me the support to get my child back.”

5. Is there something CASA Linda could have done to make things better?

“I wish I had met CASA Linda earlier. I remember the first time she came to see me; she drove for hours. I couldn’t believe it. It would have been nice to have someone so positive right from the start; someone to tell me, if you do the right thing, then I’m in your corner.”

Portion of an interview with a mom who reunited with her daughter after overcoming substance abuse. Names have been changed and details have been altered to protect the 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.

May Is Foster Care Awareness Month

May is National Foster Care Month, when we shine a light on the nearly 1,000 children and youth living in foster care in Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the 13,000 children who face the same fate statewide. Every day, CASA for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the network of CASA programs throughout New Jersey recruit, train and support members of our community who advocate on behalf of children and youth living in foster care. We work to ensure that these children have access to resources and services that will improve their outcomes, raise awareness of the obstacles they face and help them overcome those obstacles.

FB-2019Intro

Sometimes our work feels like an uphill battle, and not every story ends with a positive outcome. But, we are energized and encouraged by the success stories that we do see – the girl who catches up academically with her class even after losing four months of school because she moved three times in the last year, or the teen who receives a scholarship even though only 20% of foster youth even go to college, or the boy who is finally reunited with his parents after a year in care because they received the help that they so desperately needed.

These success stories are possible when caring adults are active in a foster youth’s life. With a supportive team, that includes child welfare professionals, teachers, therapists, foster families, the family courts, and Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, the foster youth can achieve all of their hopes and dreams. This whole team is crucial to ensuring that foster youth reach their fullest potential.

So this May, consider how you could fit into a team helping foster youth succeed. Could you fill a direct service role of CASA volunteer, youth mentor, or foster parent? Would you rather donate goods or services to youth living in care, attend or host a fundraising event that supports foster youth, or, lend a helping-hand to a foster parent or caregiver?

Your role can be big or small. At the very least, consider joining the conversation. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about the obstacles facing foster youth and ways that our community can work together to provide support systems for them. Most importantly, understand that children enter foster care through no fault of their own and the challenges that place children in care affect every social, economic and geographic community. No one is immune, and no one should face these challenges alone.

 


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.

 

Meant to Be

Being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children living in foster care was a natural fit for Beth, who spent her long career as a special education teacher. Newly retired, Beth ran into an old friend by chance, who knew someone who was a CASA volunteer. “It would be perfect for you,” this friend said. So, Beth took up the challenge and signed up for CASA training. Within a few months, she began advocating for three siblings.

Mother playing with her two daughters.

The children were living in foster care due to their mother’s substance abuse and reported domestic violence in the home. The eldest child, who was eight at the time, often cared for her younger siblings, age five, and, one and a half years old, in her mother’s absence.

On her first visit with the children, Beth could see that, despite their removal, the children adjusted to their foster home. They warmed up to Beth right away, asking her to play with them and they talked openly with her. During the coming months and years, Beth’s visits continued and she came to know the children and their needs very well and communicated those needs to the courts.

Thankfully, Beth said, “Everyone involved in the children’s life worked well together. The children’s birth mother was working hard to have her children return home and she was appreciative of Beth’s concern for her children. The foster parent was also happy to have Beth visit and pay attention the children’s needs.” When the foster parent felt overwhelmed, she confided in Beth, as did their children’s mother. The children continued to make progress, and do well in school and most importantly, their mother seemed to be on the road to recovery.

For the next two and a half years, Beth was the constant voice in the children’s life and every time she visited, the children would run smiling, excited to see her. Beth was their devoted advocate.

The dichotomy between the messiness of the lives of children in foster care and the serendipity of Beth’s experience was not lost on her. “Everything in this situation was as good as it can be under the circumstances. The resource parents cared and communicated well. Their mother worked hard to get them back. Things probably would have worked out the same for them whether I had advocated for them or not. But I made things easier,” she added. “I was extra help. I was someone to talk to. And I was the constant.”

The children are finally back home with their mother. Day-to-day life is full of challenges for them but they are glad to be together. Beth still stops by and visits regularly and the children are still thrilled to see her. The children’s former foster parents still visit and babysit on occasion, glad to have the children in their life and the children’s mother is happy to have the help.

Beth says she is ready to take on a new case and says she will continue to be a CASA for as long as she is able…maybe, it just so happens, that being a CASA is exactly what she was meant to 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.

Why Halloween can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

Written by Darren Fink for Transfiguring Adoption on October 23rd, 2017

halloween-kids-kids-at-halloweenjpg-bfaea2dce5c9736e 

Why Something Fun Like Halloween Can be Overwhelming for Foster Kids

  • Your foster kiddo isn’t with their biological parent(s)
  • They are trying to learn all sorts of new house rules
  • They might have a new school to get used to during the day
  • Your family probably eats different foods than they are used to
  • This kiddo might be having fun at your home and feel like they are betraying their biological parent(s)
  • The same chemicals in the body given off during a stressful situation are given off during a fun and exciting situation; probably the same chemicals that were given off when they experiences trauma in the past
  • Trick-or-Treating = Super Fun = Chemicals Release = Remember Past Trauma = Meltdown

3 Tips for Enjoying Your Trick-Or-Treating Adventure

  1. Tell them what to expect, which helps with anxiousness caused by the unknown
    • Do you expect everyone to stick together?
    • Are you going to houses or a Trunk or Treat?
    • Will there be a lot of people? A lot of noise? Will they get bumped a lot?
      (Children with sensory issues especially need to know this)
    • What do they need to say at the door? Do you expect them to say, “Thank You?”
  2. Expectations after Trick-Or-Treating are as important as during
    • Do you check the candy before letting kids into the bags?
    • Do you let the kids eat as much as they want on Halloween night?
    • Do you expect your kids to keep their same bedtime?
  3. Better to call it quits early
    I know you probably remember Trick-or-Treating in seven different neighborhoods for four hours when you were a kid. However, as we discussed above, our kids get overwhelmed and tired easily. Set the bar low for the night. Maybe half the Trunk or Treat event or 10 houses. Avoid the meltdown and make it a memorable night. The candy can always be purchased from the store.