April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to focus on identifying, intervening in, and preventing abuse within our community. Foster families learn about the harsh realities of child abuse and neglect during the training process. Whether we hear it in the news, in biographies, or when those we know share their stories of abuse or neglect, it is sobering and stirs up difficult emotions to hear about the ways that children who live among us are being mistreated.
If you are supporting a foster or adoptive family in their journey, you undoubtedly know someone who has been impacted by abuse or neglect. While you may or may not know the story of the child for whom your family is caring, you may have observed some of the impacts that trauma can have on child behavior and functioning. Although children are incredibly resilient, it makes sense that they may continue to struggle in some of the following areas:
Originally, I was set on adopting a seven-year-old boy who loved sports. Then, God changed my mind as my agency started presenting teen girls who needed a family.
Nadia, who describes herself as a single, 38- year-old Christ follower and big sports person recently added to that description, “Now I’m a mom!” In a recent interview with Project 1.27, Nadia shared about preparing to be a foster parent and recently welcoming The Teenager* into her home.
*Nadia and her new foster daughter have settled on The Teenager as a nickname to keep the teen’s identity confidential during this interview.
What led you to explore fostering?
I’ve always known I wanted to adopt rather than birth kids biologically. In my early 30’s, I started reading about foster care and kids aging out of foster care without a family and the statistics were just awful. Then, I was reading something by pastor and author, Max Lucado, where he shared that if one family out of every Christian community in the US would adopt a waiting foster child, there would be no kids in foster care waiting for families.
How did you decide on a teen girl?
Originally, I was set on adopting a seven-year-old boy who loved sports. Then, God changed my mind as my agency started presenting teen girls who needed a family.
What are some highpoints and low points of your process so far?
Highpoints in the process have included the support I received from P1.27 and my placement agency. I feel confident in my parenting because of the training I received from Project 1.27. I know Project 1.27 cares about me and The Teenager. It’s not just superficial.
The timeline has been one of my low points. There were things that didn’t work out at first and possible placements that fell thru. While waiting for The Teenager to be place in my home, I struggled with the limited communication with her placement team. Sometimes their actions didn’t make it feel like they were there for The Teenager. One example is waiting for two weeks and three email requests to get a response on something. Sometimes I feel like my voice isn’t important to her team as I try and advocate for her. I’m in the trenches with her every day and they check in once a month.
As you were training and preparing, what caught you by surprise?
The awful statistics about kids who age out without a family caught me by surprise.
As did everything I learned about trauma and the impact on kids. Through TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) I even learned about how trauma can change the way a child’s brain looks and how that child responds.
I was also surprised that there wasn’t more involved with becoming a foster parent. 32 hours of training and then you can be a parent. Of course, there’s also the home study and background process after that. And the paperwork!
How did your family respond when you told them you wanted to foster/adopt?
For the most part my family was excited and supportive because I’ve been talking about this for years. My mom was pushing for a younger child, just like I started off wanting a younger boy. Now, as my mom gets to know The Teenager, she’s warming up to the idea of a teen. My nephews and sister-in-law are very excited.
What has it been like having a teenager join your family?
Since I’ve been living on my own for ten years, it’s been difficult to share space with someone else, especially the bathroom. All that hair! It’s a blessing having The Teenager because she can be on her own sometimes. Being a mom is stretching me! I’m growing in patience. I’m an emotional reactor so this is causing me to have to slow down and think before I react to the good and the hard.
The Teenager was with her foster family for five years, a foster mom, foster dad and their adult son. Now it’s the two of us with a new set of rules, going to church twice a week, getting involved in school activities. The Teenager’s foster family was awesome, but different from me. She has to get used to that.
What do you love about parenting a teenager?
I love the independence she has. We do things together of course, but there are also activities we do separately. I love that we can talk about issues and I can help her see other sides that would be lost on a younger kid.
What are your hopes and dreams for The Teenager?
I hope she goes to college or trade school. She’d be the first in her family to attend. My number one hope is for her to realize who she is in Christ. Up to now, her identity has been all about the physical and I want her to know that she’s more than her appearance. I want The Teenager to be happy and know her past doesn’t define her. Her past is a part of her but doesn’t define who she is and who she can be. There is a quote we both love that says, “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” I want The Teenager to live in freedom.
Tell us about your support system
I have a great support system in my church family and Bible study ladies, along with other friends who have been on this journey with me since the beginning. My church family has been praying for me and the child I’m now fostering for two years, starting the day I turned in my foster certification paperwork.
I also have a group of moms I talk to about cultural issues as The Teenager is biracial. We also talk about discipline issues, school issues, all kinds things moms need to know.
I don’t know how you would be a parent without support. It is invaluable.
How have you changed since you started the process?
I have let go of some of my Type A personality traits and learned to compromise in some areas. Giving The Teenager a choice is different than the way I was brought up, but I’m learning I can get a better result if I offer choices. I still need to be the parent, The Teenager needs boundaries and consistency, but I’m approaching this differently.
During the foster certification and placement process, a lady in my Bible Study group told me God was preparing me to be the mom I am supposed to be. For someone who thrives on control, to have absolutely no control of the foster process, especially the placement transition process, helped me realize I had to give God the control. I’ve realized that because of the waiting - for both The Teenager and me, I get to be HER mom. For example, The Teenager, after an unfortunate earlier adoption disruption, was placed back into foster care the same month I turned in my foster parent paperwork.
Adoption. That’s what The Teenager and I both want.
What would you tell other people considering foster care or adoption?
Pray about it and take the first step of obedience. Trust the process. Get your training through Project 1.27.
Why do you think it’s important for churches to be involved?
Oh, man. We are called to help the orphans and widow. Its not an optional thing. It doesn’t mean every Christian is called to adopt or foster, but we are all called to be involved in some way. As one who has been adopted by Christ, I want to show that same type of grace to someone else.
How can we be praying for you?
Pray for discernment, wisdom and patience in parenting The Teenager.
Anything else you want to share?
Don’t let your marital or financial status hold you back from taking this step. Society tells you that you must be married and make $100,000/year. Don’t let something that isn’t really a barrier, be a barrier. Take the first step and you’ll be surprised at how doors will open. People say, “You’re choosing to be a single mom. And I say, “Yes, I’m choosing to be a single mom because this kid needs a family.”
March is Social Worker Appreciation Month! Although you may or may not have direct contact with the social workers on your foster family’s team, there are some ways you can show social workers your gratitude for all they do. Talk with your foster or adoptive family about whether it’s best for you to express appreciation directly or organize the details so your family can offer the appreciation.
Social workers are not just in child welfare. They work in other areas such as schools, hospitals, and businesses. Here are some ideas to show appreciation for the social workers working hard to care for the vulnerable in your community.
When did you meet? July 2013
Where did you meet? Princess Cruise Lines. Andrew was a personal trainer and Janelle was on an Alaskan Cruise with her family.
Who was interested first? Both.
When did you get married? May 2014
Valentine’s Day celebration? Our son was at a birthday party, so we took the three girls ice skating! It was Rose’s and Ella's first time and it was incredible the JOY we experienced seeing their confidence grow and then soar on the ice.
What did you love first about Andrew? Besides his English accent? I love his positive spin on life and entrepreneurial spirit.
What did you love first about Janelle? Janelle has a light about her!
What’s your favorite thing to do together? Outdoor activities- especially skiing and biking. Working out. Traveling whenever we have the chance!
How did you work together to finish the licensing process? We fit it in the nooks and crannies! We had support from another family to help with the kids while we went to training. That was incredible!
How did becoming foster parents impact your marriage? It tested our marriage. We are thankful Project 127 didn’t sugar coat anything in the training. If our marriage, our communication, hadn't already been in a good place, I honestly don’t know if we would have made it through the way we did. We both sought outside counseling/coaching to have outside perspective and wisdom. That was the best money we have spent.
Tell us about your kids. Anja is 10.5, Rose and Kade are both 9, one week apart to the day and hour! Ella is 8. January is our "triplet" month, when the younger three are all the same age. Fun! (But I still haven’t figured out how to plan that many birthday parties.) When we were in Foster Training, we were asked what kind of kids we were hoping to foster. We were being a bit silly and made a comment that we were looking for kids who liked to bike and ski. Well, our two new daughters love nothing more than to bike and ski! So many metaphors for life being tough and God giving us strength to overcome are being learned as the girls have now skied their first "double black" and earned the BLACK ski hat.
How have your kids impacted your marriage? Our marriage has been made richer - because of the tough times, the arguments, the frustrations with each other, the working it out - we feel more grounded, more stable for life's storms.
How do you show your kids how much you love each other? We hug lots in front of them. We talk about how we feel about each other in front of them. We want them to know that we, too, have hard times and God has given us His strength when we feel weak. We assure the kids our marriage is #1 and then it's them. They see us have date nights and take trips just the two of us. Our goal is that they trust our words and feel our love.
What were some fostering challenges you faced together? The system is super frustrating. It was hard to see past the "broken” system" some days, especially when we were so ready for our girls to start building up a more secure identity.
How did you support each other through the hard days as foster parents? This we are passionate about! We “kick each other out” often. We each chose a healthy outlet activity and made sure it was happening every day. Or MOST every day. For Andrew it is getting out on his mountain bike. For Janelle it is hitting the gym first thing in the morning.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about Andrew as you parent together? Andrew is consistent. I knew that about him when we first met on the cruise ship, and as we emailed and spoke on the phone while dating. He was true to his word. Now that we are parents, it is that exact characteristic that allows our kids to thrive and our marriage to be strong.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about Janelle as you parent together? Janelle can handle more than she thought. It is not my job to fix her, but to support her during tough times. Janelle needs her own time and sleep is vital for her to be full of the joys of spring! Janelle brings tenderness and fun to the kids’ lives.
What are some ways your church or support team help you keep your marriage strong? We recently moved to a smaller church and the community has been exactly what we were needing. Many other families in the church have adopted and fostered children. Recently, we shared about adoption during a service and it was very emotional to recap the past three years. The church has been such a support and encouragement to us.
What’s one thing you’d recommend to other couples considering foster care? If you feel called to foster, know that it WILL be hard. Don't be surprised when tough times come your way and you have moments of thinking, "Why am I putting myself through this?" Set up a fantastic counselor or coach ahead of time. The bottom line is foster children don't deserve any of this hardship. It's not easy for these kids. It's not going to be easy for you. That said, God wants you to show up in kids’ lives in the most powerful of ways. We have personally witnessed God on a whole new level as a family, as a couple and personally. Through the storms, we clearly see God's purpose, path and provision.
No one ever looks back on his or her life and says, "I'm so glad I took the easy road."
How can we pray for you and your family? Pray our children would have their identity cemented in Christ. That all four see how God is at work in their lives and the world. Pray they fully experience the joy that comes through hardship, even at a young age.
As a support team member to your foster family, you likely have love and generosity to spare. As your loved ones welcome children and settle into a routine, the foster child will become a part of outings and everyday events. You want to play a role in ensuring the child feels welcomed and included but sometimes it’s unclear how to navigate the new relationship. Children who have experienced trauma show and receive love differently than you might be used to due to the hurt they have experienced.
Below are four ways that you can show love to kids from hard places that encourage connection, but still honor the boundaries and relationships they are building with their new foster family.
Write encouraging notes to the foster child. Encouraging quotes, age-appropriate stickers, coloring pages, hand-drawn cartoons and other creative expressions let the foster child know he is a welcome part of the community.
Use kind words around the foster child. Notice the things that a child is good at and point that out. For example, ‘I saw you share your toy with Casey even though it is your favorite. That was very kind of you.’ Your kind words help the child identify her positive attributes and gain much needed self-confidence.
Play board games together. Spending silly and unstructured time together shows a foster child he is loved and a valued companion. A game of Sorry, Hide and Seek, or basketball can go a long way in building connection.
Be patient with challenging behaviors. Foster children often have multiple traumatic experiences and may show behaviors you haven’t seen in a child. While the foster parent is working to set household structure and correct behaviors, an understanding on your part will go a long way in creating a safe place for both the foster child and parent. Even when expressing feelings thru negative behaviors, children want to be understood and valued. A child may not have learned the skills to handle situations in a healthy way, but loving, nurturing, patient adults can help him learn positive social skills while navigating complex emotions and experiences.
Happy New Year! As 2019 ushers in new opportunities for goal setting and pursuing ambitions, now is the perfect time to consider how to renew your commitment to actionable steps to support the foster families in your life.
Pray – Reach out and ask about how you can be specifically praying for your foster family. Prayer apps like Echo allow you to enter a prayer reminder and it will pop up at the same time every day. Consider setting a reminder in your phone to text or check in with your foster family about their prayer request and ask how they are doing.
Bring a meal or care package – No matter what stage of placement your foster family is in, the scheduling demands of foster care can leave little time to plan a meal. Offering to drop a meal in their refrigerator or freezer can be just the relief needed at the end of a long day. Gift cards for the family to order in are great too! Another option to consider is providing care packages for children and adults. Deliver a sack of kid-friendly snacks such as juice boxes, protein snacks, apples, granola bars, or fruit snacks. Don’t forget the adults with favorites like dark chocolate, donuts, or coffee!
Considering a gift for the foster or adoptive family you support? We have a few ideas that may be the gift that keeps on giving!
When Pete and Ellie decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child, but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hope of becoming a family.
This film is not recommended for young children or children who have been a part of the foster care system. If an older foster/adoptive youth would like to see “Instant Parents”, I suggest watching it with them and following the film with a discussion about your personal attachment to the child. It may be triggering to their situation as well as verbalizing fears that they may have about self-worth and abandonment.
I’m thankful that “Instant Parents” is receiving attention and I hope that it does draw in people to consider becoming foster parents or providing more support to foster families in their community. The intention of the film was to be a blessing to the foster/adoption community as well as to hopefully recruit more families for kids!
Foster parents Todd and Heather Lessem, along with their sons, Asher and Jadon, are currently fostering a 15-month old girl, “Peanut”. In a recent phone interview with Project 1.27, Todd and Heather shared their experiences so far.
What made you first consider serving as foster and adoptive parents?
Heather- I had adoption in the back of my mind after our second son was born. Todd was a little hesitant about the idea. One Sunday at church, our Pastor had invited a representative from DHS to share the need for foster parents in our county. That was the first time we’d considered foster care as our path. Coupling my passion for orphans with the need in our county started our journey.
Todd- I looked back at our premarital counseling and realized we’d both answered the question, “Would you ever consider adoption,” with a yes! Right about the time our pastor brought in the local DHS, two of our family friends started towards foster care. We didn’t realize it then, but God was using those friends to get us started.
Our news is consistently flooded with stories about people who have been subjected to sexual abuse. Working with kids from hard places, we know that sexual abuse is not new, but more and more people are willing to come forward to share their experience.
Statistics say that 1 in 10 children (1 in 3 girls; 1 in 6 boys) experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. 90% of children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator from school, church, friends, or their own family.
One of the most significant factors that make a child vulnerable to abuse is not having an involved caregiver. Perpetrators watch children and their families to see if they can gain access and privacy with the child without gaining attention. As you can imagine, children who are experiencing neglect or have a caregiver who struggles with substance abuse often fly under the radar.