If you support a family serving in the foster care system, you are likely aware that the goal of any case is reunification with the foster child’s family. Not only is reunification a beautiful example of God’s redemption, it is also the goal per the federal law that outlines Child Welfare practice. Reunification can be the most difficult stage for foster parents. Even though foster parents know reunification is the desired outcome, they almost certainly will experience grief over losing a child they have embraced and grown to love. The end of a placement is one of the times your foster family will need you the most. Below are some ideas on how to help the family celebrate reunification and grieve the loss of a beloved child.
Since 2013, Karen & Paul Dunlap have fostered close to 50 children. Their three grown children have also fostered and adopted, and over 100 kids from foster care have been part of the extended family!
Recently, Karen and Paul welcomed Nia*, an angry 14-year-old, straight from a juvenile detention center. After Nia dumped black trash bags of stuff on the bedroom floor, Karen realized some of the anger stemmed from the fact that Nia was adamant that none of the things belonged to her. No jeans that fit correctly, or even a familiar pair of shoes. Karen asked Nia, “What if we take $100 and get you some things that you pick out.” The teen reluctantly went. Karen shared, “She purchased stuff I had to bite my tongue about, reminding myself that it wasn’t about the purchases. It was about Nia knowing I heard her, and I cared.”
Currently, the Dunlaps are taking short term placements, like Nia. Some are older, tough kids, even gang members. Even in the short time they are with her, Karen works to spend the kind of quality time with them where they feel heard, safe, and loved. She prays that they will see the real reason she can so easily love them. She says, "Especially with shorter placements, it's easy to feel like we have made no lasting difference in their lives." But knowing that God's heart will be forever chasing after these kids, she is content to be planting seeds he can use in their lives down the road. She hopes that one day they will say, “I remember that one lady who thought God was the answer. Maybe she was right!”
Back to school is a busy time of year and it can be difficult to get back into the rhythm of a constantly moving routine. Children in foster care may experience an additional challenge as they are starting a new school year in an unfamiliar home, school and community. This can cause a child to experience anxiety, sadness and fear which must be managed emotionally and psychologically.
One helpful tool during this season is to create a quiet space for the child to enjoy. Having a designated quiet area in the home allows space for a child to refresh mind and body. This is especially important for children who have sensory needs, mental health needs or no longer nap. Not only does this provide a break from stimulation, but it teaches children a new coping mechanism to manage stress and other big feelings, and how to advocate for themselves when overwhelmed.
Summer is quickly coming to an end, and it’s time for foster families to prepare for the back to school transition. This season can present mixed feelings for a child in foster care. Some children may have fear or anxiety about starting school in a new community, being academically behind or developing relationships with peers. As your foster family works to settle children into a school year routine, below are some suggestions on how you can support both the child and family during this transition.
Relay coupons and school supply deals: This time of year, there are so many avenues for accessing school supplies. If you know of a specific supply drive, coupons or other deals, share them with your foster family. If you have children of your own, invite the family to school supply shop with you and tackle the task together!
In the spirit of Father’s Day, it is important to celebrate and encourage the fathers and father figures in our lives who serve their families, children and community. Fathers and father figures should provide a powerful foundation of respect, trust and love. For many children coming into care, instead of this powerful foundation, there may have been neglect, fear and harshness. As a result, fathers and father figures in foster care may be the first positive male role model a child knows. Below are some suggestions for how to recognize this important role and implement ways to help the foster child build a powerful foundation of respect, trust and love.
Exploration and learning is important for all children, but especially for those in foster care. Often times children experiencing the foster care system have had schedules disrupted by trauma or multiple moves, potentially causing them to fall behind in a variety of areas. Summer provides a fun and unstructured environment for foster children to create some fun memories and catch up on their learning in the process. Foster parents and their support systems have the unique opportunity to help the child explore new things and discover new interests.
As a support team member, now is the perfect opportunity to help your families invest in and explore new things together, and maybe even join in on the fun!
Below are some ideas to engage your foster family in summer fun.
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:
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.
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!