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!
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!
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.
Not just students are in need of more information! When we provide care for children from hard places and support foster and adoptive families it is essential that we have an understanding of what children experience and what the family might truly need. Sometimes we help others in the way that WE think is best and it isn’t actually beneficial for the child or family. The best plan of action is to always ask the family what we can do to be a blessing to them.
There are many trainings offered in Colorado and all around the country that teach us about trauma, how to relate to teenagers, build attachment, and effectively support developmental and mental health disorders. If there is a topic that you think would help you better understand the family you serve, please explore the following resources for trainings, blogs, and books that will equip you in loving foster and adoptive families well.
BLOGS AND PODCASTS
By contacting a local Child Placement Agency or county Human Services Department, you may learn about additional learning resources outside of Colorado.
May is National Foster Care Month. Around the country, the faith community is working with child welfare to recruit more foster families and increase funding for services as the number of children entering the system is increasing at an overwhelming rate. Having 5,734 Colorado children in foster care on a given day in 2017 is a problem, especially with only 2,200 licensed foster homes.. To confront this, we welcome friends, families, churches, and support team members to join Project 1.27 as we foster love during the month of May and beyond
In the month of October we see neighbors front yards turn into graveyards, spider webs covering trees, and skeletons hanging from racks in the grocery store. Generally, this isn’t unsettling for us and despite the decorations, we feel safe. The understanding we have of feeling safe in our surroundings is called “felt safety”.
Kids who have experienced trauma may not feel safe, even in the comforts of a loving foster home. We KNOW that they’re safe. They have food, water, a bed, and hopefully a community of nurturing people coming around them to provide for their needs. However, because of what they have experienced, their brain development is often stuck with their fear center (the amygdala) being consistently activated, without a higher level of cognitive processing. Without the slower and more deliberate processing of higher parts of the brain (the prefrontal cortex), the stress hormone cortisol is released and the fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered. Regardless of the safety that we believe we’re providing for these kids, they don’t feel safe.