Fostering Older Youth: Let the Healing Begin

“Kids need families to grow up – that’s just what they need.” 

girl-676185_1280That’s what a Plummer foster youth said and we believe it’s true, no matter the age or circumstance of the young person in care. Sadly, thousands of youth exit the foster care system every year without a family to call their own. They often face homelessness, unemployment and worse. People who foster teens and older youth can help make sure this doesn’t happen.

Many older youth in foster care have been moved over and over again. They’ve grown up thinking that their next move may be just around the corner. That just one mistake can lead to them being moved from their current foster home into another, or into a group home. In all likelihood they’ve changed schools repeatedly and fallen behind.  We know that bouncing from place to place like this, never knowing who they will be living with next, makes it difficult for foster youth to trust anyone.

Adults who foster these young people are in a position to make a profound difference. When a youth in foster care begins to understand that someone is committed to stopping them from bouncing around the foster care system and is determined to help them find a permanent family, it frees her to begin to heal.

Plummer’s goal is for a Plummer foster home to be a young person’s last foster home. This doesn’t mean the foster parent(s) will adopt. What it means is that the foster parent(s) understand how harmful it is for a child to keep bouncing around from place to place and are willing to do the best they can to make their home the last stop before that child finds a permanent family. Sometimes the foster family may indeed become the permanent family, most times they will not.

We know we are raising the bar for foster care. We’re doing it because we deeply believe it’s what is best for kids. We provide our foster families extra support to hang in through the tough times. Foster youth do best when a permanent family is the goal for them. The path to that permanent family is through a committed foster family.

Imagine changing a child’s life course from one headed toward homelessness to one headed toward a forever family. Won’t you join us in changing lives?

Taking Care of yourself as a Foster Parent

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parent self careAs a foster parent, it can be easy to fall into the belief that all of our time, attention, and emotional energy should be focused on your children. After all, their needs are great: they may be recovering from trauma, they may have special needs, and at the very least they will need lots of support to feel comfortable and accepted in a new household. At the end of a long day, it can be easy for foster parents to forget to take care of themselves.

But there is good reason to strive for balance. After all, healthy families are created when all family members, adults and children alike, feel listened to, loved, and taken care of. It may be difficult, but as a parent it is extremely important to ask for the space, time and opportunity to care for yourself.

One way to start is by building your support system. Talking with friends, family or professionals will allow you to express any powerful emotions, such as frustration, sadness or fear, before they build into stress that can affect your health.  Friends and family can also provide concrete support, such as watching your children when you want to take some time to get a haircut, do some fun shopping, or visit with friends.  Don’t be afraid to ask!

Even during the busiest days, taking care of yourself can be as easy as actively seeking out moments of joy. Download some of your favorite songs to your smart phone and listen to them in the car when driving between errands and appointments. Turn a grocery store run into a scavenger hunt for your kids, making up silly clues along the way. Throw a dance party in your living room. Keep a book by your bedside and read a page of two before going to sleep. Incorporating positive times into your routine will be easier if you start with the little things.

Foster parents deserve to take time for themselves. Nurturing and caring for a foster child can be some of the most demanding and worthy work that anyone can do. Building care for yourself into your life will teach your children the importance of the cultivation of joy, respect for one’s self, and setting limits so that the family works for everyone. It can be easy to forget how much our children learn from the examples that we set for them. Make sure you set an example by taking care of yourself.

Making Birth Family Visits Successful for Your Foster Child

dad-909510_1280Birth family visits are important for children in foster care. They allow family connections to stay strong. They can reassure both children and adults that the people they care about are still part of their lives even if they aren’t living together. Children and youth in foster care who have regular contact with their birth families have fewer fantasies about the families they have been separated from and may be better able to understand that they can care for both birth and foster families.

At the same time, birth family visits can be a source of stress. Birth parents may feel that a scheduled visit is a test of their ability to care for their child. Foster children may worry about their birth families and feel guilty about the things available to them in their foster home. Foster parents may worry about how their foster child will handle the pressure of a birth family visit and if the experience will make it harder for their child to thrive in their foster family.

As a foster parent, there are things you can do to help make these visits easier. Begin with the understanding that although your foster son or daughter may not be able to talk about it, he or she may struggle with feelings of being caught between two families. These feelings may get worse before or after birth family contact. You can gently acknowledge these feeling by telling your foster child that you know it can be hard for him or her to go back and forth between families.

Also, be openly supportive of the birth family contact. Let your foster child know you are glad he or she is going to spend time with birth family. Help your foster child prepare for the visit and send him or her off with your encouragement. Let them know what will be happening in your home after their return.

Some kids need a quiet transition time after returning from a birth family visit. They may need to “chill” in their room and rejoin the family after some time has passed. Others may want to fill you in on the details of their visit right away. Ask older kids directly what is helpful for them.

In any case, give them some time to unwind and understand that feelings and thoughts about their birth families are never far away. Your ongoing respect of their birth family connections is one of the many things you can do to make birth family contact a positive experience for everyone involved.