What are the facts about foster care?

May is National Foster Care Month. What are the facts about foster care? How many youth and children are in foster homes? What are the results for youth who have spent all or part of their lives in foster care?

Simmons College School of Social Work created an Infographic that details the harsh realities surrounding youth in the foster care system across the country based on information from national surveys and reports. They found that, nationwide, one in 184 youth are in foster care.

The Infographic shows how youths of all ages, races are represented in the foster care system. However, according to the data, “If one child were to represent all others in the foster care system,  he would be nine years old, white, more likely to be disabled than a child living outside of the foster care system, and trying to reunify with his family.”

Sadly, but not surprisingly, youth who have spent time in foster care are more likely than the general population to have a difficult life. These young people are more likely to become homeless, unemployed or dependent to drugs and alcohol. They are less likely to graduate from high school or college and more likely to commit a crime. 

How do we change these statistics? At Plummer Home we believe three ingredients are essential for these youth to succeed as adults. First and foremost, they must have families who are committed to them for a lifetime. In addition, they need skills and community connections. These beliefs are the basis of the Plummer Home Intervention model. The Simmons’ Infographic shows us all that there are kids out there who need help and why that help is important.

Check out Simmons College’s Infographic for more details on the facts about foster care.


Foster Parenting Dilemmas: Understanding Puzzling Behaviors

Girl with suitcaseAll children and teenagers exhibit challenging behaviors at times. Usually parents have an idea where such behaviors are coming from. Is the child hungry, cranky, or perhaps experiencing typical challenges and insecurities of the teenage years?

When we understand a behavior, it’s easier to respond in a way that is helpful for the child and comfortable for the parent. Often foster children act in ways that seem to make no sense to their foster parents. A young foster child who is desperate for playmates may consistently push away other children. Or an adolescent foster daughter may act out before an event she has been eagerly anticipating. A foster child may hoard food in his room, attracting both “critters” and the confusion of his foster parents, who provide plenty of food for their family.

A concept called the “invisible suitcase” can be a helpful way to understand such puzzling behaviors: http://bit.ly/1T1cDWR. Children in foster care typically bring with them just a few physical possessions, but along with that they bring the sum total of all of their life experiences. These experiences are the contents of the invisible suitcase.

If a child has learned that he’s not lovable, he carries that feeling in the invisible suitcase he brings to his foster home. And he’ll likely act accordingly as if to ensure that others affirm his negative view of himself. If a child has learned that she can’t trust adults, she carries that in her invisible suitcase and may be resistant to trusting a new adult in her life.

Rest assured, it’s not personal! The behavior that makes no sense to you likely makes perfect sense to your foster child.

You can help unpack that invisible suitcase. Over time, as you provide a healing, loving and consistent set of experiences, the contents of the suitcase will disappear. This will help your foster child let go of the suitcase and move on to tackling the more typical challenges of growing up. We’ll address some specific strategies for managing challenging behaviors in foster care in a future post.

And remember, you’re not alone. These puzzling behaviors can be difficult to manage. Reach out to fellow foster parents and to the social worker at your foster care agency.

Note: For more information on the concept of the invisible suitcase check out http://bit.ly/1T1cDWR on the website of The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Foster Parenting on Mother’s Day

May is National Foster Care Month ribbonAnne, an experienced foster parent of 20+ years, remembers that when she first became a foster mother she assumed that there would be celebration on Mother’s Day, but she found that most years it was easier not to have too many expectations of the day. Some children will want to talk about or visit with their birth mother; other youth might have a difficult time on Mother’s Day and not know why.

While kids in foster families can care deeply for their foster mothers, most also love and miss their birth mothers from whom they’ve been removed – and Mother’s Day reminds them of this loss.  Anne recalls that her foster son, Josh, wasn’t able to sit with the family during meals on Mother’s Day. It was just too painful. Anne would try to encourage him to join the family, but often found herself allowing Josh to have dinner on a TV tray.  During Josh’s first Mother’s Day with Anne, she recalled that he was feeling sad and wanted a hug; however, due to his history of multiple losses, Josh was afraid to make himself emotionally vulnerable.

Instead of just giving her a hug, Josh told Anne that first he needed to go to the “hug store” to buy one. This way, the hug would not be directly from him, but one that he “purchased” – much safer for him emotionally.  The hug store ended up being the place Josh would go often when he was feeling down and needed a mother’s affection, but was having a difficult time asking for it.

Sarah shared that Mother’s Day is also different in her family, now that she is a foster parent. She recognizes that foster children may not be thinking about her on this special day and usually tries to help her foster children honor their birth mothers on the holiday. Like most acts of foster parenting, Sarah was not thinking about herself, but rather what was best for the children for whom she deeply cares.

Sarah’s foster son, Alex’s, eyes lit up last year when she suggested to him that they create a Mother’s Day greeting for his birth mother. Eight-year-old Alex carefully wrote a “Happy Mother’s Day” message and held it up proudly so that Sarah could take a picture and email it to his birth mother. She remembers that he wore a gratified smile all day long. What could be a better Mother’s Day gift than that?

While many kids are happily cooking breakfast or making personalized gifts on Mother’s Day, for some kids in foster care, Mother’s Day brings up mixed emotions – not all positive. Understanding these underlying emotions can help foster moms have realistic expectations and create closer bonds with their foster children.