Getting Closer: Developing a Nurturing Relationship with Your Older Foster Child

“Don’t hug me!” says your 14 year old foster daughter.  “I don’t feel like talking”, huffs your 16 year old foster son.  What is a foster parent to do?

Chances are, when you became a foster parent, you were looking forward to being able to comfort and nurture any foster child placed with you.  But if you’re caring for a teen, things may suddenly seem not that simple.

Many teens in foster care haven’t experienced a consistently nurturing relationship with a caring adult.  As a foster parent, your job is to try to do that, despite the challenges.  In doing this, you will change your foster child’s life forever. The physical care, cuddling and holding through which babies and young children are nurtured aren’t appropriate for older children. So you have to find other ways to nurture your foster child.

One tool you can use is food.  Food is a reliable source of comfort and nurture. Providing regular mealtimes that include opportunities to eat together as a family can help a foster child feel nurtured. Making an effort to serve the child’s favorite foods can help him feel accepted by your family.

If you can get your foster teen involved with the food preparation, even better! This gives you a great opportunity to work closely with your foster child while also teaching him important life skills. Maybe eventually you can take it a step further and pair up with him to plan, shop for, cook and serve a meal together.

Teaching your older child how to do something useful is also a powerful tool.  Everyone likes to feel competent – even needed – so lessons like these can be a real gift.  Add to it that the teaching itself provides natural opportunities for warm interactions, and it’s clear that this is a tool worth trying.

With an older child it’s important to take advantage of opportunities for nurturing which occur as part of the routines of daily life.  And most teens want to look good.  So consider clothes shopping together or going with your foster child for a haircut This can give you special time alone with your foster child and help her feel cared for by you. Opportunities for nurturing occur also when a child is ill. An older child with a bad cold may literally “eat up” your homemade chicken soup and the caring that goes with it.

Nurturing an older foster child can be challenging, so you have to be creative. But the truth is, a lot of opportunities come up in daily life.  Stay open to the possibilities, and they will arise.

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.

Helping Foster Parents with Challenging Kids

hands holdingWe often talk to foster parents who are frustrated by their child’s behaviors.  The child is having a temper tantrum, being untruthful, or destructive.  They are told by many well-meaning friends and professionals that they need to manage the behaviors by negative consequences or give them rewards when they abstain from these undesirable behaviors.  While the behavior may stop for a short time, this doesn’t seem to be a long term solution for most of the youth with whom we work.

Traditional discipline techniques such as time outs, sticker charts and taking away privileges don’t always work when parenting the most challenging youth- including children in foster care.  Dr. Stuart Ablon and the team at Think:Kids have shown us a way to think differently about challenging behaviors that some children demonstrate: Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS).  Rather than seeing the child as being manipulative, limit-testing or simply a bad kid, CPS understands these behaviors to be a byproduct of lacking thinking skills.  In other words, lack of skill not will. The way to reduce these challenging behaviors is to teach the youth these needed skills rather than by reward or punishment programs.

CPS is an evidence-based approach that provides concrete guidelines for parents, and others who work with children, to utilize.  Randy Jones, a certified CPS trainer, recently wrote about his family’s successful experiences using CPS. “Collaborative Problem Solving has permeated every aspect of our lives and we are better for it. From communicating with each other and our children; to operating our business and interacting with our staff. We practice CPS and strive to use it when we are at our worst, because it builds our brains.” See more here.

Plummer Group Home Staff have been trained in these techniques and it is making a difference in outcomes for the youth there.   And we are thrilled to be offering this same training to our Plummer foster parents in the fall! For more information on the Collaborative Problem Solving approach visit: http://www.thinkkids.org/

Plummer Foster Care is looking for individuals and families interested in becoming foster parents. Visit our website here to learn more. 

Ever thought of becoming a Foster Parent?

aunt and nephewIt’s not a quick decision.  Ask anyone who fosters how they decided to become a foster parent, and they will talk to you about a journey.  A journey filled with questions like: Will I get too attached?  What will it feel like when my foster child leaves? These questions seem to be universal.

Recently we’ve come across several blog posts that go to the heart of the attachment questions by reframing the issue from the child’s perspective. Jason Johnson’s post movingly refers to shifting his thinking “away from what I stand to lose and towards what a child might stand to gain.

In a post called Crash Course in Parenting, the author writes “I am going to cry if/when “my boys” go home, possibly for days or even weeks. . . . But I hope that we can have a positive impact on the children that make their way into our home and into our hearts. They have been through so much and any loss that I might endure is so small in comparison to their very great losses.”

In Massachusetts, there are thousands of young people in need of loving foster homes.  They are waiting for safety, love and guidance. If you foster, will your foster child eventually leave you? In all likelihood, yes.  Will it be hard? Yes. Will you have made a difference? Most definitely yes.  These posts above remind us that fostering is not about the adults, it’s about the kids.

Plummer Foster Care turned away more than 200 kids last year because we didn’t have enough parents. Can you help?  Click here to find out more.

Growing Up in the Foster Care System: Kristina’s Story

girls riding bikesSometimes the most sophisticated professionals can’t come close to articulating things as powerfully as youth who have grown up in the foster care system. The piece below, by 21 year old Kristina, is a perfect example.

On the Importance of Siblings, Foster Parents and Social Workers, by Kristina

I was only 10 when I was taken away from my mother. Before that, we had had years of DCF supervision—social workers, rehab programs, family plans. But my mother couldn’t keep to any of them—her alcoholism was just too strong. In a way, I knew it. My mother, as great as she was when she was sober, just couldn’t take care of her children. In another way, though, I didn’t understand at all. My mother was my family—the only one I’d ever known.

I have a little brother and sister—twins, Julio and Kayla. At the time, they were 9, and even though they were just a little younger than me, I had always looked out for them. After all, my mom wasn’t doing it. I’d do the kids’ laundry, scrounge something for dinner, make sure they had their books for school. But now, we were going to be separated—DCF couldn’t find a foster family that could take all three of us. So I went to live in Beverly (MA), Julio in Salem, and Kayla in Andover. For all of us even to see each other, three families had to coordinate their schedules, and find someone to drive…it didn’t happen often. I felt I’d lost everything.

The next few years were a blur of difficult situations with different families. I would be placed somewhere, things would start off well, then I would act up. I’d yell and scream, tell the family I hated them. I was angry, I was hurt…I was heartbroken. And I was only a kid. So, I took it out on those around me, and they—well, they did the best they could with a girl they just couldn’t understand. But none of the placements lasted long.

Then one day, DCF assigned me a new social worker. MaryLuz Arling called me and took me out to a café. We had a long talk. She wanted to learn all about me: my likes and dislikes, my sports and hobbies. She asked me about my hopes and dreams for the future, and wanted to know how I was getting along with my current foster family. What were the good things there, what were the points of conflict? She seemed genuinely interested.

I talked about my birth family, especially about Julio and Kayla. It was the first time anyone had ever actually asked me what I wanted—I couldn’t believe it. MaryLuz told me that she was going to find me a new placement, one that was going to last. To make sure that it did, she had to know who I was, and what would make me happy.

Within the next few months, after going through MaryLuz’s standard process of gradually introducing prospective families, I moved into a new home. It was a completely different experience from start to finish. I bonded right away with my foster brothers and sisters, and the family provided a kind of stability and support I had really never experienced. It wasn’t perfect— my foster mother and I had weirdly similar personalities, and because of that, we sometimes fought—but it was a home where I felt cared for and—finally—understood.

MaryLuz also found homes for Julio and Kayla. They were doing really well in them—especially Kayla. In fact, it wasn’t long before she realized she’d found her forever family with her foster parents, Patty and Tom. Now, the three of us kids were seeing each other more often, and I started to get to know Patty and Tom. They let Julio and me know that their doors were open to both of us, and that Kayla’s family was theirs as well.

When I was 18, I left my foster family to try independent living for a while. But before long, I decided to accept Patty and Tom’s offer to move in with them. I’m 21 now.  I’ve graduated from high school and I have a good job that I enjoy. I could never have gotten this far without the support of my foster families. But the person who really got me onto my new and better path was MaryLuz. Without her, I don’t know where I would be.

From Foster Parent to Adoptive Mom: One Year Later

The boysIt was never Karen’s intention to adopt a sibling group of three.  She was going to be their foster mother while they worked toward reunifying with their birth mother. 

While fostering, she learned a lot about the importance of stopping kids from bouncing around the foster care system.  About the importance of finding them a safe, permanent, loving home – with birth family or someone else.

So when it became clear that reunifying with their birth mother was not an option, Karen decided to adopt. 

One year later, here’s the email she sent to us at Plummer Foster Care. 

Just wanted to update you all on the one year anniversary of “The Adoption”.

All of the boys are doing great and each is doing their own thing:

  • John is doing Floor Hockey with the YMCA
  • Steven is now a Junior Purple Belt with Ocasio’s True Martial Arts
  • TJ is doing summer league basketball
  • Both John & Steven play Spring league Flag Football Sundays.
  • All 3 boys will be attending the YMCA Sports Camp this summer in Plaistow NH.

 

All boys are in good health and are doing ok in school. They get to play video games on the weekends only (which drives them all crazy).

Most days after school John makes a supersonic sandwich of 3 different lunch meats, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo. John is learning how to do his own laundry (thank God for Tide Pods). Because he’s so short, he has to stand on his tip toes to reach in the washing machine to get his clothes out.

Steven turned 8 on May 1st and had his party at Laser Craze in North Andover. He wanted an all boy party “no girls allowed” and that is what he had. Steven’s favorite sandwich is Fluff and bread –no peanut butter. Steven is also learning how to do his laundry, John & I help him put his things in the dryer.

TJ cooks dinner one night a week. He watches the food network and thinks he’s a chef. He had done burgers (on the grill), chili, and Hamburger helper. I want to start him out slow, very slow. (smile). TJ does his laundry on occasion (smile).

This has been a long journey, but I think things are finally coming together for us and I just want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for making this all possible for me or should I say us.

-Karen & The Boys

Poem by a Plummer Foster Parent

In this poem, one of our foster parents reminds us of the deep power and lasting impact of foster parents. Thank you Miss Elayne.

Change a Lifetime May is National Foster Care Month

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legacy of Foster Parents

Children come into your life for a reason, sometimes for a season
Often for a lifetime.
You don’t need to know which one it is, you will adapt to each child.
Remember, every child is in your life for a REASON
Often to meet a need.
They come so you can assist them through a difficulty,
Provide them with guidance and support,
Aid them physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Sometimes they may seem like a godsend.
More often, a challenge.
You may thank God or ask “Why me Lord?”
Remember, they are here for a reason;
Learn their reason and help them to succeed.

Some children come into your life for a SEASON.
An experience of peace, to make you laugh, or test your patience.
They may teach you something new or remind you of the past.
They often bring you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it is real, if only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach LIFETIME lessons.
Lessons you must build upon to create a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the child
And put what you both have learned to use
In all other relationships and areas of your lives.
This foundation will last a lifetime.

Then, often without any wrongdoing on either part
Usually at an inconvenient time
They are gone
And for the moment, the relationship is suspended.
Often they go home or to live with extended family;
Sometimes they go to college, start a family of their own
Get married or just strike out to find themselves.
What we must realize is that we have met a need.
Our desire to help was fulfilled, our work is suspended
And often, for this child, done.

Frequently children search and find you to say “Thanks.”
Sometimes they return for help with their adult lives.
Sometimes they return when you need them most.
Often, sadly, the outcome of their story remains a mystery.
The prayer you sent up may yet be answered.
There is a hole in your heart.
You need to remember: However small,
You have made a difference in a life.

It is said that love is blind, friendship is clairvoyant.
Our relationships with our foster children are, uniquely,
A wonderful combination of both.

To All OUR KIDS – Biological, Adopted and Foster –
Thank you for being a part of our lives.
You were here for a reason,
A season, a lifetime.

May is National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month“Kids Need Families – it’s just what they need.”  – foster youth

Imagine growing up without your family. Sadly, there are hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. for whom this is the reality. May is National Foster Care Month, a time to highlight the plight of children in foster care and to salute those families and professionals who ensure that these young people have what all kids need and deserve – someone to love and a place to call home.

Plummer Foster Care works throughout Northeastern Massachusetts to find foster families willing to parent children and teens in the system. The Plummer Foster Care Program is dedicated to getting those kids into families so they don’t bounce around from place to place, school to school and community to community.

All types of people qualify as foster parents. To become a foster parent, you don’t need a big house, a spouse or partner or extensive parenting experience. What you do need is dedication, patience and a strong desire to provide a stable and loving home for a young person in foster care.

Community information sessions hosted by Plummer Foster Care offer a chance to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of foster parents.  These sessions let you know about the children and youth served by Plummer, allow you to meet staff, answer your questions and determine if fostering is right for you.  A list of these sessions is on the Plummer website at WWW.PLUMMERHOME.ORG/FOSTERCARE.

The Plummer team provides 24/7 support for all of its foster families. Plummer foster parents have access to a network of social workers, support groups, experienced parent mentors, programs and services and other community and state resources.

“No doubt that foster parenting can be challenging” admits Knapp-Hernandez.  “But many foster parents agree that it’s also the most rewarding experience of their lives.”

Plummer foster parent Tina says, “There’s always support, the social workers are great. It doesn’t even feel like you’re talking to a social worker, it’s like you’re talking to someone you know. They’ll come out and play with the kids on their weekly visits, things like that. They make the kids feel like it’s another person they can trust and count on and that’s what these kids need.”

Plummer turned down more than 200 requests for homes from the Department of Children and Families just in the last year.  This National Foster Care Month, call Plummer to find out how you can make the difference of a lifetime to a child in foster care.  There’s no obligation and it may put you on the most rewarding path you’ve ever taken.

Call 978-935-9555 or visit www.plummerhome.org 

My Favorite Memory as a Foster Parent

motherson2Timmy moved into my home on his 8th birthday.  He was my very first foster child, and it was an emergency.  Luckily, I was aware of the birthday so I had time to buy a cake, balloons and a gift.  I didn’t know what he’d like, but I chose a stuffed animal that could fold into a pillow –  a green gator, since I figured boys like tough animals.  He was happy with my choice and told me he had a bunch of other stuffed animals that he slept with to keep him safe.

While Timmy hadn’t been bounced around too much, he was removed from a home where he lived with his little sister to a residential program prior to moving in with our family. This was going to be a big change.  He would be the youngest child in my home –  I have two boys and a girl, pre- to mid-teens.

Timmy arrived with several issues that were related to his trauma history, but nothing seemed to move him.  One day he got into trouble at school and lost privileges at home; he cried and I was ecstatic!  I know this may sound weird, but what it proved to me was that teamwork does pay off. Timmy’s team consisted of his social worker, a trauma therapist, myself, maternal grandmother and school staff. We worked diligently to make him feel safe and change some of his self-injurious behaviors.

So, his tears signified a breakthrough to me.  I knew he was withholding his emotions making it look like he didn’t care; he cared.  Unleashing the bottled up emotions was the beginning of something new for me and for Timmy.  He gave me a strange look as I praised him for crying.  He may not have understood, but I knew why I was happy!

While the journey transitioning Timmy back to his family home was long and challenging, it was incredibly rewarding.  Before he left, Timmy graduated from trauma therapy, passed the MCAS in school, outgrew several of the self-injurious behaviors that hindered his development and matured into a kind, caring kid. His birth parents had also made changes that demonstrated significant growth.  Letting Timmy go was not easy.  It proved to be very emotional for me and my birth children; but knowing we had helped him to make so many positive changes and learn how to “use his voice” made all the difference.

Timmy is happy to be HOME. We have forged a relationship with his birth family so we can all keep in touch – and we do.  We are already planning a get-together once the weather gets warmer.

10 Reasons YOU would make an excellent Foster Parent

  1. family3You have always thought about becoming a foster parent. Find out if now is the right time for your family. Call 978-935-9555
  2. You have a big heart. You want to be able to provide a stable and nurturing environment for a child in need.
  3. You have a sense of humor. Parenting can sometimes be challenging. On difficult days laughter is the best medicine.
  4. You have room for an extra person around the dinner table. You don’t need a big home, just room for one (or two) more.
  5. You have always wanted a big family. There are hundreds of sibling groups that would love to find a home together.
  6. You are ready to fill your Empty Nest. You love parenting and miss having kids in your home.
  7. You are married or single, gay or straight. Marital status and sexual preference do not determine eligibility to become a foster parent. Click HERE to read more myths about foster parenting.
  8. You are ready to take on the challenges and reap the rewards. Foster care agencies including Plummer Foster Care provide support, training and guidance.
  9. You can afford it. Foster Care is more affordable than you may think. Families receive a stipend from the state to help provide for the child in their home. Foster children’s medical expenses are covered as well.
  10. You want to make a difference in a child’s life. Annually, there are 7000 youth in Massachusetts who need foster homes. We don’t have enough foster families to meet the demand.   Change a Life. Become a Foster Parent.

Contact Plummer Foster Care today. www.plummerhome.org; 978-935-9555.