How to Feed Your Foster Kids and Yourself

Before becoming a foster mom, I never gave any thought to how I would feed any children placed in our home. I thought, “Hey, I will feed them.” But it’s not that simple.

The food preferences of the six of us currently in the house are: Asian, Latino, Midwest, and what I like to call “random today I eat it, tomorrow I don’t unless it’s bland and then maybe but maybe not.”

Some don’t eat any bread. One pretty much only eats bread. Three out of four kids eat mac and cheese, but one absolutely will not. Three will eat beans, but not the fourth. Two will eat rice. Unless it’s French fries, only one will eat potatoes.

A wise nutritionist once advised me to always put one item on the table that anyone who didn’t want to eat the main meal, could eat. That used to be bread. But now I have non-bread eaters (I know, I know. Bread is so awesome it’s hard to believe not loving it, especially a freshly baked baguette with French butter!)

So every night is now an international smorgasbord. It features one new main and the leftover main(s) from the last night or two. I purposely make more than we can eat in one sitting in order to have those leftovers. So what’s for dinner tonight? One Asian dish, one Texmex, and one Midwest entree with a couple sides of fruit and veggies.

Fusion? It’s not just for upscale restaurants. My budding culinary artists have invented rice topped with potato salad and tacos stuffed with shredded pork, lettuce and ramen noodles. Of course, for the purists, we still have plain ol’ white bread.

Some ask me why I go out of my way to accommodate everybody. Well, feeding your kids – both foster and otherwise – is a requirement. All joking aside, though, there are lots of reasons.

One kiddo’s ADD meds suppresses her appetite and so she tends to be underweight. Another child frequently refuses to eat and has been losing weight. Also, food is one of those links to the kiddo’s cultural heritage. Lastly, if you’ve had a sucky day, because (insert any regular or foster care hardship here), don’t you just want some comfort food to make you feel better?

Kids Have to Testify Against Parents

So we just learned that the kids will need to testify against their parents. We had been fighting against it, but we have lost that battle. Now, I need to figure out the least traumatizing path forward.

But let me back up for a moment and explain why we fought against 8 year old Watchful and 10 year old Joyful testifying and why we lost.

Testifying can wring you out emotionally. All eyes are on you as lawyers pepper you with questions, and complete strangers listen to you recount some of the most private, painful and embarrassing times in your life. All of these questions dredge up memories of the horrors you have lived through. It feels like you are reliving your worst nightmares. You want to answer correctly, but sometimes you doubt yourself, and you are not sure what the consequences will be because of your answers. The whole court process is strange, new, and scary to you.

Now imagine you are just an elementary school child, so young and vulnerable. Imagine that your testimony will help determine whether your parents go to jail. Whether you will ever get to live with them again. What a huge burden for an 8 and 10 year old to bear!!!

In our county, social services often does not agree to allow the defense lawyers to depose abused children as it is so traumatic, and the lawyers can use the transcript from the CPS worker’s interview of the children upon initial placement into foster care. Since lawyers do not like to put a witness on the stand when they don’t know what the witness will say, kids aren’t often called to court. However, in this case, the county prosecutor wants to interview the children, so social services will not contest it.

Back to the path forward. We need to first figure out how and when to break the news. Probably hubby and I will tell them one evening after summer camp. Do we have their GAL explain court or do we let the county prosecutor do that? On the one hand, the kids have met the GAL once before and she is experienced in working with kids. On the other hand, the county prosecutor would be one-stop shopping – get it all over with in one go.

Then, we need to talk with the therapist. Only Watchful has a therapist, so maybe I can use this as a prod to get Joyful into therapy, which has been slow to materialize. Hopefully, the therapist will have good insight into handling the emotional impact of helping to imprison one’s parents.

And we’ll need to begin lobbying the social worker and prosecutor to allow hubby and I to be present during the interview process. That probably means laying groundwork with the CASA and GAL to have allies for getting our request approved. If we’re there, we can provide emotional support to Joyful and Watchful, and pragmatically it would help keep us in the loop.

I also need to drop an FYI to our family’s social worker and to the kids’ brother’s foster family to keep folks up to speed. This helps our family’s worker be in a position to alert us to unforeseen issues. And we have an agreement with the other foster family to share info, which has proven invaluable in the past.

We’ll need to look for a date that works for the prosecutor, the kids’ social worker, the CASA, the kids and ourselves to do the interview. Ideally, this will be a different day than their visit with dad, therapy appointment and sibling visit. Too much on one day leads to massive melt downs.

We’ll be doing respite for their 4 year old brother Jumping Jack, so we’ll have to find county-approved child care or bring him along on the day of the interview.

All of this for what I think should be a straight forward case. Parents have already confessed. They have done this before. The injuries have been documented.

Guess I better get started on my to do list.

Are They with You Forever?

Sigh.  Yet another person has learned I’m a foster mom and their first question was “oh, do the kids stay with you forever?”  This is a mysterious reaction.  Maybe you can tell me what it’s about.

Here are the options I’ve brainstormed.

1)  People don’t know the difference between adoption and foster care.  (Here’s an oversimplified definition of the difference.  Adoption is forever.  Foster care is temporary.)

2)  People view foster care as being essentially for forever, as a permanent family is never found for the foster kids.

3) People have never heard of foster care, and just don’t know anything about it.

I love the opportunity to tell people just how great foster care is!  So generally, I welcome any question.  This one, though, is probing a tender spot (see how the adoption question has been looming over us).

I’ll keep answering anyone’s questions about foster care regardless, but your insights may make hearing this kind of question a little easier.

Adopting out of Foster Care – a Joy and a Challenge!

Adopting out of foster care is awesome.  We adopted out of international foster care and might end up adopting out of domestic foster care .  You don’t have to take our word that foster-to-adopt is a super great way to build a family.  Check out the blogs of No Bohns About It or  Adoptive Black Mom or Fostering Hope – three other families that have adopted out of foster care.

Today, I’m going to look at the hurdles that are specific to foster-to-adopt, as part of the Adoption Talk Link Up challenge.  Let me tell you up front – all of these hurdles can be overcome and, if you do, you’ll be happy you stuck it out.

1.  Living in Limbo

In many states, you will be dual licensed as both regular foster parents and adoptive parents.  When you get a placement, you might not know if this child will be with you forever or not.  For me, this is actually a perk, because you can definitely be sure that the child you’re adopting was given every opportunity to stay with their birth family.  No worries that you “stole” the baby.  You’ll be part of the team that is helping the birth parents get their lives back on track, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll be the one to make sure that child has a safe, forever home.

2.  Probably Not a Newborn

Children in foster care range from newborn to teenagers.  You can specify what age child you are interested in, and it helps to be flexible.  If you feel strongly about having little ones, you can say 0-3 or 0-5 years.  (Attempting Agape had a great explanation of why foster kids who are available for adoption tend to be older.)  But adding older kids to your family can be awesome.  Our adopted son Silent One came home at age 6 and our current foster kids who might turn into forever ours are 8 and 10.  We’ve loved having them and they are just as much a part of our family as our daughter Sassy who was born to us.

3.  Maybe a Complicated Extended Family

Kids being adopted out of foster care may want or need to stay in touch with extended family members.  This is true of domestic infant adoption, too.  Open adoption is becoming the norm.  However, former foster kids often have family members struggling with issues such as drug addiction or depression.  Your adopted child may just be the way for you to stretch and open your heart, realizing that these afflictions are not chosen.  The type of ongoing contact may be limited – think Skype or birthday cards – if the state decides that’s best.  Studies have shown, though, that a child who maintains connections with their bio families tend to have fewer adjustment problems later on in life.

4.  Maybe Ongoing Needs

Foster kids are more likely to have ongoing needs than domestic infant adoptions.  It’s unclear for international adoptions where medical information may be limited before adopting.  Therapy is the most common type of ongoing care that foster kids need.  The good news is you usually know exactly what type of medical, psychological or education needs your foster-to-adopt child will need.  This isn’t the case with newborns or international adoptions.  And, the state will help pay for your new child’s ongoing care.  Just like a baby needs lots of its parents’ time and attention, so will a child who needs a little bit of extra help.  This is a good thing as all that extra time and energy you spend on that child will help the two of you bond.

5.  Definitely Paperwork

All adoption requires a lot of paperwork – background checks, home studies, legal documents.  With foster care, you’ll have all of that, plus the foster care paperwork.  I like to think of this as the “paper birth.”  Just like pregnancy requires lots of not fun physical changes, adoption requires lots of not fun bureaucratic processes.  But just like pregnancy’s nine months, the paper birth helps you prepare mentally and physically for bringing a child into your home.

So hurdles?  Yes.  Worthwhile?  More than you’ll ever imagine!

NoBohnsAboutIt

When Kid’s Good Coping Skills Spell Trouble

It’s pretty obvious that 8-year-old Watchful is struggling with his traumatic past: self harming, refusing to eat, panic attacks, a very negative perspective on the world, etc.  But sometimes it seems his 10-year-old sister Joyful is “punished” for coping well.

Joyful was the victim of trauma and neglect, too, and she’s what psychologists deem “resilient.”  She has good social skills, is generally happy, and does well academically.  Her behaviors are quite mild in comparison to Watchful.  She gets loud and laughs a lot when nervous.  She asks a lot of questions, pretending not to understand when you ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do.  She has a combative attitude towards her bio family.

And she lies.  A lot.  Crazy lying that is so obviously not true.  She’ll spin out three whoppers in one breath and that all contradict each other.  Like, “Watchful spilled the milk because he never wants to drink anything,” “the dog (who is just slightly larger than a Chihuahua) bumped the (very heavy wooden) table and spilled the milk,” and “there was no milk in the glass, someone must have missed the glass when they were pouring the milk and got it all over the table.”  Clearly, not all three statements could be true.  And really, we all know that she somehow spilled the milk and doesn’t want to own up to it, because in the past she would have gotten beaten for spilling milk.

From a social worker’s and therapist’s point of view, lying about spilled milk just doesn’t stack up to repeatedly injuring yourself until you bleed.  And I get that.

But does good coping skills mean a child doesn’t deserve therapy?

Some of my friends would say, “why try to fix what’s not broken?”

I’d say that Joyful needs help in understanding why a trusted adult repeatedly abused her.  That she deserves to be taught that it’s wrong and that she didn’t deserve to be hurt.  That there are better, more loving ways for adults to interact with children.  This is what therapy does.

Yet, every time one of the county workers checks in on our family, they zero in on Watchful’s scary behaviors and overlook Joyful’s needs.  Got any advice for me?  I’m all ears on how to make sure Joyful gets the help she needs, too.

Talking about Sex with Foster Kids

Some foster parents shy away from talking about sex with their foster kids.  It’s hard to have a talk with our bio kids, let alone someone else’s!  But it’s the responsible thing for foster parents to do.  Did you know that girls in foster care are three times more likely to have a baby as teenagers than kids who were never in foster care* ( about 1 foster girl in 3 )?  Even though Joyful is only 10, we’re having birds and bees conversations to help her not become a mom too soon.  Some of the conversations are pretty funny.

At breakfast this morning, I mentioned that my grandpa lived on a farm and raised dairy cows.  As a little girl, I loved to drink the warm milk.  Here’s how our conversation turned into a sex talk.

“What do you call the thing that milk comes from?” Joyful asked.

“Udders,” I responded with a smile.  Joyful giggled.

“They look like a body part,” she said, hiding her face behind her hands.  “Can humans make milk?”

“Udders are the cow’s equivalent of breasts.  They are not penises,” my husband noted, knowing exactly what body part a young girl might think an udder looks like.

“When a mom has a baby, her breasts make milk,” I explained.

“How does she get the milk to come out?” Joyful asked, intrigued.

“The baby sucks and the milk comes out,” I said.

“But doesn’t that mean there are holes in her breasts?  Why doesn’t the milk just fall out?” Joyful wondered.

“There are very tiny holes and generally the milk stays in unless the baby is trying to get the milk out by sucking,” I said.

“What if the mom doesn’t want the baby?  What if a teenager walks by a baby – will her breasts make milk?” Joyful asked.  Wow!  She really doesn’t understand human anatomy and, sadly, understands human nature all too well – that sometimes moms don’t want their children.

“If a baby isn’t with the mom and doesn’t drink the mom’s milk, the milk goes away.  You actually have to give birth to the baby for your breasts to make milk (yes, I know technically this isn’t true, but it’s 98% true).  Just being by a baby won’t cause your breasts to make milk, so it’s safe for a teenager to walk by a baby,” I explain, trying to keep the answer simple.

“Are you sure that teenagers can’t get milk just by being by babies?” Joyful asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I reassured her.

This talk about cows and breastfeeding may seem  like a cute kids story, but it’s so much more than that.  Joyful knows she can ask me about anything.  Hopefully, she’s learning that it’s a good idea to ask trusted adults for information when she becomes a teenager.  We talk about the mechanics, AND about values.

At lunch, 8-year-old Watchful asked why people want to get married.  So we talked about how wonderful it can be to be in a relationship when two people really care about each other.  Sassy, of course, needed to show off her teenage knowledge and said men and women get married to have babies.  What a perfect opportunity for hubby and I to tell the kids that it’s a good idea to wait until you’re married to have babies.

Why Foster Kids are Likely to Become Teen Parents
So why are kids who have been in foster care more likely to have babies when they’re teenagers?  Just look at the risk factors* for the likelihood that any child will become a teen mom.

  • Teen has experienced many changes in where they live or in family structure
  • Teen has experienced abuse or neglect as a child
  • Teen is child of a single parent
  • Teen’s parent has a low level of education
  • Teen’s parent has a low income
  • Teen struggles academically
  • Teen struggles with fighting, doing drugs, or drinking alcohol

It doesn’t take a genius to realize teens in foster care are much more likely to have these risk factors for teen pregnancy than their peers.  So, if you’re a foster parent with a school-aged child or teenager in your home, perhaps now is a good time to talk about making good choices.  Your talk today could help them make good decisions in the future.

*Statistics taken from “Teen Parents in Foster Care: Risk Factors and Outcomes for Teens and Their Children” by Child Trends.

Pardon Me, Is this YOUR Child? Kidsave Event Coming Up

Have you ever thought of adopting an older kid, and wondered “would I like him or her?”

Come find out by meeting real kids looking for homes on Sunday, July 12.  Nine children from Colombian foster homes and orphanages will be making pizza as they look for loving, adoptive families in the Washington, D.C. area.  You can join in the fun and maybe find your son or daughter!  There’s no obligation, and you can register at http://www.kidsave.org/sm-meet-the-kids-events/.

Not from the D.C. area?  No problem.  There are other events happening in California, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut areas.  Check it out!