Disrupt? Find a Solution?

We’ve hit a snag, that if not resolved, could result in us asking for our two foster kids to be removed. Yeah, I know. That’s pretty major!  I can’t believe hubby and I are at this point. Here’s what’s going on.

Our foster children, 9-year-old Watchful and 10-year-old Joyful, have serious issues with women, because their mom physically and emotionally abused them for all their life. They have been ganging up on our biological daughter, 14-year-old Sassy. To make matters worse, they’ve been recruiting our 16-year-old adoptive son, Silent One, in ostracizing her. The ring leader is Joyful, who loves to wreak havoc and turn people against each other.

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(Photo not of our actual children.)

Sassy started boarding school this year, so she’s not living at home. (The local public schools couldn’t meet her educational needs.) She is already struggling with fitting in at her new school. The ostracizing is making her feel like she no longer belongs in our family and that she was “sent away,” because she was unwanted. When she comes home on weekends and holidays, the kids don’t play with her and say mean things.

Sassy is trying hard. She bakes them cookies and makes them meals. She offers to play board games and watch movies with them. She’s given Joyful many of her possessions, like furniture and favorite clothes. Don’t get me wrong. Sassy is a dramatic teenaged girl, and can try people’s patience, like teenagers are famous for doing. She’s not perfect, but she doesn’t deserve to be rejected and belittled. No one deserves that.

Intellectually, I can understand that Joyful and Watchful don’t trust women, because women in their mind equal horrible abuse. Intellectually, I can understand that since their birth family dynamic included a golden child, a middle child, and a scape goat, they are trying to recreate that in our home. I get that Joyful fears that, if she becomes the child on the bottom, she will be severely abused. So she is trying to force someone else into that role in order to protect herself.

But our line in fostering has always been that we will not allow our permanent children to be hurt.

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I can’t imagine putting Joyful and Watchful through the pain of a disrupted foster care placement. I can’t imagine letting our daughter be scarred by them as they ridicule her and emotionally push her out of our family.

This issue really came to a head over the past week and our home-based therapist has some good insights. We’ve got some things we might be able to try. We really want to make this work for everyone. But ultimately? If Joyful can’t turn it around pretty quickly, we might have to make a heart wrenching decision.

Whatever it is that you do – prayers, thoughts, good vibes, nice comments – please keep us in mind. We need as much support as possible to get through this – all of us!!!

When your foster kid plays the martyr

Recently, I read a foster dad’s blog entry about his children playing the martyr, turning a small situation into a much bigger “woe is me” situation. He gave an example of when he told one his sons to share his breadsticks with his brother. The boy promptly gave all the breadsticks to his brother and then complained about how horrible it was that he had no breadsticks for himself. I started writing a comment in Word, but then silly me, I can’t find the blog anymore. If you’re out there, send me a message! Any way, here are my thoughts on this martyr behavior.

“Is there enough for me?” “No one really loves me.” “Life always takes away everything that matters to me.” “Bad things always happen to me, because I’m a bad person.” These are some of the inner thoughts of someone who plays the martyr.

A small loss touches memories of a previous huge loss, and sparks these nasty thoughts which feel so intolerable. Being told to share a bread stick with your brother is no longer about being kind towards your sibling. It’s about fear that you will not get what you need and you’re powerless to do anything about it. So what do you do? If you can’t win this game, you might as well not even play. Might as well give all the bread sticks to your brother.

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There are many ways to be traumatized in life, but there are only four possible responses: fight, flight, freeze, or submit. Everyone understands fighting – think tantrums or yelling. Flight, also sometimes called flee, is running away – think hiding behind the sofa. Freeze can look like zoning out, inability to act, or not talking.

Submitting is the one that usually gets ignored, because often times submitting is socially acceptable. A submitting response is essentially “I will just do what you say.” What’s wrong with this attitude? There are times when a person ought to stand up for themselves. For example, if a teenager is engaging in promiscuous sex, this could be a negative form of submitting – “they can’t force me to have sex if I say yes.” Teens need to stand up to peer pressure to avoid underage drinking and drugs, too. What about domestic abuse once they are grown up? They need to be able to say no to an abusive partner, and leave that relationship.

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So back to the martyr syndrome. Children who act like they can never get what they need probably FEEL like they can’t get what they need. These children then take control by not needing that thing or by denying themselves to such an extreme that we, the authority figures, will realize that we should be providing something critical to their existence, repent of our ‘bad behavior’ and give them what they “need.”

We see this martyring behavior in our house, too. What I try to do is listen for that existential need and address that need rather than focus too much on the surface behavior.

Child says: “What? I have to go to bed 10 minutes early for misbehaving? Fine. I’ll go to bed three hours early.”
What I hear: “I’m afraid you don’t love me anymore because I misbehaved.”
What I do: Give a hug. Say I will always love them and tell them they are a good person. I tell them I am confident they will follow the rules better in the future, since I know they are a good person. I give the option to just go to bed 10 minutes early or three hours early, giving them some control in the situation.

Child says: “If I have to take turns playing video games, then I won’t ever play video games again. I will be bored for the rest of my life.”
What I hear: “I’m afraid you love that other child more than me.”
What I do: Say that I love them very much. Say that I love their brother/sister very much, too, and that’s ok because I have enough love for both of them. Say that I understand they are feeling upset. Let them know that if they change their minds and want to play video games again, they can do that, but must take turns.

Do you see this behavior in your household? How do you handle it?

Hug Alternatives

The other day, a fellow foster mom was feeling blue because her foster son doesn’t give her hugs. What can she do? That mama needed affection… and so did the boy. But trauma was standing in the way.

First, that mama can throw away the traditional definition of an affectionate hug. There are lots of ways to have a comforting touch between an adult and child.

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Affectionate Touch – Non-Hug

  • Tag – You know how to play tag, but do you know why it’s so great for traumatized kids? They can touch and run away, which matches their simultaneous wish to be close and keep their distance. The running also burns off excess stress. It’s a good beginner form of affection between foster parents and new kiddos.
  • “Touch and go” – A brief, light touch on a child’s hand or foot is an excellent way to get a child used to a foster parent’s touch. It’s practically over before it starts, and kids are usually ok with their hands and feet being touched.
  • Wrestling – Boys seem naturally wired for wrestling, and it can be good way of “mock fighting” against authority. The adult carefully monitors so that it stays pretend and doesn’t get into an actual fight. Lots of good contact.
  • Sardines – This variation on hide-and-go-seek can be played by all ages, and since the hiders all squeeze in together, there’s lots of contact and giggling. Focus can be directed on whether or not the seeker will find the hiders, rather than on the fact that physical contact is happening.
  • Swimming – Playing in the water together can provide great skin-on-skin contact, especially wonderful for little ones. Since the water is providing sensory input on the child’s skin, children seem less sensitive to adult touch.
  • Hair brushing – The rhythm of brushing hair can be soothing.
    Hand or foot massage – Putting some lotion on a child’s hand or foot and rubbing it in can be soothing.
  • Tickling – Tickling brings out lots of laughter, and if you allow the child to tickle you back, it’s a great, two-way physical touch.

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Different Kinds of Actual Hugs

  • Hug monster – The foster mom announces that she’s about to turn into a Hug Monster, so the kids better run. The kids run away and foster mom chases. If the kids get too scared, foster mom backs off. (I’ve pretended that the kids have slayed the terrible beast and fallen to the floor, or pretended that I am too old and out of breathe. Ok, maybe that wasn’t pretend.) If the foster mom catches the kids, she gives them hugs for a few seconds and then lets the kids run away.
  • Partial hug – A foster dad can hug just an arm or leg. A full on hug can make a child feel like they are being trapped, so hugging just a small part gives a greater sense of physical freedom.
  • Sneak hug – A foster mom bets the children that they can’t sneak up on her and give her a surprise hug. Foster mom sometimes catches the kids as they sneak up, so they can’t give her a hug.  Sometimes she “loses” and lets the kids give her a hug. Kids love this one as it’s a great way to “get one over on the foster mom.’ In time, the foster mom might be able turn the tables and “sneak hug” the children. The first attempts at this should be very obvious, so the children are not literally startled by an adult jumping out.
  • Knock me over hug – The kids attempt to knock over the foster dad onto the sofa with the strength of their hugs.

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Negotiated Hugs
You can talk with your foster kiddos about their hug preferences. Older kids, especially teens, may feel better if they can help set the parameters of how hugs are given out.

  • Hug location – Your foster kid may want hugs, but only in certain “safe” locations. For example, only in public areas like the kitchen or only outdoors. Bedrooms and bathrooms are often places where abuse take place, so your child may be particularly sensitive to a good night hug in those rooms.
  • Scheduled hug – Your foster child may do better if a hug is made part of routine. It can be a hug before going out the door to school or a hug in the living room before the child starts getting ready for bed. Simply taking out the “scariness” of not knowing when that foster parent is going to hug you can help a child relax.
  • Hugger vs huggee – A hug doesn’t have to be mutual. One person can just stand there while the other one hugs them.

Over time, your foster children may overcome their anxiety and graduate to traditional hugs. But if they never do, you still can have a fabulous, affectionate relationship.

2016: Reuniting or Terminating?

The first few days of the New Year are supposed to be for setting goals, but all I can think about is termination of parental rights (TPR).

Where we live, the Department of Family Services generally gives parents one year to remedy whatever caused their children to enter foster care. If parents are successful, kiddos go home. If parents have made some progress, but need more time, they’ll get another six months to fix things. If the Department determines that the parents have not been making progress or does not think the parents will be able to successfully solve what needs to be solved, then parental rights will be terminated and the kiddos will either go to other relatives or be placed for adoption.

Early 2016 will be a year for 10-year-old Joyful and 9-year-old Watchful. What will the Department decide for them?

In January, the Department will hold meetings to start assessing progress. One big area for assessment is whether dad can meet the kids’ emotional and psychological needs. I really have no idea where the Department will come down on that issue.

Personally, I am very conflicted about his abilities. I see how he comes faithfully to every visit and hear him express concern for his children in group meetings. I also hear him say that the kids made up the allegations and deny that their behaviors are a result of trauma. And there is a lot that I wouldn’t know anything about – like any personal therapy, parenting classes, or interactions inside the visitation rooms. God, I really want dad to be able to meet the kids needs so the kids can go home!!

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The debate rages on in my head. The physical danger has been removed, so the kids will go home. The emotional care won’t be sufficient, so it’ll be TPR. The academic aspect of parenting is there, so the kids will go home. The financial support isn’t happening, so it’ll be TPR. He obviously loves his kids, so they’ll go home. He loves his kids, but misunderstands parenting, so it’s TPR.

What I want is just not to think about it. But it keeps creeping up on me.

My sister wants to know who all will be coming for summer vacation. The kids display a certain behavior, and I wonder how their dad would handle it. People outright ask me how long the kids will be with us.

So say a little prayer with me that no matter what happens in 2016, Joyful and Watchful will be safe.

Hello. I’m a Foster Mom.

As a foster mom, I often feel hidden away in the shadows. You don’t know my name, where I live, or what I look like. I remain mysterious so that I can speak (relatively) freely about foster parenting while protecting my kiddos’ privacy. Too bad it’s not because I am a superhero, a spy, a rich recluse or something cool like that.

Anyway, it’s kinda weird to write a piece for #AdoptionTalk Link Up with the theme “Getting to Know You.”

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Our Pre-Foster Care Family

Let me pull back the curtains a little and reveal a bit more about our family. Sassy was the first child in our family, born to Hubby and I in 2001. We adopted Silent One from foster care in 2004. He was the most adorable six-year-old boy back then. (No foster-adopt, just straight adoption.) Hubby and I earned our parenting stripes and dealt with a wide variety of parenting issues over the next dozen plus years. Sassy had significant medical issues and Silent One suffered from PTSD and attachment issues. Both had education needs. By 2013, Sassy and Silent One were well-adjusted teenagers (well, as well adjusted as teenagers ever are. 🙂 ).

We were riding in the car when Silent One launched into a talk. “We need to adopt,” he said, and he and Sassy began listing all of the things they would be willing to do as a big sister and big brother. They would share rooms, they would help with housework, they would babysit. What amazing hearts they had!!! Hubby and I had long been thinking of fostering, so we countered with becoming a foster family. Initially, the kids were hesitant. Mainly they were worried about really liking someone only to have them return to their original homes. But after much discussion as a family, we decided to go for it.

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The Road to Becoming Licensed…And Actual Foster Parents

We signed up for foster care training at the end of 2013, but there was a waiting list. Strange how there was more demand for training than there were classes. The County gives preference to relatives who want to take in their grandkids or other kin. The County also aims for diversity – racial, cultural, religious, sexual orientation, etc. – so seats in the class room are given to people who meet whatever shortages exist in the current foster home pool. The County looks for foster parents who meet other existing needs – such as homes for medically fragile children, teenagers, or siblings. We specifically wanted siblings, so we were placed in the middle of the waitlist.

In early 2014, we graduated from PRIDE, the foster care training program. Then we moved on to the home study, which took until late 2014. Next, we had to wait for the social worker’s boss to sign off on the home study and sign the certificate that would open our home for foster care. That took quite a few more months due to the sheer amount of backlog.

In the spring of 2015, we began receiving our first referrals. It was so heart breaking to turn down the first few that weren’t a match for us. We turned down a referral for a sibling group of boys, because our home has a lot stairs that wouldn’t be good for one of the kiddos. We also turned down a sibling group of girls, as we didn’t feel prepared to parent a child with a significant mental disablility. We turned down a boy, due solely to timing – I was sick in hospital. We accepted a referral for three boys under the age of three – but the boys ended up not coming into foster care (yay for them!).

Finally, in April 2015, we accepted a referral for a 10-year-old girl – Joyful – and her then 8-year-old brother – Watchful. We had planned on taking in their 4-year-old brother Jumping Jack, but the social workers determined it would be best if the siblings were in different homes due to birth family dynamics. Jumping Jack has stayed with us for respite and we get together occasionally with his foster family.

2016

The Latest Happenings

Where we live, the County gives birth families one year to fix what needs to be fixed, and be reunited. At the one year mark, the County must go to court for a permanency hearing, in order to avoid kids being in care too long. If the problems are fixed, kids go home. If the adults are working hard on fixing the problems but need more time, the County will ask for a six month extension. If the County determines that the problems are not likely to be fixed anytime soon, the case goal changes to termination of parental rights (TPR).

Joyful and Watchful’s case has had concurrent goals of reunification and relative placement for nearly a year. In the next few months, we should know if the kids will return home to dad. There are no relatives who have qualified to adopt. So… if the kids don’t return to dad, then the County will formally ask us if we want to adopt. They’ve asked us informally many months ago if we would be willing. However, dad has done some things right, so we really don’t know which way this will go.

So, now you know our story. What about you? What’s your story?

Share it and read others through AdoptionTalk Link Up.

No Bohns About It

The Foster Care Serenity Prayer

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God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the foster care bureaucracy I cannot change;
(So that I  don’t go crazy, banging my head against the weird foster care way of doing things)

The COURAGE to change the foster care shortcomings that I can;
(‘Cuz it takes a whole lot of backbone to face-off with the Agency)

And the WISDOM to know the difference.
(So I may give joy to the children entrusted in my care and help unite them with their families, while still enjoying my wonderful life.)