Can you welcome this 14 yr old girl?

We’ve gotten so close to new long-term placements of foster kids in our home. But as the saying goes, close only counts in horse shoes.

Today was particularly nerve wracking. My husband called me at work.

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“Are you sitting down?” he asked me. Then he launched into the details of a 14-year-old girl who needed an emergency placement.

He shared the details of the abuse and her homelessness. The social worker wanted to have New Girl in a home within 2-3 hours.

“Um, we have have two boys – Excited and Helper – arriving for the weekend in just a few hours.” I said.

“Yeah, New Girl could bunk with Sassy this weekend and then when the boys go home, New Girl could move into they’re using,” hubby said.

“Four teenagers and an eight year old??” Gulp.

Our permanent kids were onboard. I said yes., too. Hubby said he’d call me back. He also told me to hurry and wrap up things at work and come home.

Sassy was going full bore to clean her room to make it presentable for a roommate. Silent One went up into the attic to bring down the spare box spring. Hubby called friends to ask if we could borrow a twin-sized mattress again.

A bit later, hubby called me back. New Girl was being assigned to a social worker that we have decided not to work with. So, the placement worker and hubby agreed that New Girl would live with another foster family.

Sigh.

Waiting is really hard.

10 Foster Kids and Counting!

We’ve seen 10 kids come and go since we started our journey as a foster family in 2013. Some have stayed with us for nearly a year and a half, others just a handful of days. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. I love being a foster parent!

I love cuddling the ones open to a hug. I love playing in the sand at the beach with them. I love teaching them how to cook, how to use a bicycle pump, or how to dust the furniture.

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When kids in care are in our home, there’s a hustle and bustle that energizes me. Is there a family visit, a social worker dropping by, a sporting event, school science night? Have the children been bathed, is it time for homework, time for meds, oops ran out of milk let’s’s run to the store?

There’s the thrill of meeting of a child and learning his or her distinct personality, likes, dislikes, needs, and rhythms. Joyful loves spaghetti and would eat mounds of it, but Turkey doesn’t care for pasta. Helper wants to say bed time prayers every night with us, but Jumping Jack doesn’t believe in God and is weirded out by the whole concept of religion. Watchful calms down best when left alone in his “safe place” for a few minutes, but Explorer wants to have his back rubbed. Excited and Watchful are both early risers, but while Excited wakes up in a sunny, bouncy mood, Watchful needs the quiet routine of setting the table before engaging with others.

When you have foster kids in your home, there’s the joy of watching them overcome the trauma in their lives. Joyful stopped burying her nose in a book all day long and was willing to reach out to make friends. Harry Potter started using words to encourage his brother, rather than constantly insult him. Another learned that bed wetting as a pre-teen happens to some people and that wearing appropriate undergarments is not a big deal.

I love watching my husband and permanent children develop even greater kindness, empathy, and understanding as they are confronted by our foster children’s more challenging behaviors. My husband searched out the recipe, got special ingredients, and cooked a Filipino dish to help comfort Big Ben with a familiar, favorite food. Sassy willingly worked out differences with another child who was being aggressive. Silent One has learned to be unruffled by tantrums.

Last weekend, we said goodbye to Harry Potter and Explorer. We’ve been asked to take two brothers for two weeks in August, which we’re debating as the timing is not great for our family and we would prefer a long-term placement. We were asked about a four year old girl, but luckily her grandparents have stepped up and she won’t be coming into care. We talked with our social worker today, who asked us if we’ll be home over Memorial Day weekend in case there are any emergency placements.

But at the moment, it’s quiet. I’m seated on my sofa, sipping tea, with my dog beside me. And while that’s nice, I can’t wait to see who will walk in the door next, get to know them, care for them, and watch them transform their inner hurts.

Of course there are days when I wonder “why the heck did I sign up for this,” but all in all….Life as a foster parent is a joy and a privilege!

A Hard Foster Placement

Over the years, we’ve fostered children with many challenging behaviors. But an upcoming placement has given us pause.

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We’ve said yes to kids who self harm, have medical issues, are depressed, lack empathy, wet the bed, tantrum, refuse to eat, disassociate, and more.

But we just said yes to two boys who can’t have pets in the house. And we almost said no.

I am embarrassed to say that trying to parent kids without our trusty, loving dog around just sounds really hard.

The thing is, our puppy is always eager to love on us. She’s quick to forgive. She always there with a cuddle when you’re feeling down.

God knows when you foster, this kind of unwavering support can be in short supply.

So, for the limited time that the next two boys are with us, our dog will be vacationing with a friend.

And we’ll have to rely upon our all too human selves to muddle through.

Fostering and Easter Basket Overload

Celebrating holidays with foster kids in the house can bring unexpected experiences.  Yes, there is the trauma sometimes, but that’s not what I’m talking about (this time).  Let me explain.

easter-basketHelper and Excited are staying with us over the Easter holiday.  These are the same guys who stayed with us over New Year’s, two delightful boys aged 13 and 7.  So, when I was at the store, I stocked up on some Easter basket treats.  Their regular foster mom asked that we make sure that Helper doesn’t eat chewy, sticky food, on account of his braces, so this year, I picked up individual serving size bags of chips, mini packets of crackers, and the like.

Their social worker wanted to stop by and see how the boys were doing.  Sure that sounds fine.  Ding dong.  There she is at the front door, holding a very large bag.  Inside?  Five Easter baskets filled with candy.  Yes, we have two kids in care and received five baskets!!  Two for the boys, two for our permanent kids, and one for my husband and I to share.

The regular foster mom asked that we take the Helper and Excited to a local Easter egg hunt.  Sure.  No problem.  Boys running around out in the fresh air sounds fabulous.  And they had a great time, finding lots and lots of eggs until their Easter baskets were near overflowing.  Guess what?  Every plastic egg was stuffed full of jelly beans.

The court appointed special advocate (CASA) called up.  She wanted to take the boys out to lunch. Yup.  I like that idea.  Having the a break for an hour sounds heavenly.  Come and pick them up.  The boys walk back into the house after their lunch, excitedly chatting to one another, each carrying another Easter basket!!

So these two boys now have a total of 8 Easter baskets between them.  Chocolates, marshmallows, chips, crackers, Nerds, Whoppers, Peeps, Mike & Ikes – the list of candy goes on and on.

Did I mention that the boys start going a bit crazy when they have sugar?  That’s why there foster mom suggested we don’t give them any.  Ah….  Well.

Now we’re off to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter lunch.  I sure hope there are no more baskets.

How to Make a Bed for Foster Children

Many things go into preparing to be foster parents. Having been a foster mom for a couple of years to eight different children, I recommend giving some thought to bedding for the new kiddos.

1. Waterproof Mattress Pad. A waterproof mattress pad is a foster family essential. Bedwetting is more common with foster kids, even into their teen years, because bedwetting can be aggravated by stress . Kids who didn’t get enough to eat may also hoard food in their rooms. Depending upon the food, you could end up with some gloppy messes. Protect that expensive mattress!

2. White Bed Sheets. Why white? You may want to bleach those bed sheets – see the reasons in #1 and in case of lice (happens to all kids). Boys and girls are equally fine with white. White is good for all ages – those super cute Elmo sheets are awesome to little kids, but the older set would be mortified. Kids may come with a favorite blanket and white will match it guaranteed. If every sheet is white, you can wash them all at once – no worrying about sorting lights, darks, and whites. And trust me, you’ll be doing enough laundry as it is.

3. Soft Blankets. A little extra comfort from a soft blanket can help ease a child’s troubles. Children in care have gone through trauma and night time can be particularly difficult for some. Perhaps the night was when bad things happened, like sexual assault or their parents reached maximum drunkenness or it was when they were left alone. Kids often keep themselves too busy in the day to think about the trauma, but the memories surface as they try to fall asleep. Kids can also be prone to bad dreams. A child can snuggle, pet or rub a plush blanket or one with a satin trim to help soothe themselves.

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4. Neutral Bed Spread. Again, neutrals work with both boys and girls of all ages. I like blue for a bedspread, but gray, green, and black could work, too. The right neutral can be mixed and matched with a variety of paint on the walls and other beds. Why is that important? Because you might need to reconfigure your bedroom set-ups if you take in more than one child. A sibling set of two could be one boy and one girl, meaning separate bedrooms. But it could be two girls (or two boys) and you want to put them together, so that when your family comes to visit you have a guest bedroom – or when their third sibling comes for respite.

5. Flare: Stuffed Animals and Throw Pillows. To rescue your foster child’s room from becoming too blah or too sterile, you can add easy-to-swap-out “flare.” I often put stuffed animals on the bed. Most kids like big stuffed dogs or teddy bears, though I’ve gotten some “older kid” items like animals or characters from popular video games. Throw pillows can do the same trick.

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6. Hypoallergenic Pillows. If you’re going to buy new pillows, play it safe and get hypoallergenic ones. Why run the risk of red eyes and runny noses if you don’t need to?

7. An Extra Throw. We do both long-term foster care and short-term, respite care. Some kids are used to cool bedrooms and others prefer warmer. The easiest solution is to provide an extra blanket folded on the end of the bed for them to use – or not. It can also add a bit more flare to your neutral bedspread.

8. Bed Furniture. If you need to buy more beds, but don’t have lots of money to spend, consider buying twin beds from a flea market or garage sale. A few quick coats of black, white or grey paint and they’ll all match each other. [Note: Don’t paint cribs as teething babies may chip off the paint and eat it.]

9. Bedrails. A twin bed can work for little ones if you add bedrails that keep them from falling out of the bed.  If you don’t what these are, Amazon has some examples, though you can easily get them at Walmart, Target, or other such stores.

So, now you’ve made a bed for a foster child.  Let’s hope the kiddos will make their bed, too. 😉

Adopt a Teen????

Last year, I attended a foster parent training and something extraordinary happened.

Before class started, I walked over to say hi to a fellow foster mom.  She was sitting with her foster child, a teenaged girl.

The three of us began to talk.  Her teen foster daughter was cool.  Smart.  Funny.  We talked about fantasy books and music and art.

And I walked away thinking, hey, we should consider fostering teens.

If that was my sole takeaway, that in itself would have been awesome.

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But, last weekend, I saw that that teen girl is available for adoption.  She’s listed on AdoptUSKids.

For the first time over the many years I’ve browsed AdoptUSKids, I actually know someone who is featured as searching for a family.

Her picture is a little dorky.  The paltry eight sentences summing her up don’t do her justice.  There’s  no video.  If I hadn’t met her, I probably would have skipped right over her entry.

But she is so much more than her profile on AdoptUSKids.

And then, as I was writing this blog, my husband popped over to where I was sitting at our dining room table.

And I said, hey remember that girl?  She’s looking for a family.

And my husband says maybe we should think about adopting her.  ADOPT?!?!?

This is mind blowing.  Because we haven’t been planning to adopt anyone.  Because we had never thought about adopting a teen.  Because we already have two teens and I don’t know how they would feel about us adding a family member so close in age.  Savvy is at boarding school and we don’t want her to feel like she’s being replaced.  Silent One is a teen boy – is it weird as a teen to suddenly have a teen of the opposite gender be a family member?  And how do you afford college?  And the biggie – what’s a relationship with an adopted teen like?

I don’t know, people.  How crazy is it to be considering this based off a short 5-10 minute conversation we had a year ago?

Activities for Newly Arrived Foster Kids

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We’re hosting two boys for about a week as their foster parents go on a trip out of state. Helper turns 13 next week and his little brother Excited is 7. They are very adorable, helpful, and have good manners.

Having Helper and Excited here reminds me of the first days of settling in new foster children. Here’s some of my “Foster Kids Have Just Arrived” activities.

1) Give them a tour of the house. Let them see where they will sleep and point out where they will keep their things. I point out the dining table and tell them we will eat our meals there (helps them know what to expect), show them the kitchen and tell them we all work together in cleaning up after meals, show them the living room with the video games and tell them they can play games later, etc.

2) Offer them food. A small snack can help anxious kids relax a little. They may have not had much to eat recently, either because the social workers took a long time in processing their in-take or because there wasn’t much food in their home. Also, kids generally like to eat. 🙂

3) Let them play video games. Video games are a distraction and can help children take their minds off the major upheaval that has just occurred. While they play, you can do paperwork with the social worker. Your kids can play video games with them, which is a non-threatening way to meet new people (don’t have to look at them, talking is optional, but doing the same thing together). Since I told them earlier that they would be able to play video games and I let them play video games, they begin to learn I am a person who keeps her word. This is a baby step towards developing trust.

4) Run to Target. If the kids arrived with nothing, you’ll need to buy some essentials. If the kids came with their things, you might want to take them to Target so they can choose a toy. This gives them something that they have control over (they decide what to purchase). It also ensures they have a toy they will want to play with in the coming days.

5) Take photos for Mom & Dad. Their parents will be very worried about how their children are doing, so take a few photos of the kids and your house. You can even let the kids take a few photos. Print them out so the kids can take them to their first visit. Later, if you get their email or phone number, you can send updates digitally.

6) Write a note for Mom & Dad. I think it’s good to write a short note saying that you promise to take good care of THEIR children and that you hope they are reunited quickly. This reassures them right off the bat that you are not trying to “steal” their children and that you will help work towards reunification.

7) Walk around the neighborhood. Exercise is always good for little bodies built for running, but it’s a good way for them to learn about where they are living while burning off extra nervous energy. I point out the houses of neighbor kids, the bus stop, the playground, etc.

8) Give them a daily chore. Part of the goal for children in foster care is to learn how to behave in a healthy family setting. If a child is in a fragile emotional state, I might simply have him bring his plate into the kitchen after a meal and then praise him for helping out. Otherwise, the child can continue to help clean up after the meal with my whole family joining in. When everyone helps out together, it demonstrates that helping is a normal family behavior and not a punishment.

9) Find something to compliment. There will be lots of need for corrections over the coming weeks, so it makes sense to fill up their “tank” letting them know when they are doing something right. Also, when you compliment, you are shaping their behavior in a positive direction and minimizing the amount of undesired behavior. It can be as simple as “good job of coming to the dinner table when called” or “nice job in brushing your hair.”

10) Love them just the way they are. It can be tempting to see kids, especially those who have experienced trauma, as in need of fixing. And while they do need to be actively parented and guided, more than anything they need to be loved unconditionally. When humans are loved – faults and all – they feel safer and more confident, knowing they have a safety net of love to fall back on. This safety net of love enables the risk-taking necessary for true healing to occur.  And, I guarantee that these kiddos are totally lovable!!!