The Center for Adoption Support & Education
MESSAGE FROM C.A.S.E. CEO
Since 1988, National Foster Care Month has been instrumental in heightening the awareness of the needs of youth in foster care. This year’s campaign, “Change a Lifetime” calls on everyone to consider how they can contribute time and resources - to make a positive difference in the life of a foster child.
Recognizing the need, C.A.S.E. has built strong collaborations with local child welfare agencies, locally and nationally, as well as with private foundations. Through partnerships with the Dave Thomas Foundation’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, the Freddie Mac Foundation’s Wednesday’s Child Permanency Program, and The Trawick Foundation, and by supporting the efforts of the Foster Care Alumni Association, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), C.A.S.E has created a repertoire of supports for foster care youth and their families to include counseling, trainings, mentoring and publications.
This month, we join in calling on each of you to become our partners in making sure that every youth in foster care “has an adult by their side.” Please visit fostercaremonth.org to learn how you can get involved. Whether it’s donating money, or volunteering an hour of your time for a local foster care program by tutoring or helping a teen fill out a college application , or considering becoming a foster parent; whatever steps you take, your efforts will leave a lasting impact upon the life of a youth in foster care.
The EMK Press, New Jersey, publisher of Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections will soon be releasing their new publication, Foster Parenting Toolbox. We were pleased to have the articles in this month’s e-newsletter accepted for submission in this important publication that we are certain will be invaluable to the foster care community.
Debbie Riley M.S. CEO
UNDERSTANDING THE LOSS AND GRIEF OF FOSTER PARENTING
By Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C
Much has been written about the loss and grief experiences of children navigating through the many challenges of the foster care system. Trauma histories of neglect, abuse, abandonment and other compromised situations which result in the trauma of removal from birth family, are part of every foster child’s story. For many of these children, losing the opportunity to live safely within their family, losing connections with siblings and extended relatives, as well as losing their community, may be permanent. For others, these losses are “ambiguous” as attempts are made at “reunification” in which birth parents are given the opportunity to make changes that would allow them to regain custody of their children. If they are unsuccessful, court battles may ensue for years as birth parents try to prevent the termination of their parental rights. The ambiguity itself is its own trauma.
Unless foster parents plan to adopt their foster child and are successful, they too, suffer from tremendous feelings of loss and grief. The training foster parents receive is essential to prepare them for this unique parenting experience. Nurturing and guiding someone else’s child for an indeterminate amount of time is a skill that requires incredible strength, patience, commitment, determination, and resilience. It is counterintuitive to attach to a child that you may eventually need to say good-bye to. But wonderful foster parents do this every day in the service of providing a temporary (possibly for years) but loving, safe haven for a hurt, suffering child(ren).
The expertise required for the “job” of foster parents involves the important understanding of how the trauma the child has experienced impacts their physical and emotional lives. This includes knowledge of the “normal”, expected tasks at each stage of development. For example, knowing that a school-age child who was sexually abused is important for understanding why this child may be fearful about being touched, confused about appropriate boundaries, or act out in a sexualized manner. Therefore, experienced foster parents become attuned to expecting difficult behavior, and coping with foster children who have serious issues around trusting adults. In short, foster parents are privy to a wide range of emotional expression on the part of their foster children that is very much “outside the norm.”
For some fostering parents, the impact of prior personal losses they have experienced may not be readily apparent until they are overwhelmed by feelings related to the loss of a foster child. For some first time foster parents, the day that the social worker informs them that their foster child will be moving - perhaps back to their birth family, perhaps to an adoptive family - perhaps with advanced notice, often with little notice, is their first introduction to these unique feelings as foster parents. A foster parent’s own history of loss and grief can be triggered, and that parent will need time to grieve and process the loss of that foster child’s placement from their home before they accept another placement. Foster parents need support to develop a ritual for their grieving without judgment from other people who may consider loss of a foster child as “just part of their job.”
There are many factors that influence the agency decision to move a child, and foster parents often have deep feelings about these decisions. Foster parents have asked, “How do I show my sad feelings without alarming the child and undercutting the placement? Can I know who the child is going to? Why was the decision made to place the child with that particular family?” In most agencies, there is a team approach to fostering- agency social worker, attorneys, foster parents, birth parents, therapists. However, in some locations, when the professional team approach to fostering is not standard practice, foster parents are at risk for feeling marginalized by their agency. These feelings can undermine their relationship with the agency social workers and can lead to resentment and a sense of powerlessness. The loss of a foster parent’s expectation to have input into the “best interest of the child,” either in court, at school or agency meetings can certainly undermine their sense of confidence and competence in their parenting role.
Finally, there is enormous anxiety when a foster parent wants to adopt their foster child, and those children are involved in “concurrent planning” – (adoption or possible return to birth family). Birth parents may make significant improvements to meet the goals set to have their child(ren) returned; or the court may continue to allow for the possibility of reunification, with increased visitation between birth family members and the child. The foster parents must put aside their own wishes for adoption, and may become more involved with the birth parents in support of this new goal. Should reunification happen, the grief for the foster parents may be devastating. Foster parents need and deserve the support of all involved to grieve their loss. Often foster parent groups afford such an opportunity. Social workers and therapists need to understand their role in assisting in this grief process.
Grief and loss is therefore an integral part of the experience of foster care parenting and impacts everyone involved in this system. Helping foster parents acknowledge, express and manage these powerful emotions in a healthy way is important for their well-being as well as for the children in their care. Children learn from adults how to grieve, how to acknowledge their losses and to honor their feelings. Foster parents are often the first teachers of healthy expression of emotions for abused and neglected children. To support the grieving children in their care, they must receive support for their grief.
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MAY 10TH LAUNCHED NEW INITIATIVE: KEEPING THE PROMISE TO RESHAPE ADOPTION IN THE U.S.
THE CENTER FOR ADOPTION SUPPORT AND EDUCATION UNITES WITH OTHERS IN CALL FOR SERVICES TO HELP FAMILIES SUCCEED
On Tuesday, May 10, a Congressional briefing was held which highlighted the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s report “Keeping the Promise:
The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed.” This report is the most comprehensive compilation to date of knowledge about post-adoption needs and services. The report concludes that too many families are not receiving the essential assistance they need; calls for a reshaping of national priorities and resources to develop and provide such services – and provides a series of
recommendations for improving policy and practice.
Families who have struggled because they lacked sufficient services – as well as C.A.S.E. families who have surmounted their challenges because they received needed supports – shared their stories and answered questions at the event. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a member of the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute, addressed how federal policy can address this need.
Having access to high quality post services provided by an adoption competent professional can make a major difference in the lives of an adopted child and their family. Millard and Athene Boetler, C.A.S.E. family, learned this lesson after adopting their daughter at age two from the Philippines. “When we first sought help, we were told by a professional that our best option was to place our daughter (then age 5) in a psychiatric hospital”, said Millard Boetler, After receiving therapy at C.A.S.E., they saw a huge difference in their daughter’s behavior. “Our experience shows that there should be specialized training for doctors, therapists, educators and health care providers in adoption-related behavior.”
Stories like the Boetler’s have caught the attention of federal policymakers. Senator Amy Klobuchar
opened Tuesday’s briefing and has introduced federal legislation on the need for post adoption
services. Please click here to view the video of the Capitol Hill briefing!
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W.I.S.E. UP!sm For Foster Care: A Tool to Empower Children
By Ellen Singer, LCSW-C and Debbie Riley, M.S.
This story is just one example of the kind of situations children in foster families may face when they are out in the world, away from the protection of their foster families. Questions like the ones Callie asked are loaded with meaning and emotion for foster children. They can go right to the heart of their self-concept, challenging who they are and where they belong.
- “Why are you in foster care?” “How come your family couldn’t keep you?”
- “I heard that kids who live in foster care have to because they were bad and got in trouble.”
- “Did your parents do drugs?”
- “Where is your real family? Don’t you want to see them?”
- “Why are you a different color from your family?”
- “If you and your sister (brother) live with different families, then you’re not really sisters (brothers).
These questions/comments are just samples of the ones hundreds of children and teens have shared with us at The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.). These kids have told us that answering others’ questions about their foster families and being in foster care is among their major concerns. Sometimes they are asked about their own stories. At other times they are asked to offer expert commentary about some media event connected to foster care. Over the years, children and teens have shared with us how difficult and uncomfortable this can make them feel. They report feeling caught off guard as they frequently don’t know what to say. They often later regret what they did say and are left with a mixture of emotions: confusion, anger, embarrassment, shame, sadness, or frustration.
As foster parents, you might also feel this range of emotions when questioned. And, while you may feel comfortable talking about foster care and about your decision to become foster parents, you too, can be caught off-guard by an acquaintance’s or stranger’s comments or questions. Later, you may wonder if you handled the situation appropriately. Your positive and negative experiences help to make you more aware of how important it is to help prepare the children to respond to questions and comments about foster care.
Empowering Foster Children
No matter what situation brings on a question or comment, children in foster families are more confident when they feel in control of their responses. This is precisely why The Center for Adoption Support and Education created W.I.S.E. Up! for Foster Families – to give children and teens the tools they need to take control.
WHY IS W.I.S.E. UP! NEEDED?
Friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers and strangers ask questions about foster families for a variety of reasons. For starters, people whose lives have not been touched by foster care have little understanding about it. (Can you remember what you knew about foster families before you became a foster parent?) More often than not, others’ knowledge about the topic is shaped by limited personal experience and by societal myths. For some, the topic is interesting because they have heard heart-warming stories about foster care. For others, the topic is interesting because the media sometimes focuses on (and sensationalizes) negative stories. While some good can result from such stories, focusing only on the negative tends to spread misunderstanding about foster families and the foster care system, in general.
Children who have never been exposed to foster care exhibit a natural curiosity about how and why foster families are formed. Not surprisingly, children have difficulty understanding all of the complexities involved. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for them to obtain factual answers to their questions. They may wonder if being placed in foster care is something that could ever happen to them. For all children, the idea that one can “lose” their parents or can be “taken away” from their parents is a frightening thought. Consequently, other children might ask lots of questions and even tease a child who lives with a foster family to try and reassure themselves “it can never happen to me.”
Whatever the reason, children in foster families benefit from knowing that they are WISER than their peers and others are about foster care. It helps them to understand that others do not have the knowledge they do about the topic. The W.I.S.E. Up! program empowers children to help educate others – to W.I.S.E Up! the world about foster families.
W.I.S.E. Up! also helps children to understand that nearly all children in foster care are asked questions about it. On those days when being in foster care makes them feel different from their classmates, W.I.S.E. kids can remember that hundreds of thousands of kids are working to meet the same challenges!
HOW DOES W.I.S.E. UP! WORK?
W.I.S.E. Up! is simple. The letters in WISE stand for the four options children have for responding to questions or comments about adoption:
W.I.S.E. children are taught to memorize their options, assess each situation and choose the letter - one of the four choices - that feels most comfortable to them, based 1) on their mood, 2) the person who is asking the question (e.g. best friend or just a classmate), 3) their feelings about the question being asked, and 4) the context in which the question is being asked (e.g. alone with the questioner or in front of other children). It’s important for children to know that choosing ANY of the options is perfectly acceptable; however, practice helps children exercise their personal choices to suit situations more effectively.
For example, when a child does not want to answer a difficult question posed by a classmate, he or she has every right to choose the letter I (It’s private). While politeness is preferred, as in, “I don’t want to talk about my personal story right now,” the reality is that children will talk like children and it is perfectly acceptable for them to say, “It’s none of your business.” Other children like to get that message across by quickly changing the subject. They might respond, “What did you think of the math test?”
Years of experience with children has shown us that the third choice – share something – requires considerable review time. We encourage you to help your children practice the “S” responses, paying particular attention to helping them to decide when, with whom and how much they want to share about their personal history. Children should also be advised that just because they share something personal to one question, they are in no way obligated to continue “sharing”-- to follow-up questions. For example, in response to the question, “Why don’t you look like your parents?” a child who feels comfortable choosing the S might say: “These are my foster parents; I look like my birth parents.” But that child may not wish to offer an explanation to a follow-up question, “Why aren’t you living with your “real” parents?” In that situation, the child needs to know that responding with any of the other three choices W, I, or E is perfectly appropriate.
When children want others to know about foster care without sharing their personal story, they can choose the E – Educate others. E involves providing general information about foster care. For example, to the child who asks, “Why do you live with foster parents?”…the foster child might respond, “Children live with foster families because their birth parents did not or could not take proper care of them.” Or, “Did you know that 12 million people have grown up in foster families? Eddie Murphy and, Ice T, and John Lennon all were in foster care.”
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THE W.I.S.E. UP!sm POWERBOOK For Children in Foster Care
The original W.I.S.E. UP! Powerbook written by Marilyn Schoettle, an educator and former Director of Publications and Education at C.A.S.E. was created so that parents could teach this empowering tool to their adopted children. Recognizing the need to provide this powerful tool for foster children, C.A.S.E. was pleased to revise the book to create the W.I.S.E. UP! Powerbook for Children in Foster Care. If you are interested in purchasing this book, please visit the C.A.S.E. website for a 30% special discount through May 31st using promo code wufc2011!
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MIS AMIGOS CULTURE CAMP 2011
Sponsored by Latin America Parents Association - National Capital Region
Through Latin American music, art and dance, sports, games, C.A.S.E. facilitated workshops and camaraderie, Mis Amigos campers will grow in understanding and pride of their Latino heritage and their adoptive families.
Where: Colesville Presbyterian Church,
12800 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20904
When: Sunday, July 24-Friday, July 29
Who: Children of current LAPA-NCR members; non-members must join to attend camp
Please email email@example.com for more information.
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PLEASE VISIT OUR 2011 SPRING PROGRAM CALENDAR
WEBINAR: The Experience of Search and Reunion in Domestic and International Adoption
Thursday, May 19th
9:00-10:30 p.m. EST
WORKSHOP: Talking With Children about Adoption
Saturday, June 4th
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Location: C.A.S.E. office, Burtonsville, MD
C.A.S.E. is pleased to announce support from the Debra Steigerwaldt Waller Foundation for Adoption, Ltd, Chairman and C.E.O. of Jockey International, Inc. With the leadership of Debra Waller, Jockey through its corporate citizenship initiative, Jockey Being Family ® has helped raise awareness and availability of post-adoption services. Funding has been received to reduce the fee of three webinars expanding our reach to adoptive families both nationally and internationally. Don't miss out on the opportunity to access the last of the three discounted webinars:
WEBINAR: Creating Our Families through Adoption: The Real Strengths and Challenges of the LGBT Family
Wednesday, June 15th
9:00-10:30 p.m. EST
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Adoptive Parents: Please Help Us Learn About Counseling for Adoptive Families
Are you an adoptive parent who is about to begin or is interested in receiving counseling for your family or your adopted child?
If yes, you could be part of an exciting research project that could lead to improved services and resources for families like yours.
Participation would involve a total of 2 hours of your family’s time:
- one hour for you and your child to answer questionnaires prior to beginning counseling,
- and one hour for you and your child after completing counseling.
Participating families who complete the study will receive a total of $20 in gift certificates to Target.
Please consider helping the University of Maryland, Department of Psychology with this important study. For more information, contact Maria Wydra, M.A., at (443) 742-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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