Tag Archives: foster care

The Importance of Laughter and Play for Children in Foster Care

playground

It was noisy.

The seven year old was laughing. Laughing very, very loudly. Running through the house, the little blond haired boy was chasing our five year old daughter. Indeed, both were laughing, and the noise was echoing through the entire house. It wasn’t long before they begun this game of chase that our three year old joined in.

It was noisy. And, it was beautiful.

For the first time, our seven year old son from foster care was laughing. In fact, it was the first time the seven year old had even smiled in our home. Andrew had been living with us for four months, placed into our foster home due to severe and horrific abuse from the hands of his mother; his mother, the person who was supposed to shield her own son from all harm. Instead, his mother had abused her son so traumatically over a long period of time in his short life that Andrew had never really been given the opportunity to laugh. This innocent seven year old child had never known what it was like to, quite simply, have fun; never given a reason to smile.

The first months of Andrew’s time in our house often saw my other children, both biological and adoptive, try to invite their newest foster sibling into their world of play and imagination. At each invite, and each opportunity, Andrew would instead cling to my wife and I, choosing not to engage with the others. When either my wife or I were in the kitchen cooking, in the bedroom folding clothes, or other house duties, the seven year old would stand closely next to one of us. If either of us were sitting down, the child would sit next to us. Either way, he would never speak, simply cling to us, in his own world of trauma and anxiety.

Today, though, was different. For some time, Andrew was watching some of the other children playing in the lounge room, while my I was in the other other room, taking care of the dirty laundry. Perhaps it was the consistent approach from my children; perhaps it was his curiosity; perhaps he realized that his siblings from foster care were not going to hurt him. Whatever it was, Andrew finally joined in, and when he did, it was as if the flood gates of laughter had opened. I watched in amazement as this seven year old, this seven year old who never once expressed any emotion of happiness, joy, or amusement, was laughing. This seven year old boy was healing.

Laughter and play are wonderful ways for children in foster care to begin their healing process, as they help these children in need cope with their stresses, traumas, and anxieties. Indeed, as children in foster care begin to find a sense of humor, they will find it to be a resourceful tool they can use. As Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. states,
“Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” Continue reading

Congratulations …She’s Fabulous

 

Sunset Party Dancing Girl Silhouette

Life’s lessons are sometimes best learned with an appreciative sense of humor.

As a follow-up to our story, recounted previously on HuffingtonPost, I had written that my spouse and I were ‘expecting’ a boy. While we made our journey through the red tape of the California Foster Care system, we experienced many roadblocks. To our surprise, older kids, whom we thought would be plentiful, were not being presented. We made several attempts and many calls to find out who was available …and where were they?

On one call, I was told to ‘not go shopping online’ to view available kids around the country. Since local county authorities trained us, they wanted their investment to pay off with a local placement.

But instead, after two years, we did do a little shopping and found Avery through the Foster Care placement website, AdoptUsKids.org. David, my spouse, reached out to the social worker about connecting with Avery to provide support to this openly gay boy who was suffering in one of the most repressive social climates possible… Mississippi.

David wrote to him and applauded his ‘fierceness’ and urged him to see himself as an ambassador of the LGBT community to people who probably didn’t even know another openly gay person. Continue reading

Battling the Myths of Foster Care

kids

There’s an ongoing battle to tear down the myths about foster care. In a recent NPR interview, one foster parent discussed the negative impressions that the public is often given related to foster care—and how it’s a barrier to the great work that can be accomplished: “I think all too often the focus is on the negative and not on the good things that happen, the kids that were reunited with their family or the adoption.”

To hFoster-Care-IG-for-Publish-Smallelp counteract negative perspectives and continue to educate Master of Social work students and social service professionals, SocialWork@Simmons created “The Facts of Foster Care.” This infographic provides the latest objective and authoritative data published by collecting bureaus related to foster children and foster families—as well as data that will help to dispel myths about foster care. The goal is to achieve better support for those who need it most—especially the children and those who are caring for them. Continue reading

Foster Children and Online Technology: A Feeling of Control- A World of Danger

kids

Curtis was not in control. In fact, he had no control with just about everything in his life. After all, Curtis was in foster care.

Thirteen year old Curtis was placed into foster care after suffering neglect from a mother who was addicted to and sold illegal drugs. The teenager had been separated from his other two siblings, a younger brother and sister, as there were no foster homes in the area able to take in three children at that time. The foster teen’s father had been in and out of the family’s life, just as he had been in and out of jail. When Curtis arrived in his new foster home, he was confused, he was lonely, and he was scared. Curtis had been taken from everything he knew. He had been taken from his mother, his father, his brother, and his sister. He had been taken from his bedroom, his toys, his baseball card collection, his pet dog, his house, his home. The teen had been taken from his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins, his neighbors, his friends, his teachers, and his classmates. Indeed, Curtis had been taken from everything that was familiar to him, everything he knew, and everything he loved. Continue reading

Being the Role Model your Foster Child Needs

picnic

Role models. They are everywhere. A few years back, controversy was stirred when a professional athlete once stated that he was not a role model. Unfortunately, this is not true for you. As a foster parent, you will be a role model for countless people, as many eyes will be upon you. Not only will you be a role model for your foster children, but for the public, as a whole. After all, not many in our society know what foster parenting or foster care is really about. If you are like me, your own friends and family members don’t even really know what you do. Gosh! I have written several books on foster care, have a radio show and a weekly video series, and have spoken to countless organizations. Yet, my own family doesn’t really appreciate what my wife and I do on a daily basis as foster parents. Continue reading

Growing Too Old: Aging out of Foster Care

teens

Each year, between 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own.  Of the 500,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage.   For many foster children, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home.  Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, reaching 18 years of age can be a tremendously frightening experience.  For others, 21 is the year where they may find themselves no longer part of the foster care system, depending upon the state the foster children reside in. Continue reading

Life After Foster Care: Yoga, College and the Path Forward

As of 2011, roughly 423,000 children in the United States were living in foster care homes. Today the numbers are much the same. Nearly 20% enter foster care due to physical abuse; 65% leave without a place to live; and less than 3% end up going to college.

Anthony, from the latest episode of URBAN YOGIS on The Chopra Well, is an exception to the trend. He grew up in and out of foster care, back and forth between his mother and various temporary homes. As he explains in the episode, his mother never fed him or provided him with basic life needs, let alone the more intangible necessities of love, comfort, and security. He was never with her long before being sent to another foster home, making for a fairly unstable childhood.

With the help of his final foster family, as well his own drive and will to survive, Anthony emerged from his youth with a clear vision for the future. He’s proud of the life he has created for himself — living independently in a supportive housing unit, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Science, and aspiring to get a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Anthony didn’t just survive his childhood; and he isn’t just “getting by” now. He has discovered his passion and ambition. He has embarked on a difficult and rewarding path, made all the more remarkable by his challenging childhood. Through his weekly yoga practice, Anthony further refines this path by learning to pay attention to his moods, focus his mind, and discover strength in every subtle movement and breath.

How does a young person emerge from such a difficult childhood and thrive in adulthood? What facilitates this resilience and ambition? It could be that some experience along the way provided just enough of a glimmer of hope – a supportive social worker, a beautiful song, a loving foster family, an inspiring lesson from history. In Anthony’s case, a large part of his success comes from the opportunity to live alone and get acquainted with his own strength and competence. Yoga has played a large role, as well. As his instructor, Eddie Stern, says, yoga allows us to slow down and focus on our movement and breath. Through this, we come to see that we are individuals with minds and bodies and souls of our own. We aren’t just witnesses of a world going on around us, but rather conscious agents of our own life story. Past, present and future aside, Anthony is his own man. And there is great pride in that.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well for more URBAN YOGIS every Monday!

Change Your Life, Be a Mentor!

January is National Mentoring Month.  Being a mentor can mean different things to different people.  When I was growing up, my parents were divorced and my mother worked full time.  My dad moved away, and my mom was stressed out and tired when she was home.  Luckily we had Diana.  Diana was our real estate agent when we had to sell the family home and move.  She and my mother became friends, and Diana ended up moving in with us.  It was a blessing in many ways.  It helped my mother pay the bills, gave her someone to talk to, and it gave my sister and brother and me an additional adult in our lives. 

 At the time we thought of Diana as our friend.  She introduced us to tacos, and hot fudge sundaes.  She stayed up with us until midnight on New Year’s Eve.  She made she that our birthdays were celebrated in a grand fashion.  Even after Diana moved out into her own place, she was always there for us, just a phone call away.  We could talk to Diana about anything, and know that she never judged us.  One of my favorite memories is when she took my sister and me to the beach and we made Clam Chowder from scratch and went bike riding.  Diana helped us feel normal, and brought light and joy to our lives when we desperately needed it.

Diana has always been a member of our family, kind of like the hip Aunt where you always look forward to her visit.  And now that I’m involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I can see that Diana was also our mentor.

It is evident how much having a mentor can mean to a child, no matter what circumstances that child is in.  All it takes is one adult to show support, encouragement, or concern to absolutely affect a positive change in how that child views himself and the world.  I knew this going into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  What I didn’t know, and soon learned, was how much the experience would change me.

I’m a parent, so I know what it means to love a child.  I know what it means to want the best for this person, to put his needs before your own, and to make this person your priority without hesitation.  I have a child with special needs, so I know about the obstacles, and the heartache.  I thought I was fully prepared and well equipped to handle all of the emotions and challenges that come with mentoring a child.  But every day I learn something new.  And every day my heart is opened more, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to expand my awareness because this girl is in my life.

What makes Big Brothers Big Sisters unique is that it is a one-on-one mentoring program.  There are local chapters all over the country, so that many different geographical areas are served.  When an adult volunteers to be a mentor, there is an interview, and a background screening process.  Then the “match” part can begin.  The adults, the “Bigs,” and the children, the “Littles,” fill out a questionnaire that reflects their interests, needs, and wants in a mentor relationship.  From there a match specialist pairs up two that are compatible, and a match meeting is set.  At the match meeting, the two meet for the first time, and get to know each other.  The parent, foster parent, or guardian also gets to participate, and if all parties are agreed, the match is made.

The minimum time requirement is four hours a week.  This can be accomplished in one visit or several visits, depending on how the match wants to work it.  There is a lot of flexibility to the program.  Low cost or no cost activities are encouraged.  Time together is what is emphasized, as that is what the kids need more than anything.  Some adults express that they worry that they don’t have enough to give, that they will have a hard time finding interesting things to do each visit to keep the child interested.  But once they spend a few weeks just hanging out, they discover the beauty and simplicity of the relationship itself, and know that time together is the most valuable gift there is. 

Adults who enter the program are required to commit one year to it.  It takes a few weeks, or even months, for the relationship to really gel.  Many times the kids have trouble trusting, and it takes time for them to bond to a new person in their life.  The year goes by quickly, and if at the end of the year, for any reason, the adult needs to dissolve the match, they can.  But most matches last much longer, even a lifetime.  Children ages six through eighteen can be matched with a mentor, and they can stay in the program until they are twenty-one years old.

My Little Sister is sixteen years old now.  I’ve known her for almost a year.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  We have a lot of fun together, going to plays and movies, cooking, and discovering different parts of the city.  But the best times are when we just hang out and talk. 

People come into our lives for a reason.  We learn more from our relationships than we do from anything else.  Diana came into my life when I was a child, and she’s still an important part of my life today.  She’s family to me, and I love her.  And now my Little Sister is an important part of my life, too, and I love her.  I hope that I am helping her as much as Diana helped me, and that she will mentor someone when she has the opportunity.  Relationships are the heartbeat of this world, and Big Brothers Big Sisters brings people together to make the world a better place.

 7 minute introductory video about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County, California:

http://www.youtube.com/coffeytalk#p/a/u/0/QKJjBvRkHOM

 

All Children are Our Children

A study commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed that nearly 40% of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults decided to adopt, all of the 134,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption would have a permanent home.

I’ve written before about my experiences volunteering at a local group foster home. It’s actually a residential treatment and crisis care center. While there are many children who live there for varying amounts of time, I have been lucky enough to establish relationships with a handful of them. I love these kids. I feel like they are my children. And in a very real sense, they are mine. And they are yours. They are a part of our community, and they are a part of ourselves.

When I first committed to this "job" I agreed to come in for two hours a week, for four weeks. I’m now averaging four hours a day, five days a week, and I just was there for eleven days in a row. I’m well into my sixth month, and I can’t imagine stopping ever. Being a volunteer means that I am not paid, and spending this much time at the place actually costs me lots of money each week. I can’t help but bring fresh fruit and books and things like that. I make the time because this is important. I spend the money because I would rather help these kids than save up to buy a designer purse.

More and more we are learning that we live in a global community. We see how much of what happens in other communities, and other countries, has an affect on our own lives. And because of the internet and ease of travel, it’s easier for us to reach out and help children not only in our hometowns, but around the world.

I recently met Vivian Glyck, an amazing woman who has made a difference by following her vision. She says that after becoming a mother, she developed "a keen sense that the world is so small, it is really just one community, and I realized that taking care of oneself means heeding one’s calling – without hesitation or deliberation." Vivian’s calling is helping children in Uganda. Why? Because 25 million Africans, many of whom are children, are infected with the HIV virus. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. 12 million children are already orphaned by AIDS. Vivian travels to Africa and works with children personally, and she says they are "just like my child" which is why she named her organization "Just Like My Child." The mission is to alleviate the suffering of women, children, and families in rural Uganda by empowering communities to create their own long-term solutions to healthcare, education, and microenterprise. Read more about Vivian’s story at: justlikemychild.org

My friend Lysa Heslov is also helping children with her foundation Children Mending Hearts. Her mission is to give children worldwide the power to find and use their voices through creative expression. This is a global arts exchange between at-risk children in America and children living in conflict zones around the world that educates, empowers and encourages all the participants. People of various cultures connect the different projects, and learn and grow from their experiences with each other. Lysa has traveled to the Congo and worked with children first hand. And now her foundation is traveling around the United States to conduct art workshops. For more information visit: childrenmendinghearts.org

My friend Joseph Curiale saw a news story on CNN which compelled him to start a foundation to help orphaned girls in India. Right now there are four girls going to school on scholarships, who would otherwise be living in poverty in a government orphanage. Joe has traveled back and forth to India 12 times to make sure that these children, whom he considers his own, are getting the support, and the love, that they need. Joe is a testament to how one person can make a difference in this world. The work he has done is remarkable. Read more about his story at: josephcurialefoundation.com

Through organizations like Plan USA we can sponsor an individual child, and help that child’s family and community as well. Sponsorship helps to provide vaccination and nutrition programs, community water systems and well construction, home and health clinic construction, school and teachers, and so much more. As a sponsor you receive a photo of your child, a family profile to introduce you and provide information about the community, and regular updates on how everyone is doing. You can send letters and small gifts, and you can even visit your child! This sponsored child becomes your ambassador to a place and culture that you might otherwise never know. I began sponsoring Swapna, a little girl in rural India, in 2005. I’ve been able to see her grow and communicate through Plan USA’s field office volunteers. We don’t speak the same language, and the geographical distance is great, but we are connected through our hearts. She is a beautiful child, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to her life in some way. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, visit: planusa.org

All children are children of the world. All children are our children.

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