Foster Care & It’s Unfortunate Reputation

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Let’s be really honest right off the bat, being a foster parent isn’t popular by ANY means.

Foster care and foster parents do not exactly have a great reputation in our culture. How many times have you turned on the television only to hear about a horrific crime revolving around a horrifying orphanage experience or crazy foster parents?

Parenting children who’ve gone into foster care is often resented. Sometimes it’s so bad you don’t even want to tell people you are a foster parent because of all the backlash that comes with it. I’ve heard every judgmental comment possible about why I do foster care or how horrible foster children are in my 7 plus years of doing this.

Yes…bad things happen in foster care, there is no denying that. But you know what?…Bad things happen in biological homes all the time, which is why there is a foster care system to begin with. But do we assume all biological families are horrible? Bad things happen in all occupations…but not all employees are judged because their co-worker made bad choices. Tell me this…how many times have you turned on the t.v. only to hear about another child being molested by a church hierarchy? Do we judge all the church goers because their pastor/priest made bad decisions? No… we don’t because that really isn’t fair.

So why are all of us foster parents judged off of another foster parents horrible choices? Why are the children who are in the foster care system judged so harshly? They are in the system not by their choice, but yet they take a lot of judgment from the world. Most people automatically assume that if a child, especially over the age of 5 is in the foster care system that they are a troubled child. Yes…there are troubled children in the system, but not all of them are.

So, why even consider being a foster parent? What is being a foster parent like? Most people don’t even know the answers to these questions because they can’t get past their stereotypes and judge mental attitudes. There’s true beauty behind the bad reputation that only foster parents will know and experience. Being a foster parent is not easy by any means, but it is rewarding.

Here are some positive things about being a foster parent that most people don’t know or understand.

Foster Parents Are In Need:

Overwhelmingly, the children who go into foster care are the victims of either abuse and/or neglect by their parent or legal guardian. At any given time, there are approximately half a million children in foster care nationally and roughly 60,000 under the age 18 in California. This does not include children ages 18-21 in the extended programs and children whom chose to age out of care. In Los Angeles County alone, the number of foster homes has decreased from more than 8,000 in 2005 to less than 4,000 by 2015. The need for new foster homes is increasing and the approval process to be approved is getting stricter.

Contrary to stereotypes, these children aren’t monsters sent to terrorize homes, foster parents and bio kids.  I’ve seen and dealt with a wide range of foster children across all age groups. Many children are very small, some even newborn. Some have been beaten. Some have been neglected. Some have been molested. Some are malnourished and underfed. Some are addicted to drugs from the womb. And there’s even some that come with almost no baggage.

Children with known, extreme behaviors typically aren’t sent to foster parents, they are placed in different level/type of care. Some of the teens have straight A’s, and some struggle to make it through the school day. Some of the teens are happy, and some are sad and angry. Some of the teens are just crying out for moms and dads to love them. They are all kids who have been hurt and endured pain that most people couldn’t imagine. They are needing a family to love and guide them and accept them for who they are and where they come from.

You Can Be An Amazing Foster Parent If You Want To:

Yes, some foster parents and foster agencies have a bad reputation. You don’t have to be a horrible foster parent or involved with a shady agency. You can be amazing, rescuing children from reoccurring trauma and shining a bright light into the world.

Those of us who truly want to make a difference in children’s lives can and will reinvent what foster care looks like. There are more good stories out there than bad and we need to get them circulating. There really is dedicated foster parents out there. Ones who do it to make an impact on children’s lives. I know because I am one of them. As soon as a child is placed in my care that becomes my child. I do anything and everything for that child as if I birthed them myself.

I make sure their time with me wether a short stay or a permanent stay is safe, secure and as happy as possible. No, it’s not all hearts and butterflies and it does get tiring sometimes but knowing how many little lives I’ve impacted keeps me going. The reward of having many children call me mom…is priceless.

It’s A Life-Changing Experience:

Much like biological parenting, foster parenting is life-changing. Besides the normal consuming activities of parenting young children or teens, foster parents have extra responsibilities of meeting state requirements and caring for children with acute/special needs.  Records need to be kept, visits need to be made, medicine dispensed, therapy appointments to attend and social workers and supervisors regularly visiting your home. This is all a daily part of your life. It’s not easy, but it’s good. It keeps the children safe.

Taking care of foster children takes a whole heart, willing to accept the payoff of laughter, pain, sorrow, joy, and even self-improvement. Watching an abused child gain the ability to smile and laugh again is priceless. Seeing a teen comfortable in her own skin for the first time is worth the mood swings. Ice cream cones, football games, and trips to the playground are the perfect distractions from the difficulties of being a foster parent.

Foster care changes children and foster care changes foster parents. The personal growth that comes from being a foster parent is life-changing.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to like comment and share! I love to hear feedback and personal experiences.

Trauma Focused Parenting

Wether you are a foster parent or someone who is raising kids, having some knowledge in trauma is useful. I would be surprised if there was one person out there who hasn’t endured some form of trauma in their lives. Some people might have suffered some horrible traumas while others might not seem so big, but trauma is trauma and each individual experience is their very own. We can not say “this child has worse trauma than that child.” Someone who has had sexual trauma could be dealing with life much easier than someone who had general neglect trauma. It’s all about the individual and their perception on things.

Trauma focus is becoming a real big topic especially in the foster parenting world being that it is mainly what we deal with. Having trauma that has not been properly dealt with is a leading factor in mental illness, substance abuse and behavioral issues. Trauma will be an ever changing and growing topic. We now, are just beginning to understand the human brain and all its capabilities.

Sadly when a person has had a traumatic experience their brain goes into a survival mode. Survival mode sounds great but it actually isn’t in this case. The person whom experienced the trauma will become stuck. Their brain will stop growing emotionally. So for instance, a child who experienced a horrific event at age 10 will emotionally be stuck at age 10 even though they are now 15, unless they have processed through the trauma. Seems crazy right? Well that’s the brains way of surviving. It buried the experience deep inside and built the Great Wall of China around it. For some the journey to healing is going to be a long painful process.

With foster care you see a lot of this. Children come in and usually you go through a little honeymoon phase and then boom! Behaviors galore! Aggression, bed wetting, lack of confidence, self sabotage, hoarding, you name it, I’ve seen it! Before all the in-depth brain and trauma training we had no answers to understanding what was happening. To this day a lot of foster parents still have a hard time grasping that the child doesn’t hate you, they just can’t emotionally communicate with you. Plus let’s not forget that it takes a good amount of time to bond with these children and for them to even trust you enough to be vulnerable. Just when you think you are making progress you will get thrown a curve ball! But hang in there because there is a light at the end of every tunnel.

This is where it’s good to gain knowledge on trauma and the brain. Many people live thinking that they experienced a traumatic event 30 years ago but it has no impact on their current life. That’s farthest from the truth. It impacts every aspect of your life and you don’t realize it until it’s dealt with properly. Many people will be triggered by something and not even realize that the trigger was related to this experience that happened so long ago in their life. Like I said earlier this becomes a big player in substance, behavioral, and mental issues.

I have done a lot of studying on the brain and trauma. I am truly fascinated with all the information that is out there. From parenting classes to my own research I have truly transformed my parenting ways. Not only have I transformed how I parent but I have been able to take a look at my life and past and start to piece together why I struggle with things as well. I strive everyday to gain knowledge and practice being better than the day before. Not everyday is a success either and that’s ok. One thing to always keep in mind is without a little failure from time to time there is no room for new success.

It takes some courage to really start studying how the brain works. Some days are dark when you have deep self realizations. But these dark days will be what pushes you into the light. A lot of people are scared to get to the core of who they are because there’s a lot of past there they don’t want to remember. We have to learn to be ok with the good, bad and ugly about ourselves. Once you go inside and accept everything about yourself and heal then you will be able to transform how you parent. This is the most vital step in the process of helping our kids. We as parents have to be emotionally stable to provide an environment where these children can heal.

As a foster parent one of the hardest lessons you will learn will be to not take these behaviors personal. It’s hard…very hard because thoughts cross your mind like you are providing them a good home or you are giving them unconditional love and so on, so why are they causing you so much trouble? Unless you are the one projecting bad energy towards them first then you are most likely not the problem. You are just there and you are going to get the brunt of their trauma. This is when using trauma focused skills and parenting will make a world of difference in both your lives.

You as the parent wether birth or foster/adopt have to remain cool, calm and collected. As you heal as a person you will truly gain that mindset. When we haven’t dealt with our traumas they make us react to situations on the defense. When we can’t figure out why something angers us so badly, it’s usually due to an un-dealt with trauma. When someone’s behavior makes us annoyed, it’s usually something inside us that we are seeing in them that we don’t like about ourselves. For instance I’ve had a child who is a control freak and it made me crazy! Well that’s because I am a control freak and had never accepted that about myself. This child and I would butt heads regularly because of this. It’s not a bad thing for the child or I to be a control freak but we both have to learn when it’s needed and when it’s not.

Being a control freak often stems from anxiety and anxiety comes from worrying about the future and not knowing if you can control what happens. Then this all leads back to a childhood of never fully feeling secure. It takes a lot to break down behaviors and behavioral patterns but once you do you can find the source. Behavior in all people is a form of communication and if you pay attention you can look past the moment of unwanted behavior and see what’s really going on.

All human beings need a few things to fully flourish in life and that is to feel loved, accepted, safe and secure. If you’ve lacked any of those at any point in your life you will naturally put up that wall and do your best to never feel that way again. It’s that dang survival mode! So therefore comes behaviors that we regularly have to keep us away from those negative experiences again.

To be the best parent we can be daily takes work and patience. The work and patience doesn’t just mean for the child but for ourselves as well. It takes time to process our own past traumas but as you do, you will see how to apply new parenting skills with your children.

When you are parenting a child with trauma you must try to keep in the forefront that the behavior is just a form of communication from the child that something is hurting inside them. Don’t fight the behaviors, it won’t do you any good. As long as they aren’t harming themselves or anyone then allow them to go through the emotions. Allowing the child to go through the emotions will help them emotionally grow. Most children of trauma have their lines crossed on what they are feeling. Help them identify if they are sad, angry, scared and so on. Sometimes an angry child isn’t angry at all they are actually acting out of fear but it comes out totally wrong.

One very important thing is to validate the child’s feelings. Never discredit their emotions because this will not allow them to gain emotional knowledge and strength. Even if you disagree or think it’s nothing serious you must give them validation. We are human and each of us has good, bad and ugly emotions that we have to accept as part of us. Our society doesn’t set us up to be emotionally intelligent. We all have masculine and feminine qualities to us and a strong man or woman is most likely the one whom allows themselves to feel emotions and feel them deeply.

When we shut people down on their feelings we shut a part of them down. The more a child or person has to suppress these emotions the more they lack being ok with who they are. They will eventually end up with self-esteem issues and losing who they are as a person. All humans need to be validated it’s just built in us.

To parent a child of trauma you must also leave your judgment at the door. Let’s be real, no one likes to be judge so you must not judge the child for their behaviors. They are just behaviors and they will go away as the child heals. When we judge the child and their behaviors we will fail at understanding what needs to be done to help along the healing process.

Empathy and compassion are going to be big players in a child’s healing. We will never fully be able to walk in someone else’s shoes but we can try. Just by trying to imagine yourself in the child’s position should help give you empathy for them. Once you get a little internal feeling on how they might feel this will help you parent with compassion. The two really go hand in hand. When you parent with a sense of compassion it will help the child feel unconditional love.

Unconditional love is a must in any relationship. You must love a person through good times and bad. To truly have a flourishing relationship with anyone you have to accept all things including flaws of that person. When you have unconditional love for a child or person flaws are not flaws but are characteristics that make that person who they are. Remember we all have good, bad and ugly qualities it’s just part of being human. When we have relationships with unconditional love it balances us and all our qualities. It helps us thrive as individuals when we feel we have unconditional love in our corner. Humans want to know and feel that even if we make a mistake we are still loved and accepted. When we feel this we feel secure.

When parenting a child of trauma you really want your home to be a place where they can freely express themselves and their emotions. As long as the child isn’t doing any physical harm to anyone or anything than it shouldn’t be to hard to provide this type of environment. My husband and I regularly allow our children to voice their emotions and feelings when behaviors arise. We are calm people so we have found that our children calm down fairly quickly because we are not matching their high intense emotions.

When a child feels secure enough in their environment they will heal. We all want security of some form wether it’s money, a good job, a roof over our head or for most children security is love and acceptance.

Child “First Aid” Kit

Today our family took time after school to craft out a first aid kit. Now this is not the normal first aid kit you’re thinking of. This is a board for the children with a few reference sections on it to help them get through times when they are angry with one another or they feel like their emotions are starting to escalate to a negative place. 

Each child’s name went on to the board and below their name is a list of 4 calming techniques they can use during a time of negative feelings. For instance one of my children listed singing, listening to music, drawing and writing. Another child listed reading, drawing, watching tv, and playing with toys. So the goal is for them to start making connections to how they are feeling in the present moment and then be able to reach into their “first aid” kit to be able to aid themselves back to a calm state of mind.

Also on the board there is a spot where everyone’s name is listed. This is a check in spot. When they come home from school we will check in with them and ask them on a scale of 1-10 how was their day and how is their current emotion. Today one child said they were an 8 and another said they were a 10. So this prompted me to ask why an 8 out of 10. So this child said well something happened at school today that made them really irritated and upset them a little bit. So we talked about the incident and by the end of the conversation we turned the negative feelings into positive and the child then said they felt like a 10 now!

So the whole point of the first aid kit is to get them to identify with emotions and know when to use calming techniques. The more they can see they have the power in the moment to handle their feelings and are strong enough to walk away from negative situations the more they will come out on top. We are also teaching them with the first aid kit to take care of themselves first. Once you have mastered your emotions you can handle any situation!

Thanks for reading and may you have a wonderful positive night!