In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

Alone: Keeping Siblings Together

 

 

 

A couple of years ago my husband and I got hooked on a survivalist reality show.  The feature setting this show apart from other survivor type shows is that the contestants were entirely alone.  They were responsible for everything (including filming).  Dropped off unaccompanied in a remote area, the participants hunted and foraged for food, built shelters, and risked their lives for the grand prize.  The only margin between remaining in the game and going home was voluntarily sending a call from a satellite phone, in which they were immediately removed. Faced with wild boars, wolves, and poisonous berries…and yet the most common call on that satellite phone was made because competitors were feeling alone. Desperately missing their families, many grown men and women pressed the button on the phone to get home.

Something these contestants quickly learned is the innate human need to not be alone.  Some hit the button after 40 days and some after only 24 hours, but a majority hit it in despair to see family, hug family, feel the safety of family.  The most prepared and capable people of being alone, simply cannot.

Imagine now, a toddler boy.  Bright eyes, long lashes.  Chubby hands and smooth skin.  He is not a wilderness survivalist, but he too has no familiar shelter.  He is suddenly in the home of strangers.  He too wonders about food.  The afternoon eases into evening.  When the lights go out, fear grips this little boy in the scariest moment of his life.  In tears, he turns over his shoulder looking for the one consistent person in his life, his little sister.  The home he does not know, the adults he does not know, but his sister, his sister is like a thread of his own fabric that cannot be unraveled from him.

There is no stress-free way for a child to be placed in foster care.  Abuse or neglect leads up to the removal and the removal itself can be very distressing.  Just like the contestants in a contrived TV show, these kids long for reliable food, safety, and most of all to not feel alone.  In many cases, every effort should be made to keep sibling groups together.  As you can envision, not all foster families have the ability to accept multiple children at a time.  How sad for the toddler boy who looks over his shoulder and doesn’t see his sister. He reaches for the hand he knows, and it is not there. That satellite phone seems like a luxury in life’s true survival situations.

Psalm 68:6 tells us, “God sets the lonely in families.”  We think the foster family must be where God is setting them, but truly, if children have siblings, then in some regards they already have part of the family to not feel lonely.  Nightlight’s Homes for Hope house is making an effort to ensure that siblings stay together during those initial nights, when fear grips as if wild animals lurked outside.  Having a home devoted to emergency sibling placements is a safeguard against the fear and loneliness throughout the transition.  If adult survivalists use the satellite phone to get to their family, how much more do children need family in their reality?

Nightlight and Adams County Social Services have opened two homes designed to provide safety, comfort, and security to children in foster care at a time when they are most vulnerable: immediately after being removed from their family. This new model of foster care, called Homes for Hope, is designed to provide temporary foster care for children in emergency situations. A large focus of the program will be keeping sibling sets together. To learn more about Homes for Hope or the process to become a foster family contact Meaghan Nally at mnally@nightlight.org, call (970)663-6799 or visit https://www.nightlight.org/colorado-homes-for-hope-program/.

Ways To Give To the Foster Adopt Community

 

 

The holidays are a joyous time of year. But unless gift gifting is your love language, finding gifts for everyone on your Christmas list can cause some extra stress! Here are some recommendations on how you can bless the foster or foster adoptive child or parent in your life this Christmas season.

 

Date-Night In Gift Package

Finding respite care for children in foster care, or feeling comfortable leaving your children with a stranger, is a hard thing for a foster parent. A “date night” in could be the perfect compromise for your foster family. You could include toys or activities for the children, board games or crafts, and gift the parents a movie and popcorn. Offering to provide in-home babysitting while they have their date night is an extra bonus!

 

Gift Cards to Restaurants or Grocery Stores

As your family grows, it can get expensive to eat out. But many foster children have not experienced dinners at a sit-down restaurant, so this would provide an extra special treat for the family. It also provides the parents a break from cooking!

 

Photo Books /Frames

Photo books can be very special for foster children who may not have any pictures of themselves as babies or toddlers. Many foster parents create Lifebooks, a recording of the child’s memories, past and present, that are preserved in a binder, photo album, or book. This is a gift that can stay with the foster child if they return home. Or photo frames the parents can hang on the wall will help a child feel part of the family and provide a sense of extra comfort.

 

Relaxation

Items that provide relaxation for the foster parents is always appreciated. It could be a journal, candles, bath salts, a gift certificate for a massage, or a good book.

 

Sensory Tools & Games

Many children in foster care struggle with sensory integration or the processing and organizing of sensory information from the senses. When a child struggles with sensory integration, they can have a hard time interpreting sensory information. Sensory tools such as a weighted blanket, fidgets, balance disks, etc. can be extremely helpful for a child!

This website has a list of sensory tools recommended by occupational therapists: https://www.therapyshoppe.com/specials/1423-sensory-toys-tools-products-for-sensory-integration-special-needs-kids-children

 

Handmade Gift Certificates

Handmade gift certificates for a month of weekly homemade meals, offers to provide babysitting, or yard care can go a long way, especially for working foster parents.

 

 

If you don’t have a specific child or family in mind, but want to give back to the foster adopt community, here are some recommendations on how to bless and support local and nationwide organizations who have a direct impact on foster youth and teens:

 

Together We Rise – This organization is comprised of motivated young adults and former foster youth. They partner with hundreds of foster agencies, social workers, CASA advocates, and others across the nation to support foster youth. They provide thousands of foster youth with new bicycles, college supplies, and sweet cases so children don’t have to travel from home to home with their belongings in at trash bag. Learn more here: https://www.togetherwerise.org/projects/

 

Dream Makers –Every year, 26,000 teens age out of the foster care system without a family to call their own. Many are left without a loving support system or resources to help them reach their full potential. Dream Makers allows you to meet the needs and dreams of these youth as they enter into adulthood. Requests have included laptops for college, emergency funds, funds for driver’s education classes, and much more. Learn more here: https://dreammakersproject.org/ .

 

The Adoption Exchange – A nonprofit organization that helps establish safety and permanency in the lives of foster children. They provide recruitment services to help children who have survived abuse and neglect find families, training for families and child welfare professionals, and support families along their foster care and adoption journey. Headquartered in Colorado, the Adoption Exchange also operates in Missouri, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. They have a birthday fund to provide birthday gifts for children waiting in foster care, volunteer opportunities, and monthly giving opportunities. Learn more here: https://www.adoptex.org/

 

Creating a Life Book For Your Adoptive/Foster Child

 

 

 

Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.

I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as  lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family.  All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.

Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.

 

  1. Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
  2. Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
  3. Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
  4. Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
  5. Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
  6. Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
  7. Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.

The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.

How to Educate Your Child’s Teacher & Advocate For Your Foster Child

 

 

There are many different approaches to take when educating teachers and advocating for our foster children. If we share too much, will teachers make assumptions? If we don’t share enough, teachers might not be able to help our child flourish.

Some parents feel it is best to share as little as possible. Many times, teachers who are not trauma informed hear they have a foster child in the classroom and suddenly our child becomes the classroom scapegoat. Minor issues—issues every child has—suddenly turn in to “red flags” and, more often than not, expectations are lowered to unreasonable standards.

On the other hand, some parents feel it is best to share as much as possible because knowledge is power. Educating your child’s teacher, telling their story, may help the teacher understand your child’s moods and behaviors in the classroom setting. When we know the “why” behind behaviors they can be addressed in a way that helps create new pathways leading to long lasting behavior change.

We know that parenting, and sharing, is not black and white. Therefore, let’s find balance in the gray area, as we strive to share on a need to know basis. Working together as a team, both at home and in the classroom, creates a sense of “Felt Safety” for our child.  It is helpful for teachers to know what triggers to watch for, and what intervention works best, when our child is triggered. Sharing on a need to know basis allows for understanding, for example—“Thursdays are rough because of visits on Wednesdays”.

It is not necessary for teachers to know private details of the birth parents, the case, or how the child came to live with you. Sharing on a need to know basis allows the teacher to have enough information to support your foster child, while simultaneously ensuring that we respect the details of a story that is not ours to share.

Calling All Teachers: School Assignments to be Prepared for Regarding Adopted Kids

 

 

With the start of the new school year comes the onslaught of homework and class assignments. While well intended, many assignments can be difficult for foster and adopted children as they require the child to know details about their genetics, heredity, and family history. Our children may feel uncomfortable or too embarrassed to publicly disclose to their teacher or their classmates that they don’t know some of their history or their knowledge is incomplete or missing. If they decide to share their story, they could face well-meaning but intrusive and very personal questions they’re not prepared to answer. The child may wind up feeling different from their peers and experience an increased sense of isolation.

 

We recommend scheduling a meeting with your child’s teacher ahead of time to find out their knowledge of adoption. This could be a great opportunity to educate them and advocate for your child and other children in the classroom coming from non-traditional family backgrounds. Some of the more common school assignments to be aware of and alternative options:

 

Baby Pictures: This can be distressing for a child who may not have any baby pictures of their childhood. Instead, the child could draw a picture of themselves or the assignment could focus on “All About Me” and include the child’s favorite things.

 

Family Tree: Many children have non-traditional family structures. A family garden or forest allows the child to include as many individuals in their family as they desire, whether it be step-parents, half siblings, adopted and biological parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins, etc. This is a great opportunity for children to learn families can be all shapes and sizes. Or the assignment could focus on those who have cared for the child, a “caring tree,” including previous teachers, foster parents, doctors, nannies, etc.  If the child wants to share that they’re adopted, an alternative assignment is the “Rooted Tree.” The child is the trunk, the roots are members of the biological family, and the branches are members of their current family.

 

Nationality/Heritage/Country Studies: Rather than having a child pick the country their heritage is from, they should be able to pick a country of their choice.

 

Autobiographies: Many children coming from painful or traumatic backgrounds lack information about their early years or it’s private and difficult to discuss. Alternatives could be to ask the child to write about a special event or person in their life, their life in the past year, or their entire life with less emphasis on their childhood.

 

Your child may react differently to each assignment, they may be excited to share information about their adoption or they may desperately want to fit in. Regardless, it’s important to prepare them ahead of time and talk through how they might handle particular situations. A great tool to prepare your child is the WISE Up! Book. WISE Up! empowers children to learn their story is unique, personal, and that they have the choice in how much information they decide to share about that. They can:

 

  1. Walk Away or ignore what it said or heart
  2. It’s private and I don’t have to answer it
  3. Share something about my adoption story
  4. Educate others about adoption in general

 

You can purchase the book online and listen to the companion webinar.

 

Foster Parent Appreciation Month: Testimony from Katie & Brad

 

Brad and I found out a couple years ago it would most likely not happen that we would have children. Was it sad? Yes. Was it the end? NO! God chose this path for our lives and we could not imagine it any other way now! We always talked about adoption even before we were married, so this was not a hard decision to make. When we met with our agency we were determined to do domestic adoption. Foster Care was not at the front of the list. However, while speaking to our agency, God was changing our minds in that very moment! Brad and I looked at each other and Brad said I think we should do foster care. I looked at him and said I agreed! And really the rest is history.

 

After all the paperwork and home study we were ready for children. We were placed with 2 little people almost immediately. We loved them and were thrilled to have them in our home. After about 3 months in our home they went back to live with their bio parents. People have asked me: was it hard? Of course it was, but God is so gracious and loving. He gives us the strength we need.

 

 

After about 2ish weeks, we had our second placement. Now this is where it gets long and crazy. But I will say we have 4 beautiful children in our home and we are blessed to get them all in a 9 month period of time! I know crazy!!!! But I LOVE it! I wouldn’t change any of it. Watching God provide, watching God work, watching God change their little lives, watching God change our lives! What a wonderful/crazy life God has chosen for us!

 

That all being said. It’s not easy! But God provides such grace and mercy to us. We don’t always do it right, but His mercy is new every morning!

 

We have a lot of people say: I could never do foster care! And my reply is: Yes, you can! Is it easy to love children who have no home? Yes! Is it easy to let them go back to their bio parents? Not always. Is foster care needed? Most certainly!

 

There are over 400,000 children in the foster Care system in the US! Isn’t that a shocking number. That’s 400,000 children that need to be shown the love of God! 400,000 children that have no idea what a functioning, stable home looks like. 400,000 children that need us to show them that their story doesn’t have to continue to be a nightmare. That God is the one who can shine His glorious light in their lives. But how will they know that if we don’t get involved?

 

Please consider foster care and the change you can make in a child’s life. It wasn’t about growing our family for Brad and I. It may have started that way but God showed us it is about giving these precious children a home that they wouldn’t normally have. The benefit is that someday we may be able to adopt our wonderful children!