Monday, March 2, 2015

Encouraging Foster & Adoptive Families

I recently had an interesting discussion with a group of women who were wondering how to encourage foster/adoptive families. I kind of hesitate to write this for fear it will sound like I am begging for help, because I am not! 2 years ago, 2 weeks ago or even 2 days ago I may have been but not today! :) 

1. When a family get's a new placement, they have many of the same needs as the new mom who just had a baby. Our church does a wonderful job of caring for new foster mom's. Once I heard a woman say she doesn't think it is necessary to take meals when someone gets a placement because the mom hasn't gone through labor. True, but "emotional labor" can be exhausting! The baby/child placed in your home isn't comforted by being in your arms like a biological child who has already bonded with you. The new child has just gone through trauma, possibly at the hands of the one who should have protected him. If your biological child experienced earth shattering pain, the last thing you would do is hand him off to strangers. The flip side is the baby who was exposed to drugs/alcohol in utero. This child especially needs a mom figure. So the foster mom is the one who feeds, rocks, clothes, comforts and walks the floors with this tiny scrap of humanity that screams incessantly.

2. If there are other foster/adopted siblings in the home, the newly placed child's trauma will feed the pain inside their little bodies. Maybe they have worked through their previous hurts in therapy and are considered healed but there will always be a scar. Watching another child experiencing the pain, they once felt, is a sure way to stretch and pull that scar until it is bleeding once more.  Before they know it, the foster family has several trauma victims to care for.

3. The new child will have court hearings, doctor appointments, visits and possibly a host of other appointments. Guess who takes the child to all these places? Mom. Guess who is left behind? All the siblings who experienced their own trauma. These little people still don't fully trust mom. Will she come back? What if something happens to her? What if someone takes their baby or worse, comes and takes them? What if mom and dad send them away because now that they now have a baby, they might not be able to care for me?

4. I of course have never fostered an older child but I can imagine the needs would be even greater n those circumstances. The child will have had more chances to be traumatized, experienced more loss and will have a greater understanding of the wrong's committed against him. This affects their self esteem and when you have a child with low self esteem, parenting can be tough.

That is a brief glimpse of what can entail when a family get's a new placement. Here is how you can be supportive:

1. Any family can use food. I remember finding a casserole or tray of cookies in our vehicle after church. Sometimes there was an encouraging note attached, other times I had no idea who had done the kind deed. Either way, it was so appreciated. Even if we weren't struggling to keep our head above water, just the thought that someone cared meant so much.

2. Offer's to babysit are so nice. I always felt like such a burden asking people to babysit my children because we chose to do foster care. On the flip side, if the mom decline's your offer don't be offended. Some children come with lots of emotional baggage and staying with a babysitter, gives them fuel for their fire.

3. Support the family's methods of helping their child heal. Trust me, any one of these parents would be only to happy to parent the "typical way." We aren't being mean to this hurting child, instead we are trying to help him/her heal. These children do not think like you or I and you cannot parent them the way you would a healthy child. It simply doesn't work. 

4. If you have a question or have serious concerns about the child/parents or rules the parent has set in place, ask the parent. They will usually be only to happy to share why they are doing the things you question. Please ask privately when the foster/adoptive/traumatized child is not near by. You can also Google attachment disorders or any of the disorders that require specialized parenting.

5. Tell the child what a good mom he has but don't say it if you don't truly think so. I think most children who come through the system will have attachment disorder to some degree. Depending upon circumstances and personality, the child will be able to come through relatively unscathed but for many children it is not so. These children have often been hurt by their mothers or primary caretakers so they do not trust the "mom figure." Others are so damaged they do anything to push mom away. When someone say's, "It is cold outside today!  I see mom put your coat on to keep you warm, she really loves you!" That speaks a powerful message to the child. 

6. Take the healthy children out for the evening. When there is a new placement or traumatized child in the home, mom and dad spend a lot of time at home with that child. The other siblings need time away but depending upon the circumstances it isn't a good idea for mom or dad to be be left alone with the child. Then everyone ends up staying home.

7. Encourage the siblings of the new foster/ adopted/traumatized child. They need to be noticed as well. They sacrifice a lot and sad to say, we as their parents sometimes lose sight of that.

8. Let the family know you are praying for them. This means so much! The path God has called foster/adoptive families to can feel isolating. I have often wondered why this is and I think, at least for myself, I often feel we chose to do this, it wasn't dumped upon us, so why should anyone else have to sacrifice their time for us? When someone says they are praying it feels like they are willing to help carry the responsibility for this hurting child.

9. Many mom's lose their way for a time, while trying to help their children heal or when settling a new child in the family. Having friends who come alongside and encourage, pray and minister to her hurting heart is such a blessing. That hug you so quickly forgot you gave may be an answer to prayer. The flower's you set on her table to brighten her day may be the ray of sunshine she needs in order to be strong enough to help her child heal. 

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