This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a conference for foster and adoptive parents. While there a friend mentioned her feelings of inadequacy based on the type of care her home provides and their length of service. A few of the speakers did ask the audience about how long they had been foster parents, a few asked about length of marriages, and a few asked how many children a family had. We also noted the careful use of the words “just” and “only” in many of our conversations over the weekend. A parent might say, “I only have two children,” or “We’ve been foster parents for just one year.” Why do we feel the need to quantify our relationship to foster care and adoption? Is there an unnoted hierarchy of parents based on the type of adoption, the number of children, or the length of their experience? Since returning home I’ve been contemplating these situations. I’ve identified a couple of analogies that might help us dissect this topic.
My first real job after college was that of a classroom teacher. It was typical for me to have around 25 children in my class in any given year. As such, I was responsible for teaching all those children in a variety of subjects. I handled it with as much grace and courage as any fresh college graduate could muster. There were great days and there were not so great days. There were lessons that were wildly successful and ones that went down in flames. What I lacked in experience I made up for in enthusiasm. I spent countless hours searching for new ideas to stimulate learning in every member of my class. Did my lack of experience make me less effective than those with more experience? Were the children in my classroom still learning despite my naivety?
While much wisdom can come from those with life experience there is something to be said for those who are new and ready to take on the world. Both ends of spectrum have something to offer children. Even those of us with experience handle situations both well and not so well. Some have natural qualities which enable them to reach children. Others have honed their skill through careful practice and continued learning. Each has something to offer a child. While what they offer is varied, with appropriate placement the child receives what they need in relationship to where they are in their journey.
Now let’s address the numbers issue. I mentioned before that I generally taught around 25 children in any given class. The special education teacher down the hall had a handful of students at most in her room at any given time. Despite the number of children we served, we both traveled along the same pay scale. Was her time less valuable because she only taught a few children at one time? Or was she giving her best to children who needed exactly that in exactly that environment?
Most foster parents are also spouses, partners, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, parents of other children, etc. I imagine it’s rare that someone comes to foster care or adoption that has no other relationships already in place. As we move forward in our journey we also have these existing relationships to continue to navigate. There are jobs, committees, and other obligations that also pull at our time and energy. Our existing family may be drama free and super supportive (wouldn’t that be amazing?). We may also have family members who need extra support and care. Despite our unique situations we move forward to provide care for more. While one family may be able to foster or adopt a sib set of four or five; some are best suited for serving one child at a time. Each of these families is doing the best they can for the child or children they serve. Each of these families is valuable and needed.
Never feel apologetic about what you can or cannot offer at any given time. Each family has a unique set of skills and challenges. Over time those skills and challenges may change. What you can offer today might look different from what you can offer down the road. The willingness to serve a child or children is needed and appreciated. The need for homes is great. Know that whether you can serve one child or multiple children, provide long-term care or respite care, you are valuable. You are not defined by a number.
I attended a conference over the weekend and was given a “new” piece of information that I wanted to share with you all. This isn’t “new,” it is actually as old as time and is now at the forefront of much debate and research. The “gut/brain” connection is a hot topic these days. Basically, for all of us non-PhD’s out there, it is the nerve that connects the brain to our gut. This nerve is showing that trauma is creating an environment within the gut that is basically toxic. Filling up with bad bacteria and not allowing simple processes like elimination to take place. So many "issues" are now being looked at differently as we learn that many may be caused in the gut. Sensory processing disorder was one of the topics at this conference. I researched on my own at home to see what else was out. I have included three sites that I found very helpful.
Here is my big take away…
Currently my family provides mostly respite care for Kansas families. I love being the auntie to so many of these families. When your child comes to my house my family is so elated and excited that we want that time to be like a big ol’ party! Now, I am seeing a pattern for what it really is though. When we get kiddos for say the weekend we play hard. We order pizza and watch a movie. We go play and grab a fun lunch. Typically, by the first night I have older kiddos telling me that their tummies hurt or they have a headache. DUH!!! I just fed them greasy, acidic sauce and cheese with nothing but processed dough. Knowing what I know now I can see why they are hurting. Lots of times I have never met these kids before. We are new to each other and they have never been in my home. I am not feeding them to nurture them, I am feeding them so that we have "fun."
There is a clear link to early trauma (even as early as in utero) creating a disconnect between the gut/brain connection. That means that these kids are coming to us with more than just emotional, social, spiritual, etc repair for us to work on. Nutritionally speaking, we have to do our part! I am not saying that we need to hop on the latest health craze, buy only organic and cook four hours a day. I am also not saying that we can NEVER have pizza again. What I am purposing is that we feed their bodies like we do their souls. We give a little extra care to what goes in. We give a little more thought to what we provide. We are here to help them heal.
Let me know what you have found about this topic within your homes. What are some of your favorite recipes?
Visit these websites for more information:
child welfare task force
The Child Welfare Systems Task Force met on February 2, 2018. We enjoyed a presentation youth leaders and independent advocacy organizations. The youth leaders were former foster youth with touching stories that reminded us of how important it was for them to advocate for themselves at a very young age. The independent advocacy organizations are joining together to form a group that are dedicated to reforming Kansas's foster care system and are working under the "strengthen familes rebuild hope" name. Kansas Appleseed, FosterAdopt Connect, and Sister Therese Bangert of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth are three of the groups that are steering committee members. They presented statistics regarding the categories of removals in Kansas and shared the research from the University of Kansas that demonstrates a causal connection between social safety net cuts and the increasing numbers of children in foster care.
Gina Meier Hummel, Secretary DCF, presented the updates to the follow up questions from a previous task force meeting. This included statistics on TANF benefits to foster care youth and family services programs for families in non-abuse neglect cases. She also discussed IV-E funding and how those dollars are accessed. All of these handouts and statistics are available at http://www.kslegislature.org, Committees, Task Force, Child Welfare System Task Force, Agendas/Minutes/Testimony.
Future meetings of the task force and working groups will be announced at a later date.
Mary Tye, Vice President