Adoption and American Ninja Warrior Contestant

By Jordan Upton

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Season 10, episode 8 of American Ninja Warrior aired on July 23, 2018. The Dallas City Finals showcased contestant Katrina Ratcliff, a police officer from Austin, Texas.

In a heartbreaking video about her background, Kat tells the story of losing her father to pancreatic cancer when she was eight years old, and the troubled years with her mom that followed. Her mother had alcohol and drug dependencies and committed suicide when Kat was 15 years old.

When she was 16 yrs. old, Kat met Ellen. They were both working at their small town’s veterinary clinic when Ellen adopted Kat.

“I just felt like she needed somebody, and I felt like it should be me,” Ellen says in the video.

“She started nurturing me and loving me,” Kat says of Ellen. “And gave me the chance to believe in myself. That I was worthy enough to be loved.”

Kat and Ellen illustrate how important it is to offer opportunities to older teens who may have fewer prospects for fostering and adopting. Kat’s life was changed from the love and attention she received after being adopted at 16.

See Kat during the episode: https://www.nbc.com/american-ninja-warrior/video/dallas-city-finals/376613719:15 - 22:45

https://austinpoliceassociation.com/will-of-a-ninja/ https://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/austin-police-officer-will-compete-on-american-ninja-warrior/994836140

Higher Education for Foster Care Youth

By Jordan Upton

Research has shown that youth in foster care are less likely to continue on to college compared to other high school graduates. Of those who do enroll in college, many do not make it through to obtain a degree.

In efforts to help boost student success, programs such as NC Reach have been established. NC Reach is a state-funded scholarship offered to qualified applicants for up to 4 years of undergraduate study at any of the 74 NC public colleges and universities. Qualified applicants are North Carolina residents, and were either adopted from the NC Division of Social Services (DSS) foster care after the age of 12 or aged out of NC DSS foster care at age 18.

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In addition to scholarship funds that cover tuition and fees, NC Reach provides emotional supports that students may not otherwise have in their personal lives. Students are matched with a coordinator who helps them academically and personally navigate higher education. They can also request a personal coach, or mentor, who will be there to support and encourage them throughout their collegiate experience. Students will receive three care packages per year and are eligible to participate in the Foster Care to Success InternAmerica Program.

Programs such as NC Reach are making higher education more attainable for all students.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/12/07/for-foster-care-kids-college-degrees-are-elusive http://www.ncreach.org

Coping with Back to School Anxiety

By Jordan Upton

The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children. For children who have experienced personal trauma - like those in foster care who have been removed from their home and biological families - starting a new school may cause or worsen existing anxiety.

The goal for parents is to be supportive without increasing their child’s stress. Some tips for dealing with back to school anxiety:

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  1. Listen to and Don’t Dismiss Their Worries

    Worries are common but listen to them seriously. Rather than saying “There’s nothing to worry about”, acknowledging your child’s fears will help them feel more secure. Taking them seriously will help your child trust and feel comfortable talking with you over future issues.

  2. Problem Solve

    If your child has very specific worries, like forgetting their lunchbox or homework, work out a plan ahead of time for how you will solve it. Make sure they know who to contact if something goes wrong.

  3. Prepare and Practice
    If possible, take your child to the school before the first day. Let them walk around, find their classroom, get comfortable with this new setting. Practice driving to the drop-off or bus stop. If available, attend open house events where your child can meet their teacher and principal in advance of the first day.

  4. Focus on the Positives

    Ask your child what they’re excited about at school; even if it’s just recess or snack time, it’s a start. Focus on the fun parts of their day to distract them from anxieties. Find things to praise - going a certain amount of days without calling home, being prepared (not forgetting their backpack or lunchbox), good grades - that will encourage them and boost their confidence about attending school.

  5. Pay Attention to Your Attitude and Behavior

    If you are stressed or upset, your child will be able to tell. Be careful what you say and do as children look to you as a model.

https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/coping-back-school-anxiety https://childmind.org/article/back-school-anxiety/

Helping School-aged Children in Care

By Jordan Upton

Did you know. . .

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●  Children in foster care are far more likely to change schools during the school year, to be in special education classes, and to fail to receive passing grades than their general population counterparts.

●  High school dropout rates are 3 times higherfor foster youth than other low-income children

●  Only about 50% of youth in foster care will graduate from high school

●  Over 40% of school-aged children in foster care have educational difficulties

How can you help?

●  Donate school supplies so that students are well-prepared and have one less worry

●  Become a school volunteer to support and encourage youth in the classroom

●  Offer tutoring services for struggling students

●  Become a foster parent and advocate for the most vulnerable children every day

If you’d like to get involved and help promote the educational success of these children, please contact AGAPE today!

Facts from the National Foster Youth Institute: https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/

Parental Substance Abuse and Its Effects on Foster Care

By Jordan Upton

Kimberly Scott, executive director of AGAPE, is a licensed clinical social worker. Her post graduate work focused on children, families, substance abuse and schizophrenia research. During her work in mental health hospitals, federal prisons, hospice clinics, and private practice she has gained considerable experience assessing children and adults with issues regarding substance abuse. Mrs. Scott said that the current national opioid crisis has definitely impacted her work at AGAPE.

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“We’ve probably had at least 20 opportunities to place babies that have been born addicted to opiates,” Mrs. Scott said in June 2018.

One of those babies, a little boy, was in the hospital detoxing from drugs for five weeks. “It’s so devastating that these little people have to start out like that,” Mrs. Scott said. Luckily, AGAPE was able to place this boy with a loving family to care for him after his release from the hospital.

39% of children entering foster care in North Carolina can attribute their entry to parental substance abuse. It is likely that AGAPE will have numerous other opportunities to place children who have been affected by opiate abuse. The need for caring foster families is greater than ever. If you want to learn more about how you can help, contact AGAPE today for more information.

How Teachers Can Help

By Jordan Upton

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With 70% of children in foster care being of school age, what can teachers do to help?

There is a chance that teachers will not know if any of their students are in foster care or have been adopted, but there are general steps they can take to ensure the safety and happiness of each student in their classroom, regardless of their home life.

  1. Normalize Foster Care and Adoption

    Teachers can incorporate books and lessons that talk about foster care and adoption. Making students aware of different family arrangements and living situations can help any potential foster or adopted children feel more comfortable talking to their teachers, peers, and school administration.

  2. Learn About Student Backgrounds

    Learning about each student in the classroom can help teachers better meet each student’s individual needs. Many students who have been in foster care will experience learning difficulties from shuffling schools and missing too many days. Understanding the reasons behind each child’s difficulties can help teachers create better plans to engage these students.

  3. Build Relationships

    Quickly building positive relationships with students can help them gain self-confidence and feel secure in your classroom. It will be helpful for students, especially those who have traumatic lives outside of school, to know that someone cares for them. Since teachers see their students five days a week, it is important for the students to have trust and respect for this important role model.

  4. Become an Advocate

    Some recommend that teachers become licensed foster parents to better understand what these students may be facing. Teachers who are licensed foster parents may be able to ease the transitions by fostering students from their school, so the students would not have to relocate and potentially fall behind. They could offer a sense of stability. If becoming a licensed foster parent is not possible, teachers could still advocate for training and education for all school personnel to be better equipped to deal with students in foster care and their specific needs.

5 Ways Teachers Can Help https://www.thornwell.org/5-ways-teachers-can-help-students-foster-care/

10 Ways Teachers Can Help http://redtri.com/10-ways-teachers-can-help-students-from-foster-care/slide/1

Back to School Tips for Foster Parents

By Jordan Upton

With a new school year starting, foster parents may be asking themselves what they can do to help the kids in their care succeed at school. A few tips:

●  Communication is Key

Teachers will not know that a student is in foster care unless you or the student tell them. Disclosing this information can positively impact your child’s success. Many children in foster care experience learning difficulties, and notifying the teacher ahead of time can help them be better prepared to deal with your child’s specific needs.

●  Become Familiar with School Resources

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Many children in foster care also have difficulty navigating social situations appropriately. Misbehaving, even unintentionally, can land students in the principal or guidance counselor’s office. Meeting these school officials and making them aware of potential issues ahead of time will help them be better prepared in the moment if a situation occurs. They may be able to offer you information on after-school programs, tutoring or extracurriculars that could benefit your child.

●  Volunteer at the School

As their foster parent, you have observed this child’s behaviors at home and learned strategies for managing their stress and anxiety. If you volunteer in their classroom, you can help the teacher deal with these behaviors at school. Your presence may be calming to the student and decrease the chances of them misbehaving.

●  Ask for Help

If you are experiencing any trouble, stress, or anxiety about the back-to-school process with your foster child, contact AGAPE! Our social workers, counselors, and therapists are here to help you as well as the children. We care about the well-being of families and know that the better you feel, the better you can take care of others.

North Carolina Foster Youth and School

By Jordan Upton

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Children entering foster care are dealing with drastic changes in their home lives. They are usually removed quickly and have experienced some sort of trauma. 70% of children in care are of school age. In his article, Foster Youth & School: The Ongoing Struggles, Dr. John DeGarmo explains that these children “often miss a great deal of school, as their foster parents and case workers attend to duties such as enrolling the child into school, meeting with counselors and psychologists, and giving the child time to adequately adjust to the new living situation.”

On the UNC School of Government blog, assistant professor Sara DePasquale writes about the impact of school mobility: “Children in care who transfer schools lose four to six months of academic progress with each change in school placement. Children in foster care are more likely to be retained, suspended, and/or expelled; drop out; and perform poorly on standardized tests. In addition to the academic disruption, children who move schools also lose natural supports that exist in their original school, such as siblings, peers, or trusted adults like teachers, counselors, and/or coaches.”

In April 2017, the North Carolina DHHS Division of Social Services implemented an educational stability policy for children in foster care. It requires that every child in the custody of NC welfare agencies must have a plan for educational stability that addresses school stability, school enrollment, educational needs and services, and documentation regarding educational stability. The family services manual explains:

“Educational stability promotes educational success so children in agency custody continue their education without disruption, maintain important relationships, and have the opportunity to achieve college and career readiness. The emphasis of this policy is to minimize the number of school changes for each child and when a school change is unavoidable ensure each child is enrolled in a timely manner. Decisions regarding educational stabilitymust be based on what is in each child’s best interest.”

While there are always improvements to be made, this policy is a step in the right direction for caring for North Carolina’s youth in foster care and their educational needs.

https://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/foster-youth-school-ongoing-struggles https://civil.sog.unc.edu/school-stability-for-children-in-foster-care/ https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/info/olm/manuals/dss/csm-10/man/1201sXIII.pdf

Maintaining Relationships Between Past Foster Parents and Foster Children

by Carrie Craft

liveabout.com
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Connections are important to a child.  When caregivers change, sometimes without the child understanding why, it can send the wrong message to the child that they are not loved or worthy.  Finding creative ways to keep a level of communication open with those that a child wants a relationship with can be very important and healthy. Today's article by Carrie Craft offers good advice on maintaining relationships.   

Source: https://www.liveabout.com/maintaining-rela...

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects in North Carolina

By Jordan Upton

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Last year, Governor Roy Cooper announced a $31 million grant to address the opioid epidemic in North Carolina.

Gov. Cooper said, “This grant will help further our commitment to fight this epidemic that is destroying families and lives across our state. This is a problem we must solve for the safety and well-being of our citizens. Our families, friends and neighbors need our help.”

The grant is welcome relief to our community since four North Carolina cities rank among the nation’s worst for opioid abuse. The funds however are only being directed to prevention, treatment, and recovery supports for individuals with opioid use disorders.

There is no mention of increasing resources for the families, those indirectly impacted by another’s opioid abuse, which in most cases is children. According to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center based in Maryland, about 32% of children nationwide entered foster care in 2015 because of parental substance abuse. North Carolina’s numbers were above the national average, with 39% of children entering foster care due to parental substance abuse.

During this epidemic, the health and safety of children are at risk, and we face an increasing need for compassionate foster parents. There were 10,324 children in NC’s foster care system at the last count by Child Trends. AGAPE of NC is ready to provide training and support for those who are interested in helping the most vulnerable of North Carolina’s citizens, the innocent children left in the wake of the opioid crisis.

Source: https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/upl...

Staff Recommendation: Wards

an Online Literary Magazine

By Jordan Upton

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Wards is an online literary magazine founded in 2017, publishing a new issue semiannually where each issue focuses on a specific, dramatic, and difficult aspect of life. Each issue is compiled of submissions of poems, creative fiction, and short nonfiction stories taken from writers who have first-hand experience in these areas. The first issue of Wards which was published in the Winter of 2018 focuses on the topic of fostering. The editor, Rebecca Ogle, writes in her opening notes:

“In this issue, we feature writers who were considered wards of the state as children in foster care....Person-first language places the person before his or her circumstances. When we say foster children, we label young people. Like many labels, “foster” comes with baggage and stereotypes that stick. When we put the person first by saying child in foster care, we remind everyone listening to consider the individual without prejudice, and without placing undue limitations on them. This is the spirit with which I approached Foster, and I intend to approach future issue themes in a person-first way.”

Following the issue on foster care, Wards has also taken submissions on fire, which they describe as “open to firefighters, including municipal firefighters, wilderness managers, and rescue crews; their families; and anyone who has protected people or property from fire; including victims of fire”, and are currently taking submissions on the topic of borders: “Open to immigrants and their children; also to border personnel, and residents of border towns.”

The first issue is free to download as a PDF, and submissions are open to be published in the following two editions. If you are interested in submitting, donating to help the magazine, learning more, or reading the submissions, go to https://www.wardslitmag.com/.

YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM IS A KEY TO YOUR LONGEVITY AS A FOSTER PARENT

By Jonathan Rockoff 

Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work.

For years I had the honor of working alongside some of the most selfless people I have ever met, individuals who opened their homes and hearts to children with a multitude of needs. These unheralded heroes I refer to are the foster parents of North Carolina. They are without doubt one of the most precious resources in the child welfare system.

When someone makes the decision to become a foster parent, they embark on one of the most rewarding journeys they will ever take. Yet if they aren’t prepared, this journey can be surprisingly brief. Consider this: one study of data from three states found that between 47% and 62% of foster parents quit fostering within one year of the first placement in their home (Gibbs, 2005).

What is it that enables some families to make it past that first year? In my experience, one of the most important factors is a strong support system.

Your Support System Is Key

During pre-service training, agencies ask prospective resource parents to think about who they have in their life that will support them as they face the challenges that come with fostering. Though this makes a lot of sense, many new resource parents don’t realize how critical this is to their future success. Their vision of a support system is limited to someone to provide occasional respite, answer a question here and there, and be a sounding board.

A support system can be all these things, of course, but it can and should be much more. Each child in care is different. So is every foster family. Each has different needs and types of support that will empower them to success.

Family and Friends

Family and friends are the foundation of support for many resource parents. For example, I have seen a single mother with no prior parenting experience and a full-time job beautifully parent two children under the age of one in large part thanks to her support system.

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While this was an extremely strong-willed and resilient parent in her own right, before accepting the placements, she already had an established and benevolent support system in place. She had a dear family friend and a sister nearby she knew she could rely on, even when times were tough. They were fully on board. She spoke to them before becoming a foster parent and explained what she would need help with. They told her they would help whenever possible, and they lived up to this commitment.

 

Community Groups

The community can also play a big role lifting resource families up. For instance, I have seen families rely on church networks for reassurance, guidance, and support. I’ve also seen businesses and volunteer organizations donate time and tangible items to resource families. At one appreciation dinner, various groups gave their time, food, gifts, and talents to give foster parents an enjoyable evening and to let them know they are valued by their community.

Here’s another example. I knew several families that participated in a support group for foster and adoptive families called Mercy for America’s Children (http://www.mac-cares.org/), which is based in Wake Forest, NC. Once they became licensed, this group gave families opportunities to obtain continuing education, participate in events and trips, and be a part of a network of other foster and adoptive families that could provide support and genuine empathy.

The Role of Agencies

Agencies’ role in supporting foster families should not be overlooked, either. Agencies can best support their families by valuing them, providing trauma-informed training, listening to them, and being responsive. Turnover is less likely when foster parents feel heard and backed by their agency.

I have worked with several families who felt comfortable reaching out to their supervising agency for assistance with challenging child behaviors, guidance, and to serve as a sounding board to constructively solve problems. The families that felt more comfortable openly communicating with their supervising agencies were more likely to stick around and care for more children over time.

Well-supported foster parents are also more willing to share their experience with others in the community, which helps with recruitment.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it may take two villages to raise a child who has experienced trauma. When a foster parent has a strong support system within their family, friends, community, and agency, they gain confidence, are empowered, and can focus on meeting the needs of their children.

I would encourage any foster parent who does not feel supported or who feels stretched thin to reach out to their agency and their natural supports. Regardless of when you read this, there are children in foster care in North Carolina who need you.

 

Source: http://fosteringperspectives.org/?p=1378

My Friends Have Adopted! How Can We, the Church, Help Now?

iBelieve.com video of Bri Stenz a pro life writer and advocate

Are you or your church looking for ways to assist and encourage those that adopt?  Or maybe you haven't been wondering how to help those that adopt but now that you have seen this you're curious. This short informative video is for you! 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF60WrEsWB...

What NBC’s “This Is Us” Gets Right About Foster Care

Following Deja’s storyline and her accurate portrayal of a child in foster care

By Jordan Upton

1. Trash Bags for Travel

When Deja moves between foster homes, you see her carrying only a trash bag. Many children entering foster care do not have things of their own, especially suitcases. They are often provided with just a trash bag to gather what clothing and possessions they will take with them to foster care. There are many programs nationwide attempting to remedy this problem by providing children with backpacks and basic necessities when they enter foster care: AGAPE of NC’s Backpack Blessings; Things of My Very Own; Together We Rise

2. Parental Substance Abuse Problems

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Viewers are told through a social worker that Deja’s mom must successfully complete a rehab program and maintain sobriety at home before Deja can return. This is the reality for a majority of children entering foster care. The Center for Community Partnerships in Child Welfare of the Center for the Study of Social Policy reports that 45 to 88% of cases referred to child protective services have a parental substance abuse problem.

3. Mistreatment from Foster Parents

Deja is placed in a foster home with another girl, Raven. The foster dad frequently beats them, but when discussing the abuse, Raven says, “At least all he does is hit us.” Mistreatment of children in foster care is an issue nationwide, with studies finding that “in Oregon and Washington state ... nearly one third reported being abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home.”

4. Siblings are Often Separated

Though in the show Deja and Raven are friends, not siblings, they dreaded being separated. Deja reported the abuse in their previous home, and upon being removed, Raven was distraught that now they would be separated and may face worse obstacles alone. The National Center for Youth Law estimates that “over half of children in foster care nationwide have one or more siblings also in care.” Though studies show the benefits of keeping siblings together, it is often not possible, and some reports indicate that up to 75% of siblings in foster care are separated.

5. Reunification with Family Often Fails

Deja is reunited with her mother, only to later be pulled out of school by her social worker because her mother has been arrested. Deja must re-enter foster care, a common occurrence. Many “case plans” created for parents are overwhelming obstacles to getting their children back. Kevin Norell, a caseworker in Utah, writes that often “many plans are designed for failure.”

In addition to the backpack blessings program, AGAPE of NC also strives to combat these and other issues typically seen in foster care. The staff of AGAPE works closely with potential foster parents, ensuring they are trained and adequately equipped to care for children entering their homes and lives. They maintain contact and are always available as a resource to children and parents. AGAPE makes every effort to keep siblings together when placed in foster care homes and ease their transition as much as possible. It is the mission of AGAPE to provide compassionate Christian outreach and strengthen families one child at a time. 

When a Parent is Incarcerated

By Melissa Radcliff

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of Fostering Perspectives

Children can love their parents, even if they don't like what they do.  Children can love their parents even if they understand they can't live with them.  This can be true for children in foster care where the parent is incarcerated.  Today's article by Melissa Radcliff helps us as foster parents or mentors to understand the child's feeling better and our role in their parent-child relationship. 

Source: http://fosteringperspectives.org/?p=987

Building Resiliencies in Teens

By Angela Quijada

A Foster Care Alum
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How do you feel about your resilience? Can you look back and see how mentors and other adults in your life helped you build your resilience? Now consider how a child in foster care may struggle to develop the level of resilience they need to lead confident adult lives.  Today's article is written by a foster care alum with words of encouragement for teens in foster care and the adults in their lives. 

Source: http://fosteringperspectives.org/?p=1333

This Is Us: and the Depiction of Foster Care on Television

By Jordan Upton

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NBC’s hit show “This Is Us” brings experiences of adoption and foster care to mainstream audiences. The show has been praised for its accurate portrayal of the issues from many perspectives - adoptive parents, adopted children, foster parents, children in foster care, and the parents whose children are taken from them and placed into foster care.

In the first episode, the viewer is introduced to Jack and Rebecca, who are expecting triplets. When one child is stillborn, the couple finds out that another baby had been surrendered at the hospital that very day. They see it as a sign they are meant to adopt the baby and still have three children, triplets celebrating the same birthday. Viewers follow Jack and Rebecca’s storyline as they become Randall’s adoptive parents. Their trials aren’t sugar-coated for easy consumption, but show “real tensions that exist”, says Jason Weber of the nonprofit Christian Alliance for Orphans. Early on, Rebecca explains her struggles connecting with their adopted son by saying, “I grew the other two inside of me; he feels like a stranger.” The honesty in these scenes draws emotional responses from viewers.

Randall’s storyline as an adopted son doesn’t shy away from his inner struggles between fully accepting and being loyal to his adopted family, and his quest to find his biological family.

In season two, the show begins to tackle experiences of foster care. The show highlights Randall and his wife’s arguments, hesitations, and ultimate decision to foster in a way that reflects real life. Viewers are introduced to their first foster daughter, Deja, and see flashbacks of her story: multiple foster homes, carrying her only belongings from place to place in a trash bag, abuse from former foster parents. These scenes are heartbreaking and even more tragic because of their accuracy.