Keri has shared her story of growing up in foster care with Members of Congress and the White House. She has taken her adversity and negative experiences and used them for good.
Keri has shared her story of growing up in foster care with Members of Congress and the White House. She has taken her adversity and negative experiences and used them for good.
Children who are in foster care often experience confusion and fear regarding the process of care, the trauma they have experienced, and the often temporary nature of the homes they are living in.
There are a wide variety of resources that help foster parents and mentors tackle the difficult topics of foster care. Below are three books that may be helpful for foster children of different age groups.
Riley the Brave- Jess Sinarski (Ages 3-7)
Riley the Brave f ollows the story of brave bear cub, Riley, as he learns to understand complicated feelings like fear, shame, and sadness. Riley spends time with many different animal friends, and reflects on how to process anger in a healthy way by using his words. The book also addresses tough topics that are specific to foster children, such as trusting adults, food insecurity, and how to talk about trauma.
The book’s colorful illustrations paired with fun animal characters will allow children to talk about fear and courage in a way that still allows them to feel safe and comfortable.
Locomotion- Jacqueline Woodson (Ages 8-12)
Woodson’s Locomotion follows is the story of eleven-year-old Lonnie, who is living in a foster home after the death of his parents. With the help of his foster mother, Miss Edna, and his teacher, Ms. Marcus, Lonnie learns to express his feelings through poetry. The book is told entirely through Lonnie’s poems, and covers complex topics such as loss, fear, separation from siblings, and the experiences of older boys in foster care.
Far from the Tree- Robin Benway (Ages 13+)
Benway’s 2017 novel explores the meaning of family through the lives of biological siblings Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, who, through foster care and adoption experiences, are living very different lives.
When Grace places her own daughter up for adoption, she starts looking for her biological family, and begins to form relationships with her younger sister, Maya and her older brother Joaquin. Maya, who has been adopted into a family that has its own set of problems, struggles to find her own identity and the family in which she feels she belongs. Joaquin, who has spent seventeen years in foster care, is skeptical of his sisters and of the world in general. Throughout the book, the three siblings learn about the different shapes that family can take, and how to love despite difficult circumstances.
These three books are a small sample of the wide array of literature available for foster children of all ages. For a more complete list of books with foster care themes, visit the link below:
The new muppet, Karli, is part of an initiative from the "Sesame Street in Communities" program. In the video meet Karli and her “for now” parents.
Terms like “trauma” often conjure up images of terrible accidents, violence, or war in our minds. We tend to associate the concept of trauma with a singular event that inflicts deep psychological pain.
However, trauma can often be a product of ongoing negative experiences, and many children who have been adopted or are in foster care have experienced trauma of some kind. In order to love and care for these children in the healthiest way possible, it is important to understand the way trauma impacts emotional and psychological well-being.
Childhood trauma can be caused by a variety of situations, but most often hinges on experiences of abuse (verbal or physical) and neglect. Abuse and neglect have a long lasting impact on children due to the fact that these traumas occur while they are still cognitively developing.
Children who experience neglect and abuse during their formative years are receiving mixed messages regarding who to trust, what behavior is appropriate, and how to interact with people as a whole. The people they naturally trust (parents), have put them in danger in one way or another, thus making it difficult for them to identify what is safe and what is not.
In some instances, this instability can cause changes in a child’s brain structure. According to Counseling Today, children that are exposed to chronic neglect and abuse begin perceiving everything as a threat in order to defend themselves, which alters the prefrontal cortex. Their brain is constantly in “survival mode” rather than “learning mode,” which sometimes makes it more difficult for them to develop cognitive skills at a normal rate.
It is vital to understand that any child who has been removed from their biological parents has experienced trauma in some way. The severity of this trauma ranges based on situation, but it is there nonetheless.
Recent studies have shown that even infants, who are often deemed “too young to remember,” experience trauma.
According to the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, unborn babies are capable of auditory processing as early as the second trimester. This means that when a child is born and then removed from the voice that they heard in utero, their brain experiences confusion and depravity.
While it is important to understand the instances and effects of trauma, it is also important to realize that the symptoms of emotional trauma can be decreased through coping strategies and interventions by the child’s caretakers.
While counseling and other professional interventions are highly recommended, emotional support on behalf of family members, foster parents, and adoptive parents is vital to helping a child who has experienced trauma.
Often, childhood trauma is a result of repeated patterns of instability. Therefore, showing a child who has experienced trauma that they are in a safe, secure environment with people who love and care for them is integral to the process of growth and healing. If you’d like to be a part of providing a child with stability and safety, consider reaching out to AGAPE of North Carolina regarding foster care, adoption, or respite care.
For more information regarding childhood trauma and parenting, visit the U.S. Children’s Bureau for resources.
Check out this short book review on The Connected Child, a must have for any foster/adoptive family. If you are one of AGAPE's families be sure to join Facebook Live (on the private group page) 8 pm on February 21st for our first discussion!
Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) is not a formally recognized disorder but is a term that has been used since 1995 to describe feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that some parents feel following an adoption. PADS usually affects adoptive mothers and can be attributed to a variety of factors.
The adoption process itself can be an emotional rollercoaster, but challenges may continue even after parents have brought their child home. There may be bonding issues, residual emotions about infertility, overwhelming pressure to be perfect, or a let-down that occurs after accomplishing a major goal or life milestone, like getting married or graduating from college.
Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome may present itself through:
● Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
● Fatigue or loss of energy
● Excessive guilt
● Feeling powerless
● Feeling worthless
● Sense of hopelessness
If you or someone you know may be experiencing these feelings post-adoption, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Reach out to a therapist or counselor. Contact AGAPE staff for their guidance and referrals. Take time off - whether it’s time off work or a day away from home to clear your head - take care of yourself so you can better take care of others.
Remember, you are not alone. A study by Purdue University found 18-26% of adoptive mothers reported depressive symptoms within the first year of bringing home a new baby or child.
Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. You, your child, and your family as a whole will benefit when you are honest about your feelings and seek help to be and feel your best.
This American Life is a weekly radio show based out of Chicago. The program has been on the air since 1995 and has produced over 600 episodes, which are now aired on over 500 public radio stations across the United States with over 2 million listeners. Each episode typically consists of several stories from journalists, writers, comedians, and various others who share common themes, traits, or ideas. In an episode from August of 2007, the theme was “The Spokesman”. In it, four different stories are told about people being forced into a spokesman-like role, dramatically altering their lives plunging them out of common anonymity.
The second story shared on this episode focuses on Anthony Pico of California. Anthony was born into the foster care system after his mother, a crack addict fled the hospital after giving birth. Anthony never knew his father and therefore was shuffled from relative to relative, facing abuse and neglect along the way. At age 12 Anthony was adopted by a relative who cared for him, but after their death two years later he was forced back into the system. Then, at age 15 he was placed under the care of another relative who also passed away when Anthony was 17. The tragedies in Anthony’s life forced him to see the foster care system not only in California, which is the nation’s largest foster care system, but as a whole, and he saw it needed reform. So at age 15, Anthony began public speaking on behalf of foster care reform to judges, legislators, groups advocating for foster children, and anyone who would listen. And in 2006, Anthony was appointed by California's Chief Justice to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care in order to represent the youth voice in California's court.
In this story, which was recorded over ten years ago, the reporter with Anthony is Douglas McGray. McGray follows Anthony for weeks as he travels giving speeches on his life and background in the system. Anthony was 18 at the time and was living in a group home with other 18 year-olds who were about to age out of the system. McGray discusses the hardships of not only children in foster care but, specifically, the children who are about to age out of foster care. McGray discusses a massive study conducted by the University of Chicago that looked at this exact group. At the end of the year-long study, it was concluded that nearly 70% of these kids had dropped out of high school, half had lost their health insurance, half of the girls had gotten pregnant, 15% had been homeless, and 1 in 5 had been in jail.
While Anthony is an advocate for all foster children, he himself is still a foster child. During the story, the listener is able to hear Anthony’s eloquent and powerful speeches to groups at lavish dinners, while also learning that Anthony has fallen behind in school. He is 18 and has gone to 6 different high schools over 4 years. He has fallen a full year behind and is not close to graduating. In an attempt to catch back up in school he enrolled in a six-week summer program but his public speaking caused him to miss orientation and his first full week of classes. The stark dichotomy of positive, confident speaker at elegant gatherings to the scared, frustrated 18-year-old kid trying to go to school is heartbreaking.
In the years since the story has aired Anthony has not only received his GED but also a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Loyola Marymount University and continues to be an advocate for reform in foster care and a mentor for those in the system.
Anthony’s story can be heard online for free at https://www.thisamericanlife.org/338/the-spokesman For more information on Anthony Pico please visit http://anthonypico.com/bio/
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know. . .
● 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/
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
By Jordan Upton
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/.
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.
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.
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.