Welcome to my blog! I hope to be able to provide valuable strategies, insights, ideas, and resources for foster parents who are trying to juggle the roles of both biological parent and foster parent.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Haven't posted in awhile because I was getting a little discouraged about the lack of "traffic" on my blog. Please if you are a foster parent or know one, send them this way!

An unrestricted foster home can be difficult for your biological children, as I mentioned in previous posts, but there are strategies to help them adjust to the changes that will occur when new children move in and out. Obviously the transition for foster children is going to be difficult as well. Here are some things I did (and some I wish I had done) to help transitions easier for every child in your house.

Keep your biological children "in the loop"- As soon as you know a change will be occurring (someone moving out, someone moving in) let your kids know. This will give them the opportunity to become emotionally prepared for the change. If you have done foster care for awhile, you have certainly experienced an abrupt change in your family dynamics. A social worker calls, and suddenly one of your kids is packing and leaving, or the phone rings, and within a couple of hours, you are opening your door to meet a new child. These sudden upheavals are difficult for adults and will certainly be hard for children. So, as soon as you know, let them know. The only exception to this might be if the foster child doesn't know yet (i.e. the social worker wants to tell him/her  at their next meeting). Of course you know your children best, and some children may have such difficulty with change that it is best they hear the news at the last minute.

Plan a party - If possible, have a "going-away" party for your foster child/children. It can be as simple or extravagant as time allows, or as you want it. You can invite family and friends and have a big party or just simply have ice cream sundaes with just the kids. The point is to have some sort of transitional activity to make it easier for all children involved. In a place I worked where children came and went, they always had a big poster board and everyone wrote inspirational notes to the the child who was leaving. Staples has a picture poster that you can have made for only $9.99 with a picture of the family and everyone can write notes to the foster child on the border (a "Sharpie" writes well on it). This way your foster child can have something to remember you, and your children can feel good about preparing the "going-away" present (have them choose the picture or draw something if you just do a poster board).

Have your kids help their foster siblings make "memory-boxes" when they first move in. Then have the foster children save things (ticket stubs, pictures, etc.) and take the box with them when they leave. Or if your children are "crafty" and would enjoy doing so, have them make the box, collect things for the foster child and then present it to him/her when it is time to move.

You can even have a "welcome party" when new children come. Have everybody sit together and introduce themselves. There are a lot of ideas for "Ice-breaker" games online that can be fun...here is link to one page- http://www.creativekidsathome.com/games/ice_breaker_games/

Scrapbooking-This is something I wish we could have done (or wish I had thought of it then...) Cell phones didn't come equipped with cameras and taking pictures was a little more difficult (go to the store, buy film, take it back to get processed, etc.) Today most people have cameras that can hook to their computers and phones that are capable of connecting to an e-mail so that pictures can be printed out right at home. Take a lot of pictures of your foster kids. Make it a family project to put together a scrapbook (or just a photo album if you don't have the time or inclination to be a scrapbooker...) The memories of foster children who have moved on will be invaluable later and will help your children to "remember the good times." Just remember the rules of "confidentiality" and be careful with putting pictures on the internet.

Christmas Ornaments - This is something I did do: on the day we put up our tree, I gave each child their own ornament. This way every child could feel that they were contributing something to the tree, instead of it just being our "family's" tree. When the kids moved, I gave them the ornaments to take to their new homes to remember us. I wish I had thought of this...I would have had each child make a picture frame (out of popsicle sticks or "foamy") and put a picture of each child on the tree. I would have kept those for my children.

Just a few ideas...hopefully my readers can put up some more.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and is having fun getting ready for back-to-school!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

An idea for foster/biological parents (or any parent) to spend some time with their children without foster kids around is what I call "check-ins." Going on the theory that it's "quality" and not "quantity" that counts, check-ins can be an invaluable source of private time for your biological children to spend with you.
Think of a somewhat mindless activity that you engage in daily, that is not a private activity and is not one that most children will want to participate in (cleaning the bathroom, putting clothes in the washer, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher) and designate that time as "check-in" time. Have your biological children join you in this activity (whether they help or nor depends on the temperment of the kid, they can just sit with you while you do it-it should not seem like a "punishment" or an extra chore) and spend five minutes (or more or less) listening to him or her. Ask an open-ended question (What's been going on a school? Tell me how things are going for you with [these new kids who are living here]) and just let him/her talk. In the beginning you may have to ask questions to prompt your child to talk, but it won't be long before he/she can fill the entire five minutes with discussion without any prompts from you.
A couple of ground rules:
This is not an opportunity for your child to tattle or complain about specific people (though as a parent you may discover some circumstances where you have to intervene.) This is a time for your child to express his or her own feelings about a situation/situations.You may need to teach your children "I" language and set that as a ground rule for check-ins (i.e. I feel uncomfortable when [the boy I share a room with] walks around naked)
Refrain from using this time to "lecture" your children. Keep this as a sacred time for the "check-in." Your job here is to listen not talk.
Make sure you listen 100% of the time. If your child senses that you are not hearing them (i.e. you're thinking about appointments, etc.) check ins will not work. This is your biological child's time with you and you cannot allow anything to interupt it. (on that note, make sure the foster kids/your other biological kids are otherwise occupied/supervised during this time so that you are not interupted by them, but not doing something that your biological child wants to do.)
Make sure you have a schedule and you stick to it. Maybe every day doesn't work, so maybe it has to be every other day. Maybe your child is very busy during the week with homework/extra-curricular activities and you can only do it on Saturdays. It doesn't matter, what matters is that once the schedule is set, you stick to it every time, every week.
Rotate your "check-in" schedule. This can also be an invaluable tool for getting to know/understand a new foster child. Foster children should also have "check-ins" if you're doing it with your own children. You may want to do it differently with your foster children, though, so it can feel like "special" time to your biological child. Maybe your "check in" with your (younger) foster child can occur as he/she is getting ready for bed. Check in with an older foster child as he or she is getting/eating a snack. DO NOT differentiate checks-ins by calling them different names (i.e. real kid check-ins, foster kid check ins)
However you do it, nobody (foster kids) should feel left out, yet biological kids should feel like it's a special time for them. What worked in my family, might not work in yours (my son always came down cellar with me and helped me sort laundry for our check-in. It was a formal daily ritual with my children and was informal with the foster kids-but I still did it. As we were so often in the car going to appointments, etc. I would do check-ins with foster kids then. If he/she had something they had to talk to me about in private, we would set up a later time for a one-on-one conversation.)
You may start a check-in process and find it's not working and may have to change it. Different children moving in may make what has been working in the past no longer work, therefore you may have to be flexible in how you execute check-ins. Before you make any changes, talk to your biological child ask him/her what will work best.
The important things here are listening, sticking to the schedule, and doing it in such a way that nobody feels left out, but your biological children feel it's a little extra special for them without it obviously being so to any other child ( i.e. don't do your check in with your biological child over a bowl of ice cream after dinner while everyone else sits in the living room without a treat.)
As parents, we have to be creative, as foster parents with biological children, we have to be twice as creative. Put in some thought as to how this can work in your family and you may find that taking that five measly minutes a day, might actually give you some extra time.
Happy Mother's Day to all you special moms out there...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Quality Time"
When my children were young, we had a very busy foster home. New children moved in and out on a regular basis. Obviously there were going to be times that my children did not get along with a new foster sibling. Often, these feelings had nothing to do with the foster child themselves, but with other circumstances, such as: the new foster child took the place of a foster child with whom my children had developed a friendship. The new kid would walk in the house, and my kid/s didn't like him/her right away, without even giving him/her a chance.

 I came up with a consequence called "Quality Time." If kids argued (either foster kids amongst themeselves, or my bio kid and a foster kid) they would have to spend a half an hour together doing an activity chosen by the person "who didn't start it." If there was an arguement about "who started it" (as there often was) they got one hour of "Quality Time" with each of them choosing the activity for half of the time. They could play a game, teach the other person a new skill, or whatever (I had to approve the activity to make sure it wasn't designed to cause additional problems: i.e. a girl making a boy play "dress up.")

We had a boy move in, who took the place of a boy who my son was friends with since before he even went into foster care. My son did not like his new foster brother, without even knowing him. During their "Quality Time" consequence, my son taught his new foster brother how to skateboard.

They are still friends today (and they are in college.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to Business- RULES

The results of the poll question "Do you think that children, including the very young, should be told about the different types of abuse prior to their parents opening a foster home?" The reults were:
 Yes- 66% No-33%.
Now for my opinion on the topic: a very enthusiastic and empathtic "YES!" When foster children move in, they will tell your children about the abuse they endured. This is a fact. So you need to make the decision...do you want your children to learn about abuse through graphic "horror stories" that they will hear from other children? Or would you prefer to be able to explain it them, answer their questions, and quell their fears? It's something to think about...

Again, I must apologize for my "rant" last week, and now back to business. The topic is rules. Prior to having any foster child move in, you should think about your household rules. You need to think about whether or not you even have a concrete set of expectations for your own children. In some families, rules are just somewhat "understood," as a family you know each other well, and therefore there is no need for a formal "list." This is not the case in a foster family. New children coming into the house will need a set of clearly defined rules, which are posted and visable at all times. Consequences for breaking those rules should also be listed. As basic parenting logic states, try to have "the punishement fit the crime," and be sure that you are prepared to be flexible with your rules and consequences, as they will change with the arrival of different children (it might be a good idea to write the rules on chalk/white board.)

Sit down with your children and allow them to contribute to the list. They might want to add some rules of their own. A word of caution-do not allow them to "make" any rules that they will not be expected to follow themselves. For instance, don't allow them to make the rule "Nobody is allowed in my room when I am not home" and then allow them to go into a foster child's room when he/she is not there. Another thought about a rule about going into bedrooms-if your children are sharing their room with a foster child, they cannot say the foster child is not allowed in the room when they themselves are not home. For as long as the child is living there, it is his/her room as well, and restrictions cannot be put on when he/she can go in there.

 Make sure that the rules you make and the rules you allow your children to contribute are not designed to exclude the foster children from any activities or areas (that your biological children are included in.) Rules should apply to all children in the home, not just foster children. If you want to have a "playroom" or a "recreation room" just for your children, or you want to have special times of the day that you do things with your children and exclude the foster children-then maybe foster care isn't right for your family. As I expressed in last week's "rant" a foster child is part of your family for the entire time that they live with you. This means they are not excluded from anything that your own children aren't excluded from. It is understandable that as a parent, you may want to spend time with your biological children, without foster children, and there are ways to do this without making anyone feel excluded. You will have to think about what you can do to make this work for your family. Maybe you and your biological children like to to play a certain game, checkers, for an example. Go ahead and play it with them, but then allow your foster children to "play the winner." Arrange special activities when your foster children are on visits or meeting with their social workers or therapists. There are a thousand ways to be creative and let your children know they are special without hurting anybody's feelings. It may take a little extra effort, but that's what seperates a not-so-good foster parent from a great one. 

Check in next week for a discussion about the rule about fighting and the consequence called "Quality Time" that we had in our foster home. Also, please check out the new poll!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The poll question was: Do you think it's right for foster parents to put their foster children to bed early so they can spend time with their biological children, and call it "Family Time?" The results were:
 Yes 0%, No 71% and Depends 28%. I was able to speak to one person who voted "depends" and her dependant factor was if the children were very young (i.e. under one) this would be acceptable.

The reason I asked this question is because I read this as advice on another foster parenting blog. The foster mother stated that her foster children understood why she did it and didn't mind...I'm perplexed at how some people get their foster parenting license.

So, while we are on the topic of "Family Time," as a foster parent who has biological children- you have what is called a foster family. A foster home is defined as a "substitute home" and a foster parent is a "substitute parent" for the time that a child cannot be with their own family. You are not a babysitter, or a landlord. You are a parent to that child for as long as they are with you. That child is part of your family and there should be treated with equality when it comes to rules, expectations, and special privileges. Of course you love your own children and won't even know a foster child when they first move in. You may even find yourself fostering a child who is difficult to even like, never mind love. Regardless of the situation, a foster parent should never lose sight of what his/her role in that child's life is. It may be difficult to do, but you may need to step back and look at the situation if you find yourself having difficulty liking a foster child. Are behavior problems due to any circumstances that are in your control? Does the child feel unwelcome, unloved, not "part of the family?" Do you tend to always believe your own children over the foster children? Do you allow your own children special privileges?

If you, or your children have difficulties with a foster child, please don't immediately assume it's them. Everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Sorry about the rant. I was reunited with a foster kid who lived with me and was distressed to hear some of the things that happened to him when he left my house.

Please participate in the new poll!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Foster Care "Mini-Training"

When I went to my first foster parent training course, I asked the instructors if there were any classes available for my children (they were 7 and 8 at the time). Here they were offering me ten weeks of intensive training, explaining foster care and abuse to me. I already knew about it. That was why I was there. My children knew nothing of foster care or abuse (fortunately.) I was told that there was no training for the children. Then I asked about resources (books, etc.) that I could use as a catalyst to discuss foster care and some of the more sensitive issues that I felt my children needed to know about. They knew of nothing, and upon researching the topic myself, I found books for foster parents and books for foster children. There was nothing out there for biological children. The only fiction books I found made the biological children out to be the "bad guys" and this was certainly not the impression I wanted to give my children about their role as "foster-siblings."

So, it was up to me (and it will be up to you) to explain foster care and abuse to your children. Some people may argue that their children do not need to know the details of abuse. When foster children enter your home, they will tell your children about the abuse they endured. As you will be unable to monitor all conversations children have, it is most likely that your children will become aware of this travesty at some point. The decision is yours, of course, but you need to decide if you want to your children to hear about abuse from you, so that you can answer their questions and quell their fears, or if you want them to first learn about abuse by way of "horror stories" shared with them by other children.

Confidentiality is also an important topic to make sure your children are aware of. You will most likely have this concept drilled into your heads by your training officials, and it is very important that your children are aware that they cannot, under any circumstances, share any information about the foster children with anybody outside of the home or not involved in their direct care. While on the topic of confidentiality, it is also important to discuss "secrets." Your children will need to be aware that confidentiality only means not telling their friends, etc. about the child's history. You should make it clear to them that if a foster child tells them anything about a situation that is currently occurring (i.e. abuse on visits) or that has happened in the past (and they have not told anyone) that it is acceptable to tell you or anyone involved with the child (i.e. therapist, social worker, etc.) Make sure that your children know the difference between confidentiality and secrets.

During your training courses keep notes about what you think your children need to know. Then conduct your own "mini training" for them. This will ensure a smooth transistion from family to foster family. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

So you want to be a foster parent?

The decision to become a foster parent is a big one for most people. For those who already have children of their own, this decision can be even more difficult. Many questions and concerns will arise: Will my biological children feel as though I am "replacing" them? Do I have enough time/patience/love to go around? Am I putting my own children in jeopardy by bringing other children into my home? These concerns (and possibly a great many others) are valid and should be considered when making the decision to open a foster home.

When trying to determine whether or not foster care is right for your family, it is advisable to have open, frank discussions with all family members and ensure it is a family decision to move forward.

With older children, best practices suggest an open and honest approach to discussing what being a foster family will mean to them. Your expectations for them as foster siblings should be clearly defined and shared with them. Depending upon their ages and the foster children, will your biological children be expected to help? Will they be required to extra chores? (as extra children in the home will certainly mean more work.)Will your biological children be required to share their bedroom or other space with a foster child? If children are informed regarding expectations right from the beginning, there will be less of a chance that they will develop resentments later on.

Even if you do not require your child to help (for instance an older teen providing care for younger children) or require them to do extra chores or share their room, there will still most certainly be a great number of changes to the dynamics of the family. Also, if you provide care to multiple children in an unrestricted foster home, the dynamics will change as children leave and other children move in. Schedules will also change. Foster children may have family visits, therapy sessions (in or out of the home) multiple doctor appointments, court appearances, extra-curricular activities, etc. As a foster parent, you may or may not be required to provide transportation to these meetings/appointments. Some children may have many engagements and others may have very few. This will most certainly require a biological child's understanding and willingness to be flexible about schedules. For an older child or a teen, prior knowledge that these types of changes can occur will aid them in understanding later on, when and if they do occur. 

Prior to becoming a foster family, the adults who will be providing care will be required to attend training sessions. These classes/seminars will provide valuable information to potential care-givers about foster parenting and the expectations for foster parents. Training classes are not generally provided for the children of potential foster parents. Parents can help their children by gathering the information at training sessions that they feel will be beneficial for their children to know. There may be some adult conversations/anecdotal situations which are discussed during training sessions, that do not need to be shared with biological children. Biological children need to know how being a foster family will effect them and their lives. Parents may use their own discretion as to what information they feel should be shared with their children.     

 Your positive attitude toward foster care will help your children to develop a beneficial view of fostering children. There are multiple benefits to having a foster home. If it is something you are are already considering doing, and are doing so for the right reasons, then you know these benefits. Share these ideas with your children. Let them know why you want to have a foster home. Maybe you had experience with foster care (either yourself or someone you know). If this was a positive experience, you may feel the inclination to carry on those valuable aspects and "give back" by providing care for other children who are in a situation you (or the person you know) may have been in. Maybe your experiences were negative, and you want to do something to offer a positive experience to a child .Be sure that you are considering going into foster care for the right reasons before you attempt to ask your family to support your decision (i.e. you genuinely want to help). Expecting to be a foster parent for financial gain will only offer disappointment. Although a stipend is usually given to provide the necessities for a child's care, foster care is not a way to make money.  Whatever your positive reasons are, by sharing them with your children you can help them to understand that you are not trying to replace them, and give them a basis for viewing the foster family experience as one which can be beneficial to the family as a whole.