See the possibility

Story #11 in our series is courtesy of Emily Engman, LSW, foster care assessor and trainer here at Encourage. Emily shares from her heart about foster care and child welfare. She sees the hard times but also the good in the kids and families she serves. She also has a vision for all that is possible when we consider the hope of Jesus and respond in faith.

Sensory needs

At Encourage, we invest fully in our families and children, and we are committed to supporting our foster parents throughout their entire journey. One way that we come alongside our families is helping them identify tools and resources to best address the needs of the kids in their care. We currently have several kiddos with sensory challenges, and the following support items (all under $80 each) could be very helpful in their home. Would you be willing to help meet one or more needs?

Weighted blankets (we could use at least three in twin size)
Weighted blankets have been known to help individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, autism and other health conditions feel calmer and sleep better. They are usually made with 10 percent of the individual’s body weight to provide firm but gentle deep pressure. Weighted blanket therapy is similar to that of swaddling an infant. Just as the firm, snug wrapping helps an infant relax and drift off to sleep, the weighted blanket helps a child with a similar effect.

Please purchase this weighted blanket (or similar).

Sensory body socks (we could use three small and medium sizes)
Similar to a weighted blanket, a child will benefit from feeling calm and relaxed by the deep pressure input of the body sock. It’s a great quiet suit when a child needs help managing emotions and sleep. At other times a body sock is useful for developing motor skills.

Please purchase this sensory body sock (or similar).

Therapy swing (we could use at least three)
The swinging motion helps teach a child’s brain and body to work together. This sensory integration improves coordination, balance, body awareness and concentration. The swaddling feature gives children a sense of protection and blocks out unnecessary sensory input. Therapy swings benefit children who have Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, or those on the autism spectrum.

Please purchase this therapy swing (or similar).

Perhaps you are not in a season where fostering fits but you are in a season where you could be a blessing to a foster family. If you would like to encourage one of our families by purchasing an item or two from this list, we would be so grateful. Please have your item(s) shipped directly to the Encourage office at 637 College Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. Be sure to let Rhonda Greer, LSW, foster care assessment leader, (greerr@ccho.org) know of your plans in advance to prevent duplications of items purchased.

We will update this blog post when the needs are met. Thank you for giving generously!

Ministry focus

We receive many inquiries from families who are looking to adopt an infant or a young child. We are so thankful that you are considering this option to give children a forever family and we will gladly provide you a list of agencies that would be able to help you on your journey.

Our ministry focus at Encourage is fostering and foster to adopt. If you are looking to foster or foster to adopt and possibly take sibling groups, teens or children with medical needs than our agency would be a wonderful fit for you. These youth are our greatest priority.

We currently serve the counties of Ashland, Crawford, Coshocton, Cuyahoga, Harrison, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne. And every month, our agency receives dozens of requests for foster homes for children from these counties.

We especially need homes for children over the age of five, brothers and sisters, and children who have experienced sexual abuse. Learn more about these children in foster care and consider how your home might provide safety and stability for a hurting child or teen when they need it most.

It is an exciting yet overwhelming step to open your hearts and homes up to a child or sibling group that has experienced separation, loss and trauma in their lives. Our mission is to connect foster and adoptive families with strong support systems that will equip them with the physical, emotional and logistical help they need.

Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions. We would love to assist you in any way. Reach out to Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist, at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Fostering teens

One of Encourage’s greatest needs is foster homes for teenage foster children.

Being a teenager is already hard enough.

Imagine not having support and stability at home while you navigate hormones, school, relationships and a host of other moments and decisions as graduation gets ever closer.

Imagine not having someone show you some of the things you took for granted like making mac and cheese, filling out a job application or learning how to drive.

Imagine not having someone see you and love you for you who are and help you reach your potential and chase your dreams.

Most children in foster care have not experienced what a real home is supposed to be like. The average foster child is not used to cooking with mom, eating at the dinner table, having a scheduled time to do homework, or even the basics like seeing parents. So you can give them a glimpse of what a home is supposed to be like. You can provide dinners at a table. You can offer up some time cooking in the kitchen. Just normal!

(Read the full article.)

Providing a home and supportive relationship to a teen will come with challenges, but here are 10 reasons to foster a teenager in foster care.

No one should have to go through major life moments without someone cheering at their side. You could be that someone. Your home could be the first home that helps a teen experience his or her worth in Christ.

If you would like to talk with one of our staff members about what it would like to welcome a teen into your home, please contact us today. Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist, would be honored to process this decision with you. Reach out today at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Perfect love casts out fear

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO), the parent organization of Encourage is celebrating 50 years of ministry this year! Throughout 2019, we will be sharing 50 Stories for 50 Years of Ministry to demonstrate the transformational work God has done through our family of ministries (CCHO, Encourage Foster Care and Encompass Christian Counseling).

Story #3 in our series highlights one of Encourage’s foster-to-adopt families. After months of praying over the beds in an empty room in her house, Gwyn welcomed a preschool boy and his baby sister into her home. The siblings had experienced unthinkable abuse and loss in their short lives; their two-year-old brother had just died as the result of suspicious injuries allegedly inflicted by their mother’s boyfriend.

With faith and courage, she believed that God had placed this little boy and his baby sister in her care for a reason, and she knew she had to love them in return because “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

“I couldn’t guard my heart if I was going to love them and give them what they needed,” she says. “I had to make them feel safe…. So I just said, ‘Okay, God, I’m going to love them while I have them. While they’re in the circle of my arms, my family, my home, you are giving them to me to invest, to love, to nurture, to do my best with.’”

Gwyn played a significant role in the early days of fostering her children, helping them feel safe and loved as well as connecting them to trauma-informed resources. She continued to provide security and support while her older son processed trauma and emotions, and two years later Gwyn adopted them, making them a forever family.

Read their full story and watch their video to learn Gwyn’s prayer for her kids (now nine and four) and see how everyone is doing today. We are so grateful for our awesome God Who continues to make all things new.

You can find our 50th anniversary story series at ccho.org/stories. You’ll have the opportunity to share your own story as well.

We will also be hosting our 50th Anniversary Celebration Weekend on June 8 & 9. We hope you can join us!

A friend in fostering

Fifty children currently make up our foster care family. Boys. Girls. Preschool to high school and most grades in between. Singers. Scientists. Artists. Athletes. Inquisitive, courageous, fun and funny kids. They have favorite colors, foods, books, games and more. These kids will surprise you and impress you.

Emily Engman, LSW, wrote in a recent blog post, “These children may be in foster care, but that is a situation they are experiencing, it doesn’t define who they are or who they will become.”

You have the opportunity to shape who they will become. To build goodness and kindness into their lives. To give them opportunities to grow and try new things. To help them experience their worth in Christ.

Encourage recently launched a mentorship program, “A Friend in Fostering,” with the goal of connecting enthusiastic, dedicated, caring adult members from our community with youth in foster care who need encouragement and support through the various transitions in their lives. As a mentor, you’ll have the opportunity to instill confidence and cultivate independence in these young lives as well as help them develop everyday life skills they need to be successful.

We invite you to consider becoming a mentor with Encourage. We’ve created a welcome packet that explains more about the Friend in Fostering program.

For additional information, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Myers-Briggs: Is It Me?

Earlier this month, Encourage welcomed Rebecca Ryder, MA, NCC, LPCC-S, Managing Clinical Supervisor for Encompass East Counseling to present at our First Friday training for foster parents. Her topic for the evening, Myers-Briggs: Is It Me?, engaged parents on how our unique personalities impact our parenting styles. She shared such valuable information on connection and communication that we asked her to condense her talk into a blog post for all of you. We hope you enjoy it.

“I learned that not everyone thinks like me!”

This was one of the simple, yet profound comments made by a parent that recently attended a workshop to learn how personality types affect parenting and relationships.

Participants in this workshop completed a short inventory at www.16personalities.com to determine their personality type according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This widely-used, reliable and valid assessment is one tool that is helpful in gaining self-awareness. Self-awareness is so important if we are pursuing our own healthy identity and relationships with others. Self-awareness is NOT being self-absorbed or declaring inflexibility by communicating “that’s just how I am.” Instead, it is the ability in real time to recognize the affect you have on others and monitor and regulate yourself accordingly. It can help you to be a better servant and improve relationships.

The MBTI identifies 16 different types which indicate how a person will most likely behave in a given situation. All of the types have equal value, and none are preferred over the other. When an assessment is completed, the person will be given a profile that marks their preference in 4 different categories. Participants were able to process how this information can help them be better parents as summarized below.

Introversion vs Extroversion
This category indicates your favorite world. Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or your own inner world?

Parents focused on how “I”s and “E”s can work together to provide what the same or opposite needs to restore their energy on a daily basis by processing the following questions:
• What drains you? Your spouse? Your kids?
• What do you/they find pleasure doing?
• What do you naturally need when you come home from work?
• How do you feel after taking kids to visits with bio-families?
• What can you do differently as a spouse or parent based on this insight?

Sensing vs I(N)tuition
This category indicates how one seeks information. Do you prefer to focus on basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?

Parents were able to evaluate how they may need to modify the way they give directions, set rules or assist a child with their homework depending on their type. Imagine an “N” parent giving directions to an “S” child who needs and prefers to have concrete and step-by-step instructions. It was highlighted that an “N” is good at recognizing why a child is behaving a certain way while an “S” excels at coaching a child through a project or learning a new skill.

Thinking vs Feeling
This category indicates how one makes decisions. When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances?

Both types have value when a person is making decisions for themselves or others. We focused on making a best guess of which category each of our children fall into and then identifying what we could appreciate about them, especially the ones who are opposite of ourselves.

Judging vs Perceiving
This indicates a preference for structure. In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?

Parents shared ideas about what would make good gifts or routines for “J”s and “P”s! For example, having bedtime rules/routines were important for all kids, but a “J” would likely appreciate it being very specific and exact every night while a “P” would prefer to be given the freedom to decide when and how to complete the routine within a given time frame.

Self-awareness can lead to other-awareness which can lead to adjusting and modifying expectations that are realistic, meaningful and effective to all members of the family.

Setting up foster parents for success

Encourage’s director, Shawn Pedani, LISW-S, reflects on what makes a foster parent successful.

“So, why are you here? What are your expectations?”

Following introductions, these are the very first questions I ask all the folks who attend Encourage’s Foster Parent 101: Orientation. The class breaks up into small groups and participants introduce themselves and share why they’ve chosen to attend. Looking around the room I see husbands rubbing their sweaty foreheads and wives leaning in… smiling and sharing. Then members of the groups share their answers with the group at large while I write their comments on the white board. Their answers are always both humbling and thought-provoking.

“We’re here because we felt God put it on our hearts to care for kids locally.”

“We’re here because our pastor shared the need one Sunday morning, and we felt we could do something about it.”

“We’ve raised our own kids. We hope to adopt an older youth into our home.”

“Our son is friends with another boy at school who’s in foster care and he’s not in a good place. We’d like to see if we can take him in and be a part of our family.”

Next, I lead the class into a discussion on expectations. Most in the group don’t know how to answer this question because they simply don’t know what to expect. This is the part I love most about teaching new folks.

Diving deeper into the conversation, I discuss the attributes of a successful foster parent. You can see the look on everyone’s faces that while they don’t know what to expect, they also don’t want to fail. They came here for personal reasons, and they want to invest eternally in the life of a child.

So–what traits do successful foster parents possess? You could google it and find some decent answers online. I’ve gone a step further and interviewed our Encourage families and foster care staff and compiled a list of traits and qualities one needs to truly positively influence a child.

First and foremost: foster parents are adaptable and flexible.

They roll with the punches and don’t give into power plays with their youth. They frequently let their foster child(ren) have the last word. They have great self-awareness and recognize that everything doesn’t have to become a battle. Some Encourage foster parents say that parenting can’t always be structured with black and white thinking. The gray areas include the reasons why kids do what they do. Foster parents need to be openminded and use genuine empathy–at all times.

Second, successful foster parents are resilient.

They recognize that in working with any youth, they will experience their share of ups and downs. Just because today was a good day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be a good one as well. And so, the opposite is also true. Resilience asks foster parents to bounce back from tough times and start each day with a clean slate.

Third, foster parents must be teachable.

Foster parents who think they know it all because they’ve raised their own kids won’t be open and accessible when social workers give them tips to better connect with youth in their homes. In addition, most of the youth we serve have a permanency goal of returning to their biological homes. Successful foster parenting involves supporting the youth’s biological family. This might mean foster parents will be asked to call or text a bio-family about their child. Some of our best foster parents even have their youth call their bio-parents to talk about their day. It means so much to bio-parents when they feel that the foster family is for them.

Fourth, successful foster parents recognize the impact of trauma on the youth in their home.

There are usually reasons behind their actions—often times youth come to foster homes with unseen baggage. Foster parents work to develop genuine trust and connection so that these youth will feel safe and in time, open up their baggage. And when they do? Foster parents will be there to support them through it. It might involve a few sleepless nights and a call to the local police when they choose to run away from their problems. But foster parents are always there being the ones who never give up. They seek out guidance regarding what is best for their child. They take advice from social workers and provide information to the treatment team and advocate for their child. They reach a place where they can honestly relay the trauma rather than the “bad” behavior.

Fifth, and final, successful foster parents take good care of themselves both emotionally and physically.

They have good balance in their own lives. This also means planning in advance. Husbands need to care for their wives and plan time away from all that goes on at home. I know one couple who shared that they go to Target and just go up and down the aisles. They say they feel like they’re on vacation when they do! We know that couples who stay connected with each other, and most importantly, with God daily, will lead happy and productive lives. They attend church and let each other know they are lifting each other in prayer. Not everything has to be about their foster youth.

The need for foster parents increases along with the number of children in county custody. We believe in supporting our foster parents so they can be successful in what God is calling them to do. Encourage hosts in depth foster parent pre-service training multiple times each year. Visit our training page for information and contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118 with your questions.

TBRI in the news

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is an evidenced-based model for parenting traumatized youth. This relational approach to caring for kids with high levels of abuse, neglect and trauma is gaining recognition as it is successfully helping kids progress relationally and behaviorally. This emerging method takes into account that children need to feel safe and connected before than can receive correction or instruction.

The method is part of a growing “trauma-informed care” movement that says abused kids need more than one hour a week in a therapist’s office to recover. Their day-to-day caregivers must know how to interact with them in healing ways.

As we make plans to introduce TBRI curriculum to all of our treatment families, here’s one foster family’s experience with this technique.

“It’s all about the child building their trust in you,” Deanna said. “This takes awhile because they’ve never had a parent or anyone in their life who showed any kind of stability.” She explained that abused children often aren’t able to “self-regulate” — the pain and trauma they’ve experienced keeps them in fight-or-flight mode, with the chaos and intensity of their feelings prompting all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors. “You just have to get down to their level and talk to them calmly, to understand what’s really causing the behavior,” she said.

(Read the full article here.)

We encourage our families by equipping them with physical, emotional and logistical supports. Providing our families with practical training such as TBRI is one way we can support them in caring for children with trauma.

Home studies in process

Celebrate with us!

Our network of foster parents is growing. There are currently 14 families in the midst of the home study phase of the certification process to become foster parents. That means a minimum of 14 children will have a safe place to call home in 2019. That number increases if families are able to take more than one child at a time—most commonly through a sibling group.

These 14 families have expressed a desire to open their heart and home to children in need. They have attended the required 36-hour pre-service training and have begun making their way through a lengthy checklist that Encourage Foster Care and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services uses to qualifies their home as safe and welcoming for children in foster care.

We have the unique responsibility to match children in the foster care system with the family that can best meet the need of that particular child or sibling group. A home study helps us do just that.

Home studies take place over the course of at least three home visits and includes items that you might expect such as a safety audit of the home’s physical structure. Background checks, financial statements, medical forms and references are also submitted during this step. The goal is to determine that the individuals (and animals) in the home and the physical spaces in the home are prepared to care for the physical and emotional needs of a child.

Our licensing staff utilizes the home study process to further get to know the prospective foster parents, their family background and parenting styles. This guided self-assessment helps foster parents consider the attributes of children (ages, genders, behaviors, physical or medical needs) that would be best matched with their home and family life. There are conversations about expectations for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and how to adjust home routines to best include them. This dialogue is critical to successfully placing children in a foster home.

Paperwork is not the most fun thing. Most would agree with that. But as items are checked off the certification checklist, we see families demonstrate a heart for fostering and the dedication needed to make it work. We are so grateful for these families and will be surrounding them with encouragement each step of the way. Please join us in praying for these 14 families over the coming months as they complete their home studies and prepare to open their homes.

If you have questions about becoming a foster parent, we are here to support you. Please contact Heather Huebner at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.