Collaborative care

With strong leadership in trauma-informed care and a diverse clinical team, Encourage is well positioned to care for the complex needs of youth in foster care. We are part of a trio of ministries with Encompass Christian Counseling and Christian Children’s Home of Ohio. Our nonprofit organization has been addressing the social and emotional needs of children and families for more than 50 years.

Encompass Christian Counseling offers outpatient mental health counseling through various office locations throughout northeast Ohio. Trained and compassionate clinicians care for clients of all ages and levels of need. Many specialize in the unique needs of foster families. Counselors collaborate with Encourage foster care coordinators to reinforce therapy and connect youth with additional resources.

Christian Children’s Home of Ohio provides a residential trauma treatment program to youth ages 6 to 18 with high level emotional and behavioral needs. Through a variety of individual and group therapies, youth are able to feel safe, process their trauma and learn coping strategies. Upon completion of their programs, most youth step down to foster homes.

The clinical team across our family of ministries works hard to collaborate and communicate client needs. Having services under one umbrella increases access to treatment and continuity of care. This provides the best overall care to youth and the foster families caring for them.

If you are interested in learning more about fostering a child or teen stepping down from residential treatment*, we would love to connect with you.

*Note: the majority of youth served at Encourage are not from a residential treatment program, but there are times when a treatment foster home is needed to care for a youth who is in the permanent custody of their county.

Therapeutic supports

Encourage cares deeply about youth with high-level needs and we are equally committed to supporting treatment foster families who open their hearts and homes to these youth. Our goal is to equip foster parents with the physical, emotional and logistical help needed to come alongside hurting kids with safety, love and connection. We want to see each foster family and each foster child be successful in the purpose to which God is calling them.

To support families on their foster care journey, Encourage provides therapeutic services including case management, mental health counseling and psychiatric care as needed. These services are provided seamlessly as Encourage is part of a trio of trauma-informed ministries with Encompass Christian Counseling and Christian Children’s Home of Ohio.

Foster youth may receive outpatient mental health counseling and psychiatric care as needed from compassionate licensed clinicians. They will help identify and address issues like anger management, trauma, grief and loss, depression, self-harm, anxiety and relationship struggles.

Encourage foster care coordinators provide intensive case management on a weekly basis. They reinforce the youth’s therapy work as well as TBRI principles with foster parents to ensure they implement this method daily with their youth. They also help foster youth and families with skill building, academic guidance and links to additional community resources. By listening and learning, they build trust and identify solutions together.

At Encourage, we work as a team and with community partners to provide wrap-around care for children and families. This added layer of support helps make lasting change for the whole family.

Learn more about how Encourage is uniquely positioned to care for the complex needs of youth in foster care in our next blog post.

Saying yes to teenagers

Teens from hard places crave safety, acceptance, respect and unconditional love. They desire, and deserve, to be wanted and cherished just like infants and toddlers are in foster homes. There is a gap in many foster care programs for this age group due to the limited number of foster families willing to take placement of teenagers. Encourage is blessed to have some incredible foster families who have stepped up and said “yes” to teenagers.

One of these families is the Walker family (name changed to protect privacy). The Walkers are licensed as a treatment foster home. Over the past year, they have had two teenagers placed with them. They have also fostered numerous children and teenagers in the past.

The Walkers utilize Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) techniques to connect with their foster children. Establishing a connection and sense of felt safety often leads to a decrease in negative behaviors and increase in prosocial, desired behaviors. TBRI recommends that foster parents prioritize quality time with their teenaged foster children. Foster parents are encouraged to develop an interest in one of their foster child’s interests. The Walkers make sure to do this for each teen in their home, spending time each day, even if it is for just 10 minutes, engaging in their now shared interest. Some of these activities they have engaged in with their foster children are baking, playing card games, shopping and swimming. The Walkers also help their foster teens utilize healthy coping skills and self-regulation techniques as they work through their past trauma.

In addition to helping the teenagers placed in their home feel safe and begin the healing process, they also do a wonderful job teaching their foster children independent living skills. They enjoy teaching them these valuable skills that will help them succeed throughout their life. The Walkers have taught them how to grow and prepare their own fruits and vegetables. They have taught them how to cook, wash their own laundry, and do basic household chores. They have also taught their current foster children how to swim, a skill both of them are so thankful to have been taught. The Walkers have also allowed their teenagers to engage in volunteer work, developing a sense of purpose in their lives.

The Walkers truly act as the hands and feet of Christ. They are willing to say yes to teenagers, giving these worthy teenagers a chance to feel wanted, loved, and accepted. They are relentlessly committed to being a safe place for their foster children, providing a healing and therapeutic environment in which they can grow and be shown their worth in Christ. The Walkers leave a lifelong impact on these teenagers, showing up for them when many others won’t.

Blog post contributed by Jessie Berry, clinical supervisor at Encourage.

Higher levels of need

As mentioned in our previous blog post, Encourage is passionate about serving youth with higher levels of need including medical, emotional and/or behavioral challenges. This could range from asthma, diabetes or ADHD to more challenging medical and behavioral needs such as cerebral palsy, pre-natal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or behaviors related to a youth’s prior trauma.

A youth with high-level needs will previously have experienced some type of childhood trauma and/or have an identified medical-related issue. The childhood trauma typically comes in the form of emotional maltreatment, physical and/or sexual abuse. Because of their trauma, these youth may have emotional issues and don’t know how to express their needs appropriately.

They often struggle academically and socially. They may likely display a full range of emotions, or none at all, and as result, require some further intervention by mental health professionals in addressing their needs. Many of these youth require counseling and/or medication to help them cope and function more positively in school and home. Some other high-level youth may have identified medical issues, and thus need more support by their caregivers and additional medical appointments to help them with their development.

Treatment foster families who care for youth with higher levels of need will benefit from additional supports and services. Encourage uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) Model to train and assist our foster families. TBRI is an attachment-based tool that caregivers use to connect with children from hard places. This trauma-informed approach helps foster families create felt-safety for youth being placed in their homes. It also helps foster families better understand their own attachment styles so they can then extend compassion for their youth and the biological family.

Encourage supports foster families throughout the youth’s stay in their home. Professional, compassionate staff provide intensive case management to assist those families with weekly contact, immediate mental health counseling and psychiatric services as needed.

Our next blog post will share more about case management and other therapeutic services.

Treatment foster care

Encourage Foster Care provides trauma-informed training and supportive services to foster and foster-to-adopt families. We specialize in treatment foster care and prioritize sibling groups, older children, teens, and children with medical needs. Our heart is for these youth to experience safety and connection.

When a child or teen needs emergency care due to a crisis in their home, placement with the child’s family member or a person whom the child knows (also known as kinship placement) is always the preferred option. When kinship placement isn’t possible, the second choice is placement in a family foster home within their county. If the youth or siblings cannot be placed with a family member or with a family foster home in their local area, a treatment foster home becomes the next choice. These are the children we serve at Encourage.

Families with a treatment foster care license are equipped to meet unique needs like caring for sibling groups in order to keep siblings together or providing for the higher-level needs of children or teens who have medical, emotional and/or behavioral issues. This could range from asthma, diabetes or ADHD to more challenging medical and behavioral needs such as cerebral palsy, pre-natal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or behaviors related to a youth’s prior trauma.

A treatment foster care license is more focused than a traditional foster care license. Foster and foster-to-adopt families must meet certain criteria to qualify, including one of the following: have five years of parenting experience, receive 24-hours of additional foster parent training, or have experience caring for a child in foster care for 365 consecutive days. Encourage provides the additional 24-hours of training to all of our treatment foster families with a focus on trauma-informed approaches.

Our next blog post will share more about what a youth with high-level needs looks like and how Encourage trains treatment foster families from a trauma-informed approach.

Facebook Live Q&A

UPDATE: We are postponing our Foster Care Q&A session until February, but we are always open and available to take your questions. Send Heather a message at huebnerh@ccho.org or give her a call at 330.462.1118. 

Yes, I’ve thought about fostering, BUT I have so many questions and I just don’t know where to begin.

Our Encourage team would love the opportunity to answer your questions. There’s no question too big or too small. How has the pandemic affected foster care? What training do I need? Do I have to be married? What if I don’t own my own home? What are the ages of the children? What are visits with bio-families like? Where do the referrals come from? What sets Encourage Foster Care apart from other agencies?

We have answers to these questions and more! And we want you to share your challenges and concerns so we can better serve you.

Send us your questions today and make plans to tune in for our Facebook Live Q&A event on Monday, December 7 at 7pm. This will be a great opportunity to not only have your questions answered but to meet some of our staff that will be walking alongside you as you consider this journey in foster care.

Submit your questions via email to Heather at huebnerh@ccho.org or through Facebook Messenger. We look forward to answering those questions that may be laying on your heart and sharing the need for foster families throughout Northeast Ohio.

Mark your calendars for this fun and informative Facebook Live Q&A event with the Encourage Foster Care team: Monday, December 7 at 7pm.

We hope you’ll feel encouraged because, yes, you can foster too!

PS – if you are curious or looking for question prompts, check out the Encourage FAQ page.

Making art, making progress

The goal for most youth in foster care is reunification with their biological families. While apart from each other, bio parents focus on their own healing work while our staff and foster parents provide safety and therapeutic care to the kids. It’s complicated work helping kids process confusing emotions and trauma as well as helping them navigate relationships and family visitation.

One of the preteen girls in our program recently demonstrated huge progress and a kind heart. “When someone receiving treatment can see outside of themselves to want to help others—that is a significant marker in their treatment,” said Shawn Pedani, director of Encourage.

Here is Veronica’s* story.

Veronica is very smart, caring and sweet. She was welcomed into care by an Encourage foster family last summer. The goal for her and her siblings is reunification, but their bio parents are struggling a lot, especially with visits. Sometimes they don’t show up, sometimes they do, but then don’t behave like they’re supposed to. When this happens, Veronica gets understandably upset.

However, she recently came up with an idea. Being very artistic and crafty, Veronica has been working on a project to identify and recognize her emotions and better cope with her anger. She has been representing her daily emotions with emojis through construction paper art. This creative expression helps her keep busy and forget about her anger, which also helps her manage anxiety.

Veronica asked her foster care coordinator to show her art project to other kids so they could try it too and be comforted. “I am so proud of her,” said Maria Reina, foster care coordinator at Encourage. “It’s amazing that a child can come up with an idea like this by herself and she is so kind to share with others in order to help them.”

Learning how to manage emotions and behaviors is challenging for youth from hard places. Our team and foster parents come alongside our kids to teach and model this important work. When we see children implement strategies and experience success, we are overjoyed! These life skills are so beneficial to their healing and overall well-being.

If your family tries Veronica’s emoji art project, would you kindly let us know? We’d love to share your story with her so she can be even more encouraged. Send us a note at inquire@encourage.family.

*Name changed for privacy.

On any given day in Ohio

On any given day in Ohio, nearly 16,000 children are being cared for away from their parents. They have been removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect. Foster parents provide much-needed safety and support for these hurting kids. Your home could be exactly what they need.

Cuyahoga County – 3,500+
Stark County – 890+
Summit County – 875+
Wayne County – 135+

Children and teens who have experienced trauma often display their hurt, pain and fear through challenging behaviors. You can help them find their way through all the pain to find healing and a new way to manage all they have experienced. Encourage provides supports from a trauma-informed approach. Training is provided in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

Making the decision to foster is big. It comes with many questions and our staff is here to talk with you about what it would look like to welcome a child or sibling group into your home. The decision is also brave and bold as you say yes to fostering through faith and loving kids in need.

Our next foster parent prep courses begin September 1. There’s still time to join the online class–a mix of live trainings through Zoom and self-paced modules. Contact Heather Huebner at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

2 Hour Tuesday

This has been a year of unknowns and uncertainties. We are incredibly grateful for the safety and stability Encourage foster families provide the youth in their care. Our team is here to help you navigate this season and provide quality tools and resources to keep you on track.

While we wait for in person First Friday foster parent trainings to return, Encourage is now offering 2 Hour Tuesday online trainings through Zoom. Open to any licensed foster parent, participants will earn two hours of face-to-face training credits. No sign up is required. Join us as your schedule allows.

In August, we’ll take a look at helping children in times of crisis through Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). Learn more about rupture and repair and how to help kids heal from big and small traumas in the midst of a pandemic.

2 Hour Tuesday: The Power of Repair
August 18, 6-8pm
Join the Zoom training.

Enjoy this timely session from the comfort of your home. For more information, contact Whitney Beougher, LSW, foster care assessor and trainer at beougherw@ccho.org.

The greatest need

We recently shared a news article on the Encourage Facebook page about youth in foster care being housed at the Cuyahoga County Department of Job and Family Services. We asked Encourage Intake Coordinator Angel Sigler to share more about the critical need and how we can respond.

I hear voices crying out about the need for more foster parents in our communities. Voices saying that there are not enough homes for children in need of safety. On one level this is true, but there’s a greater need in this situation. The bigger challenge is that there are not enough foster homes with the ability to provide care for children with high-level needs—especially if that child with behavioral needs is a teenager. Not many families are willing or trained to welcome them and address their unique needs. Those are the children living in the DJFS buildings.

Here’s the greatest need: foster parents who are willing and trained to take in children with high-level behavioral issues caused by trauma and help them find their way through all the pain to find healing and a new way to manage all they have experienced.

The emotional and behavior challenges of a traumatized child do not instantly go away once you love them and give them a safe environment. It is a long process, but the end is so worth it.

There are boys and girls completing their individualized therapy programs at residential treatment centers, including CCHO, waiting for a place to go. These hurting youth came into residential care because their compounding losses made them unable to adapt and function well in a foster family home. They’ve spent an average of six to nine months working their programs, participating in therapy, and now they are ready to try their new skills in a family setting. With few foster families willing or able to help them acclimate back into a family unit and the greater community, these children wait in limbo and begin to lose hope that a family will ever want them.

My heart hurts for these precious kids.

We need families to say yes to opening their hearts and homes to teenagers even if those teens are angry, struggling with drug issues, or facing mental-health concerns. If we don’t help these youth find their way out of the pain—which often looks like anger and self-medication—they will become adults with no support system, no healing, and ultimately no hope. That is heartbreaking. And the cycle often repeats with their children.

The system is only as broken as you and I allow it to be. Is reform needed? Sure. Do we want children living in the DJFS building? Certainly not. But what choice does the county have until more families respond?

Here’s my invitation. Lean in to fully hear my heart.

Will you step up and fight alongside and for these kids? Not like cheerleaders on the sidelines, but in the field getting dirty with them? They really need you—stable, caring adults—to help them find themselves in the midst of the chaos.

Patience, flexibility and a willingness to learn TBRI skills. When foster parents implement this posture and these tools and welcome kids with high-level behavioral needs into their homes, that’s when we’ll see the miracles begin to happen. Our promise at Encourage: we commit to coming with you every step of the journey—training, coaching, empowering and celebrating.

Learn more about becoming a foster parent today.