Life Is Short – Buy The Orange Pants

This blog post was originally published in January 2016. The truth of it remains the same so we are sharing it again to bring you encouragement for the journey.

My husband and I have had the privilege of providing foster care to fifteen children since 2010. We have three little boys right now who are six, five, and three. Last week one of our little boys told me he really wished he had some orange pants. Now, when he first came to our home, you could barely understand a word he said. So to hear him have such a specific want brings me a lot of joy. This kid absolutely loves to wear bow ties and dress up clothes to school. Almost every week he has a “dress up” day where he wears a shirt with a collar and a bow tie. His older brother says kids tease him sometimes for wearing ties to school, but he says he doesn’t care–he just likes his bow ties.

Last Thursday I had a free hour between appointments and I stopped at the outlet mall on a quest for orange pants. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I’d check it out. Four stores later and I found a single pair of orange dress pants. They were squished in a clearance rack with last years’ leftovers. Between assorted tank tops and t-shirts from other seasons, there was one pair of orange pants. Exactly what I needed. The store manager told me that those pants have been waiting on the clearance rack for two years. Literally longer than this sweet little guy has lived in my home- these pants have been waiting. The perfect orange dress pants in a size six.

I have the honor of working with our new foster parents and I field a lot of phone calls from new inquiries. People who are maybe on the edge of deciding whether or not they should get involved with the foster care system. Everyone has heard horror stories and there are a million excuses as to why they shouldn’t get involved in a system that is viewed by so many as so broken.

Maybe we should wait until we are older.

Maybe we should wait until we have more money.

Maybe we should wait until we aren’t so busy.

Maybe I shouldn’t do this because I’m single.

Maybe we shouldn’t do this because it will be too hard to love them and let them go.

I often see a lot of fear and unrealistic expectations of what foster care is and will be like. People are afraid of the unknowns and the worst case scenarios so they limit their options to what they see are the “safest” choices. They are counseled by friends not to take the “hard” kids. Often the choice is little babies with no problems. Kids who haven’t been exposed to drugs, domestic violence, kids who aren’t in counseling, or attached to siblings, or need more time to recover… But ‘little babies with no problems’ don’t need foster care. It is the children who have seen the worst in life who need us. Children whose needs haven’t been met. Children who haven’t had safety and security in a warm and loving home. Children who can describe what needles look like and how to shoot up heroin. Children who have experienced violence and come to our homes with wounds on their bodies and their souls. That scares people.

As a result, there are so many children who sit waiting. Waiting for someone to be brave enough to care for them. To take a risk. To take the chance… outside their comfort zone. Maybe like wearing a pair of orange dress pants.

We had an adoption matching meeting recently for our three boys. An adoption matching meeting occurs when children who have been in foster care become available for adoption and the state is working towards locating an adoptive placement for the children. Unfortunately, for our children, there are no family members able to care for them at this time. During that meeting we talked about the supports my husband and I have as parents. I explained we have some wonderful friends who really get it- my social work friends who understand why we chose foster care and why we chose this life. They love us and will support us and our children.

My husband and I haven’t chosen an easy road, but as for our children? They had absolutely no choice in the matter. None of these children do. They wind up in the system through no fault of their own and rely on social workers, foster parents, and counselors to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. They didn’t choose this life.

I’m so glad that I didn’t let our fears or excuses get in the way of God’s direction for our lives.

There’s a wonderful quote from Joseph Campbell that I have hanging in my office. It reads: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I find this to be very true in the world of foster care. I often tell new foster parents that they will experience frustration and heartache, and the feeling of ‘not knowing’ what will happen with the children in your home will really wear you down! But when you see the recovery that a child can make when they feel safe and secure, when you see the light begin to shine in their eyes, and the fear begin to dissipate, it is all worth it. They didn’t choose this, but we can choose to be with them through it. The world tells us our lives should be easy. But I absolutely believe that our faith requires more of us.

I’m so glad we chose this life.

I’m so glad that when the social worker called that we said yes.

I’m so glad that we gave a home to a little boy, who can now give a home to these crazy orange pants.

I’m so glad that I am able to empower other prospective foster parents to do this too. You can do this, you are capable and you are stronger than you think!

Life is short. You should definitely buy the orange pants.

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.

What to expect from pre-service training

Encourage offers pre-service foster parent training multiple times a year. Our next training begins in February at the City Center Campus of Crossroads Community Church in Mansfield. This 36-hour required training is one of the first steps toward becoming licensed foster parents.

Our team makes this training practical and realistic with topics including:

  • Child development and how it is affected by abuse, neglect, trauma and separation
  • Relationship with the biological family
  • Child welfare system/foster care system
  • The rights of the child, biological family and foster parents
  • Sensitivity training and expectations
  • Transitioning cultures as you welcome a foster child into your home

You’ll learn skills and strategies from professional social workers who are also foster and adoptive parents. You’ll find compassion and encouragement that will help you choose your battles wisely as you care for children in foster care. From the first comfort meal you serve to the addition of Christmas stockings hung on your mantel, we are here to offer you encouragement all along the way.

Interested in learning more about our February pre-service training? Please contact Heather Huebner at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Blessings this year

Encourage’s director, Shawn Pedani, LISW-S, reflects on the year . . .

Our team recently had a year-end get-together and reflected on all the highlights and blessings we’ve seen from God this past year within Encourage. I thought I’d hear their excitement of the new growth with more foster families and the ability to place more children as well as new local church partnerships who share in the same passion to help children locally.

However, what I heard was worth noting and sharing with our extended Encourage family. The staff shared that while they were thrilled with the addition of 19 new families (not including the current 12 in process), they were even more thrilled with the growth internally in our department. Our team was ecstatic about expanding to neighboring communities and churches as well as the depth of our staff.

Team members voiced their feelings about growing together with one unified purpose. One team member shared, “I feel like we are bigger but at the same time more singular in our mission.” Another commented that we were making strides to implement Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), an evidenced-based model for parenting traumatized youth, to all of our treatment families. A staff who joined the team in 2018 felt she was “welcomed into a wonderful community that will support, uplift and challenge you in the workplace.”

I simply love that about our team.

With a busy 2019 in the works as it relates to trainings and licensing families, I’m happy to report the progress of new programs launched in 2018. We are seeing wonderful development and rich connections with our new mentor program: A Friend in Fostering. While not everyone can take in a foster youth, everyone can help or volunteer. We are also beginning to see more and more families considering and taking in youth who are otherwise, a challenge to place. We believe this comes as result of the additional trainings and support we are providing through the First Fridays events and TBRI curriculum. This will be a continued focus in the new year.


Looking forward to all that God will do in 2019,
Shawn

A letter to prospective foster parents

Dear prospective foster parents,

As the Recruiter and Engagement Specialist for Encourage Foster Care I have the opportunity to connect with individuals and couples who have a heart to foster. I have such a great passion for our organization, and I absolutely love speaking with prospective foster parents and sharing the needs with them.

My role as a recruiter is to guide you, as prospective foster parents, answer your questions and inform you on what sets Encourage apart from other agencies. I’m the entry point for foster parents but I’m also committed to supporting you throughout this entire journey. The decision to become foster parents to children that have endured trauma and unfortunate difficult transitions can be an overwhelming yet joyful experience. I take the time to talk with all of our families and see how I can help make this process less overwhelming for you.

There are numerous questions that foster parents have and so many you may be afraid to ask . . . Do we have what it takes? Is our house big enough? Do we make enough money? Is it okay if we are renters rather than home owners? These are just a few. Please don’t let questions prevent you from taking the first step of inquiring. If you are being led to foster and want to talk with someone, please call me.

This is where I love being the first point of contact. I will answer your questions and pray with you. I will walk this journey with you. I’ll help you understand the training process. I’ll help relieve the fear of one of the most emotional questions about fostering—How can we become close to a child and then lose him or her? The time that you have with these children—whether it be a few days, a few months or a forever family—will need to be entrusted to God. Your role in fostering through faith is invaluable. You are providing safety, security, love, compassion and support for these children when they need it the most—regardless of the amount of time you provide. As we tangibly care for children in foster care, we also pray for their biological parents, pray for positive outcomes, pray for intervention and for reunification if possible. While this journey can be emotional, you will not be alone.

Encourage has an amazing team that supports you professionally and personally. We invest fully in our foster families and children. We strive to provide as much encouragement as possible. One of the ways we do this is by our Foster It Forward program—a new mentorship support system that allows connection and reassurance for our new families.

You will be partnered with a seasoned foster family that will serve as a mentor for you to reach out to for prayer and guidance. Mentors will share their experiences and coping strategies. They will help you feel better equipped to handle the unique challenges that come with fostering children. This is a remarkable way for foster parents to lean on each other through the good times, and yes, the trying times too. It’s our hope that this program will lead to increased stability for foster parents and children.

The need for foster parents is increasing. With 2019 quickly approaching, we ask that if you have considered foster care, please consider contacting me. I will be happy to talk with you, meet with you and pray with you. Our next foster parent pre-service training takes place in February at Crossroads Community Church in Mansfield, Ohio. It’s a great time to make that first step.

Blessings,

Heather Huebner
huebnerh@ccho.org
330.462.1118

Fostering through faith

Faith is an integral part of our culture at Encourage. Sometimes the faith component in fostering starts as a gentle nudge. A knock at your heart’s door that God desires to take you down a new path of knowing and serving Him. Other times faith shows up as reminder of God’s call to the church to care for those who are alone and in need. Always the faith component in fostering entails loving deeply through the hard times. Embracing a child with all of his or her trauma and beauty, joy and fear, is costly. There will be moments of on-your-knees prayer, sacrifice, surrender, and the daily need to lean fully on your Savior.

God may have different plans than your own. Faith gives you the ability to trust that He knows exactly what you need. Here is one woman’s story of becoming a foster and adoptive parent.

“It’s really tempting to just do minimal care and not let yourself become attached because it seems like it would be less painful when they leave,” said Becca, a single woman who fostered two boys in Austin, Texas. “I look at Scripture and see that’s not how Jesus has loved us. I am called to lay down my life for these guys, no matter how long they’re in my home.”

If you’re feeling a small (or perhaps giant-sized) knock at your heart’s door to learn more about fostering, we would love to connect with you. Reach out to Heather Huebner, Foster Care Recruitment & Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118 for an introductory conversation.

Comfort and joy this Christmas

Like many other children, when December comes around our children enjoy carefully writing out “Wish Lists” to send to Santa. They excitedly think about presents and consider what special items they might write down. This year our nine-year-old son Jameson patiently helped our five-year-old daughter Jubilee put together a lengthy list of her favorite things. At our dining room table sat a little guy we are fostering. At six years old he has already lived in a few different houses and spent the holidays with a few different families. On this particular Thursday night, he was writing a special letter to Santa and he wanted to put on his list a certain toy he once had at his mom’s house, but he couldn’t remember what it was called. And then I think he just got to feeling so sad about it. Big alligator tears were sliding down his little-freckled cheeks. I tried to help him find it by having him describe it and looking at pictures online, but we just couldn’t figure it out together.

Around the holidays, I see many others struggle with family dynamics, financial burdens and worry over holiday stress. I just keep thinking about the heartache of this six-year-old boy away from his mom, in his third foster home, longing for a home and a toy that’s probably long gone. The good news is, there are many ways that foster and adoptive parents can reduce stress and anxiety for children over the holidays. Here are my top three best bets for a smoother holiday season.

Number one: Honor every family member’s traditions.

We have a family habit of making a list on our chalkboard of all the things we would like to do over the holiday season. Sometimes they are simple items such as reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, or watching a favorite movie together. Making a family to-do list together builds trust and empowers children to have the opportunity to choose things that they would like to do. I ask them if there are certain foods that they would like to include in our holiday meals. We always plan time for the children to buy small gifts for their parents to take to visitation as well.

Number two: Prediction. Prediction. Prediction.

I can’t stress this enough. Let your children know what’s coming next. If your schedule is going to be different over the holidays, consider making a visual schedule somewhere accessible for them. We have done this in a few different ways. Our son Jayvon has a white-board in his room with different small pictures that let him know what’s coming next. Last year our son Jameson had a calendar in his room that marked the days we were visiting people as well as his school holiday concert. Christmas was marked with a big sticker. We also use our chalkboard for this on nights when our kids are especially worked up. Visual aids can be extremely soothing for children who have lived in chaotic environments.

Number three: Adjust your expectations for yourself and your child.

Especially if you have children who have been newly placed within your home or are sensitive to changes in environment. If on a typical Christmas day, you have a flurry of opening presents, followed by celebrations in three different relatives’ homes in different cities, adjust the expectations for new children. It may be very overwhelming to meet that many new people at one time. Consider if they may do best with having some planned downtime, or time to do a sensory-friendly activity that can help center them over the busy days. Try to be in tune with what your children need if they are feeling sad or anxious. Plan ahead for potential meltdowns! This year it might be best not to stretch yourself too thin. It’s okay to say no to some activities and invitations.

We remind each other at our house that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Children can love spending the holidays with your family, and be deeply missing their own family as well. It can take a lot of grace, patience and mercy to get through the holiday season. Give yourself some space to enjoy the holidays without so much pressure.

Fostering siblings

People often have a negative perception of children in foster care. Just because these children come from hard places and have experienced hard things, doesn’t mean they aren’t also great kids. When you hear about children in foster care, you often hear the worst stories about the abuse and neglect that they have endured. Encourage’s kids are resilient with many brilliant qualities.

You might learn in the news what they’ve experienced, but these articles don’t share that they also love the color orange, love to be read to, and play pretend. I like to remind new foster and adoptive parents that a child 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.

Successful foster care stories are powerful because they help change the way we think about foster care children and the adults who said yes to loving them. This recent foster-to-adopt story about a sibling group gives us a glimpse into the vivid personalities and tender hearts of these amazing kids. It also gives us the opportunity to share about the specific needs of sibling groups.

The overwhelming majority of the referrals we receive here at Encourage are for brothers and sisters who need to be placed together. Many times being separated from your brother or sister is more traumatic than being separated from your mom or dad. Especially if you were the one responsible for taking care of your brother or sister.

Can you imagine your little brother or sister being pulled away from you to stay in another place with strangers you don’t know? There are many positives when taking care of siblings. Having your brother or sister in your foster home with you can reduce fear, worry and anxiety. It creates stability and security for children to remain with their brothers or sisters.

My husband and I have fostered six different sibling groups. The rewards of keeping them together have vastly outweighed the challenges. Siblings may require more laundry, more time to get ready for school, and more plates around the dinner table, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeping brothers and sisters together in foster care has been the most meaningful part of our lives.