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. 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 next 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.

Spouse unity in fostering

At Encourage, we are here to walk alongside individuals, couples and families as they prepare to open their home to a foster child or sibling group. Everyone has foster care questions. This is a big decision and there are many questions to ponder and concerns to uncover.

Sometimes one spouse is ready to sign up to be a foster parent before the other. Here are some great tips from a foster parent/foster home licensing specialist to consider as you pray and discuss this issue with your husband or wife. As you learn about his or her uncertainties, you’ll have the opportunity to show love by listening and validating their feelings. These conversations will make your foster home stronger if and/or when you make that choice together.

Unless you’re a united front, the bottom line is your home will not be the best place for a child who has already experienced too much instability. Dragging someone else along into this decision might seem good for you, but it will not be best for a child.

(Read the full article here.)

What hesitations are holding you back from saying yes to fostering? We would love to help you process your foster care concerns and remove any barriers to taking the next step. For more information, please contact Heather Huebner, Foster Care Recruitment & Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

If you are ready to say yes to fostering, our next pre-service training begins in February. Learn more about the session today.

Protect the vulnerable

As the second Sunday in November approaches, we are reminded of a word used less frequently in our country today. Orphan Sunday is a special day set aside to raise awareness for children who face life without a biological parent to love and guide them. Our loving God cares deeply for these precious ones experiencing vulnerable circumstances. He has included and instructed us, His Church, to respond to their needs. Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

A lesser known definition of the word orphan is one without protective affiliation. Encourage Foster Care children have lost one or both parents as a result of death, drugs/addiction, abusive behavior, and other difficult and painful situations. We know they are not orphans as this definition reads because God is in His great wisdom created a plan so the defenseless would not be without protection. They are not alone because they have us.

There are 47 foster parents at Encourage who have said yes to opening their hearts and homes to one or more foster children. They have completed required training and prepared welcoming spaces to best care for these young lives. We are wholeheartedly grateful for their service and are committed to providing a strong support system to help them be successful.

Not everyone is called to become a foster parent, but we are all called to defend those without protection. James 1:27 (NLT) says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” Here are five opportunities for you to prayerfully consider:

Become wrap-around supports

Practical assistance from the local church community can be extremely helpful (and encouraging!) to foster and adoptive families. Consider household chores and yard work, shopping or babysitting so mom and dad can go out on a date. Transport a child to weekly appointments or drop off a home-cooked meal.

Start mentoring

Encourage’s A Friend in Fostering mentorship program is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, caring adults to provide our youth with support through life transitions and to help instill independence, confidence and everyday life skills.

Use those skills

God has gifted each one of us with unique talents and abilities. From haircuts to orthodontics to car repair, you can use your skills to give a gift of love to a foster child, home or adoptive family.

Donate your birthday

Rather than gifts, ask your family and friends to support vulnerable kids through an established and accredited foster care organization. Gifts to Encourage Foster Care (through our parent organization Christian Children’s Home of Ohio) provide critical services that meet the unique needs of children in foster care.

Share this post

Orphan Sunday acknowledges children in need around the world. There are 20,000 children in foster care in Ohio alone. Use your social media platform to advocate on their behalf. Share this post and why it matters to you personally.

Let’s utilize November 11, 2018 as an opportunity to stand up for children in foster care. Use your voice in person or through digital outreach. Consider giving your time or financial resources to ensure that these children are protected.

Adapted from a resource on the CAFO website.

The heart of prevention

At Encourage Foster Care & Adoption we are here to support the children who have been removed from their families due to substance abuse, domestic violence and other unsafe circumstances. Intervention is often necessary for their wellbeing, and it makes our hearts full to see these vulnerable children acclimate well and begin healing with foster families.

It’s also heartwarming to hear of prevention programs for adult parents who are struggling but desire to make lasting changes to keep their families together. Here’s a news story of a pilot program in Ohio that is coming alongside biological families with strong support systems.