The power of connection

This summer, Encourage Foster Care offered Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) training to all of our foster families. Encourage uses the TBRI approach because connecting and belonging is central to the human heart. It is central to how we were created in God’s image.

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.

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.

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.

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.