Noticing each moment

Throughout National Foster Care Month, we’ll be sharing “Blessings Found in Fostering.” We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way. Enjoy these reflections from foster parents Alisha and Matt Everhart. Each moment matters for connecting and building comfort as they care for children in need of safety and love. Each moment matters as they prepare their own hearts to serve well.

When the call comes.
That moment the phone rings and you know it’s your agency worker. You weren’t expecting the call and when you answer they tell you they have a possible placement and ask if we are interested. The info is usually very limited, and yet, this call has so much meaning and emotions with it. Excitement for what could be. Sorrow that a child is entering the system. Nervous about what will happen if we say yes. Countless questions. How will they act? Will we bond with them or will they hate us? What will they look like? What is their true story? Wondering what they have been through…

Then the children come.
Usually just with the clothes they are wearing. Sometimes not matching, often not fitting properly or fitting the current weather. Some with a coat and others not. Your first few hours are usually spent getting them cleaned up if needed, fed, change of clothes. Trying to help them feel comfortable in a stranger’s home. Then the first few days generally include sleepless nights as we all adjust, a shopping trip to get the necessities, clothes and shoes. What a moment this can be. Some have never had new clothes or had a say in choosing what they wear. It also means shopping for school supplies again and again as we’ve had to buy supplies for all of our foster children.

Then there are birthdays and holidays.
Our first placement came to us on a Friday night and the youngest of the siblings had a birthday just two days later. Talk about rushing to celebrate her so she would know her birthday is a special day indeed. And then her older sister had a birthday within a month. Talk about lots of changes.

Eventually we all get into a routine and things settle down some but adjustments continue.

Meeting a kiddo and the kiddo meeting us causes me to have butterflies. We’re sure they do as well. Wouldn’t you if one minute you are with your family and the next you are told you’re going to stay with another family who is coming to get them right now? You try to make the house perfect and their room inviting. You try not to ask too many questions, and yet you wonder inside. Should we give them a hug or shake a hand? How did they sleep? Did they have a bed? Are they afraid of the dark?

So many unknowns and navigating in those first weeks together.

If you have a story to share, or if you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

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.

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.

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.