Year: 2018

Foster Care: A Sibling Story

“He has your eyes…”

We are sitting in a hospital room.  Our daughter has just given birth to our first grandchild and her biological and adopted siblings are gathered about.  Each taking a turn holding and admiring the newest addition to our family.

It was a traditional scene.  One where the family will “ooh” and “aww” over the beautiful life that has just entered the world.  But a certain comment took my breath away.

“He has your eyes Jose.”

Uncle Jose, only 14, looked up with pride.  It was an important moment.  Because in adoption, you don’t always get to see another who has your eyes.  A small symbol that provides a silent and powerful connection.

Our family is a patch quilt of sorts.  My husband and I have two daughters adopted from foster care.  They have a biological sister and brother adopted by my parents.  It’s a complicated little family that doesn’t make sense on paper and confuses most people who meet us.   But it’s our family.  And when those four children entered our lives, we knew they all needed to stay together.

And here we are ten years later in a delivery room and I am again struck by the power of the sibling bond. And so grateful that they could experience this miracle together.  That they could all take a turn holding the next generation of their family, of our family, and see tangibly the power of that sibling connection.

We are all woven together now, they and us.  Biology doesn’t define our family; the love and commitment knit throughout that hospital room is what makes our family.  But I don’t deny the power of biology – the miracle that is witnessed when you hold another and see your own eyes looking back.

Everyday siblings in foster care are separated because there are not enough families to keep them together.  And when that separation turns into permanency, these children will inevitably be denied the basic privileges and experiences that siblings deserve and need.  From the big moments like births and weddings to the small moments like raiding your sister’s closet or playing with your brother after school.

It’s hard work taking in a sibling group.  Helping each individual child heal and work through their trauma while also caring for multiple children with multiple needs.  But can I tell you something?  It’s worth it.

“He has your eyes Jose.”

Interested in knowing what it takes to be a part of this amazing work?  Check out our orientation page and get started today!

Arizona Faith and Families was founded by Paul and Nikki Lehman.  Paul and Nikki started their family by adopting two teenage girls from foster care.  They are now the proud parents to five children and one grandchild and work to equip others toward successful foster care and adoption. 

Left Behind: Teens in Foster Care

When people hear the word “teen” and “foster care” in the same sentence, they tend to tense up. All too often they picture a pierced and tatted teenager full of angst and bad choices.  But what if I challenged that view? What if I told you all too often they look nothing like that at all? What if it’s a doting sixteen-year-old girl who just wants to be near her three-year-old brother that she has helped raise since birth. What if it’s a 12-year-old boy who loves soccer and his 13-year-old brother who loves the outdoors. What if it was just normal teenage kids whose parents were the ones who made the bad choices, not them.

Teens do not enter care because they are “bad kids”; they enter care for the same reason all other children do, because of abuse or neglect. Teens, like all children are longing for safety, a loving home and the ability to be near their siblings. In the state of Arizona alone teens make up over 60% of the children in group homes.

A few weeks ago, during our “Night of Hope” event Arizona Faith and Families heard from Amber Smith, a woman who is changing the way siblings and teens are viewed in foster care. Amber runs a co-ed group home in Gilbert, Arizona. She provides a place for brothers and sisters to remain together under the same roof. Something that is almost unheard of in the state of Arizona. All too often homes are willing to take in just females or just males. They are willing to take in just teens or just littles. But Amber challenges how things are “normally” run and instead says give me the largest sibling group you have and I’ll provide the home they need. Currently she is housing a sibling group of 5 under her roof. Five brothers and sisters ranging from ages 6-17. I asked Amber why she decided to do this and she responded by saying “children deserve to be with their siblings no matter their age or gender”. She went on to share how special it is to see all five siblings sitting at a dinner table together praying and eating with one another. She believes it helps reduce some of the trauma that they have encountered by entering care when they can remain with their family.

Amber shared that a typical sibling group is around 3 children and comprised of mixed genders. She shared that they can range in age from 5-17 or 6-13. When asked what the greatest barrier from getting teens into foster homes she said it was peoples fear of teens and teens fear of people. She shared that she has found the teens in care constantly fear being judged. They fear that people are talking about them and thinking of them as “the bad kids”. They fear that people won’t want to take them in and will not accept them for who they are. The sad reality is that this is all too true. So many times, people are fearful of the teens, thinking they are scary or bad.  Foster parents are also hesitant to take in a teen who may have trouble bonding or is careful to express love and gratitude.

So what do we do? How do we challenge and change this view of thinking? I asked Amber what are teens looking for in a family? And she shared the following…

Teens are looking for someone who cares about their interests. In their deep heart of hearts, they want a mom and dad. They want the mother who braids their hair and the father who attends their soccer games. They want to be loved and accepted rather than judged and feared. Teens want what every other child in foster care wants: to be loved and to be safe. These children; who at the end of the day are still children, just want a safe family to come home to at night and that’s what they deserve no matter their age.

So I challenge you today to rethink the way you see teens in care. Rethink the way you see family or your home. If you have an open heart and a home with enough space, maybe God is calling you to care for these sibling groups. IF you really want to help foster children in Arizona, consider meeting the largest need we have: Teens and siblings.

Interested in finding out more about becoming a foster parent?  Visit our orientation page and get started today!

 Don’t miss our next Night of Hope, visit our events page for more details and be sure to “like” us on facebook to stay up to date on future events and blogs. 

 

Separating Siblings

Today I received six different emails requesting foster homes for sibling groups.  Today I had to reply that I did not have any foster families available who could take in these siblings.  May I share this with you?

6 year old boy, 1 year old girl

3 year old boy, 1 year old boy, 2 year old boy

7 month old girl, 2 year old girl, 4 year old girl, 7 year old boy

Newborn girl, 3 year old boy, 1 year old boy

8 year old boy, 12 year old girl

8 year old girl, 9 year old boy, 11 year old girl, 13 year old girl

This was just yesterday.  Every day our office receives dozens of emails requesting foster homes for sibling groups, a surprisingly difficult population to place.

This is because sibling groups range in age and size.  While a new foster family might feel equipped and prepared to parent a 5 year old, not too many feel equipped and prepared to parent a 5, 7, and 10 year old.  And that’s ok, because it is no easy task!

But what happens when foster homes aren’t available for these sibling groups?  They are forced to be separated; often times into multiple homes or into group home settings.   Today they will not only experience the loss of their home and parents, but will also be torn from their siblings.

This is a tragedy.  Praise God we no longer have children sleeping in DCS offices (remember 20015??).  But the work is not done.  Arizona has nearly 200% more homes than it needs for children ages 0-2 but falls far short of what we need for children over age 7 and especially for children who are a part of a sibling group.  You can view the statistics on the DCS website.

Arizona needs foster parents.  Foster parents who are willing to step out in faith, possibly have a very hard 12 – 18 months of parenting multiple children with multiple traumas, and stick around long enough to inspire others.  This is hard.  It requires people with real grit.  It takes people who are teachable and who are willing to be flexible.  Foster parents who have space, the time, and the ability to transport multiple children.  Foster parents who have a strong support system for when things get tough (or are willing to build one).  Foster parents who understand our calling as Christians to care for the orphan and who are willing to follow this command despite how uncomfortable it may be.

This is a good work.  I would argue some of the best work that can be done.  But it is hard work.  Are you willing to work alongside us?  We’ve been there, done that and we want to give you the tools to do it too.  Check out our orientation page and get started today!

 

Arizona Faith and Families was founded by Paul and Nikki Lehman.  Paul and Nikki started their family by adopting two teenage girls from foster care.  They are now the proud parents to five children and one grandchild and work to equip others toward successful foster care and adoption. 

Back To School Basics for Foster Parents

Going back to school is always a refreshing switch from the summer schedule.  Routines are great for children, and though it may cause anxiety for some students, it is always nice to get into a good schedule.  Here are 5 quick tips for getting back into your school groove:

  1. Family meetings. Life can get busy and hectic, so plan family meetings or one-on-ones to re-connect.  Maybe this is done over an after-school snack, or maybe it’s a weekly check in during Saturday breakfast.  Either way, find time to slow down and connect with the kids in your care.  A lot can happen during an eight hour school day!
  2. Get free meals.  Sign your foster children up for free breakfast and lunch.  While you might have great aspirations to pack healthy meals, it is still a great back-up to have on hand.  All foster children automatically qualify for the free breakfast and lunch program so be sure to take advantage of this support.
  3. Order groceries online. Time seems to fly out the window during the school year and you can save time and money by ordering your groceries online and picking them up or having them delivered!  Walmart offers this service FREE of charge and other stores such as Frys and Sprouts charge a nominal fee.  Pair this with a weekly meal plan and you will save yourself time, money, and energy!
  4. Prepare for battle. Homework can be your worst nightmare during school season.  If you have a child with a full visit schedule, counseling, and other appointments, school work becomes nearly impossible to get done.  Add in a learning disability or behavior challenges and you have a nice recipe for a migraine.  Work with your child’s teacher if needed.  Oftentimes homework demands need to be modified.  If you find that your child’s day involves school, an appointment, homework, and sleep…there needs to be some adjustment to include play!  Don’t be afraid to work with your child’s teacher if homework becomes too much or is difficult to fit into their schedule.  You are their best advocate.
  5. Get talking. Inevitably someone this school year is going to ask your foster child about their parents or their family.  It might be a teacher, some friends, or that nosy stranger, but the conversation is bound to happen.  Role play with your child to help them learn what they would like to say when the uncomfortable questions get asked.  Practicing these conversations helps children identify what they are comfortable sharing and gives them great tools to protect their own privacy. Remember your foster child’s right to confidentiality and work to protect their privacy.

Praying for all our families as they get back into the school groove!  Please feel free to share your own special tips, we’d love to hear them.