Author: Nikki Lehman

Tips for Virtual Visitation

In light of the recent pandemic, the Department of Child Safety has enacted Social Distancing Protocol – Level 2 which means all court hearings, TDMS, parenting time, and home visitation from case managers and licensing staff will be temporarily conducted virtually. To get the latest news regarding Covid-19 and the Department of Child Safety please visit the State’s information and resources.

We understand the level of stress and uncertainty this can cause for all parties involved and as an agency want you to know we are here to support you. Everyone will be new to this virtual visitation thing. We appreciate your grace and patience as details and technology are navigated.

We also understand that virtual visits aren’t the most engaging for children and their families. One goal of visitation is to promote bonding and another is to assure safety for children and their biological families. Here are some helpful tips for virtual visits written by our staff member and former foster mom Amy Goshow. We hope these tips will help your foster children and their parents have successful visitations while they are unable to be in the same physical space.

Remember, change is hard and scary. Some children may feel awkward, sad or frightened having to visit their family virtually. 

~ have a quiet place away from the other children

~ let the child have their favorite toy/ stuffed (or real) animal to show their parent

~ have the child read their favorite book to their parent

~ discuss beforehand some topics the child can bring up, or a couple jokes or riddles

~ younger children can play with playdough or color while visiting 

~If you have a performer let them play their instrument, or sing 

~ Let this time be as stress-free as possible for all involved. A great way to model that is through your patience and kindness

Remember that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:1

Praying for you and the children in your care.

Coronavirus and visitations

The following is the latest from the Office of Licensing regarding the Coronavirus and visitation:

I know there has been a widespread of concern regarding the Coronavirus so please keep yourselves healthy! The following was just received regarding how this virus may impact mandated shared parenting/visitations. Please share with all licensing staff and families. As always the families should defer to the direction of the assigned case managers.

For children in care:

  • All regular activities for children including attending school, visitation, treatments, etc. should proceed as scheduled.
  • If a child is presenting as symptomatic including fever with cough or shortness of breath, please contact the child’s primary care physician for direction as you would during cold and flu season.
    • Children displaying these symptoms should remain home from activities until they are symptom-free without aide of medication for at least 24 hrs.
    • Any missed visits or court-ordered activities should be handled per regular procedures.  If the child’s illness extends such that more than 2 weeks of visits are missed, please escalate that information to the Program Administrator.
  • If the child’s primary care physician recommends that a youth be tested for COVID-19, please follow the direction of the physician and also contact CMDPmember services so they are aware of the testing.

Mandated Reporting, Why it Matters

All foster parents are mandated reporters.  What this means is that if we see or suspect abuse, we are required to report it.  Most of the time this feels awkward and uncomfortable.  It can be strange to call the hotline about suspected abuse, especially when you aren’t familiar with the family or the situation.  Sometimes we have to call because a child mentions something in passing, sometimes we have to call because we see a strange mark or a strange behavior that could indicate abuse.  Because it is never the job of the foster parent to investigate the comment, the mark, or the behavior, we often times are calling with very limited information and trusting the process to do its job.

This is so important. 

Recently one of our licensed foster parents were placed with a pair of sisters.  Their brother was placed into a separate foster home due to his special needs.  A few days into the placement, and following a visit, the girls came home sobbing and reported that their brother shared he was being abused in his foster home.  The foster mother was dubious of these claims.  For one, their brother is four years old.  For another, he is largely non-verbal.  She struggled to believe he could communicate in this manner and feared the girls were making false accusations in hopes of having their brother placed elsewhere. 

However, as a mandated reporter, she called the hotline to report the accusation and filed an incident report with the children’s case manager and the agency. 

An investigation was conducted and the child was ultimately removed from the home and placed in a safer setting.  The accusations were not false and indeed were found to be a legitimate concern.  It would have been so easy to dismiss the children.  To not listen to, or justify their complaint.  But as mandated reporters it is always important to report any and all suspected abuse.  Children need to know that they can trust the process.  That if they feel unsafe, or fear for someone’s safety, that there is a place to voice those concerns.  Many times we are that voice.  And we need to make sure we use that voice to share any and all information.  And please know, it really does make a difference. 

See or suspect abuse?  Please report it to the hotline at 1-888-SOS-CHILD (1-888-767-2445)

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. 

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.

Astonishing Acts of 2017

Arizona Faith and Families is a family operated agency.  It is one of the unique characteristics that sets us apart and allows us to have rich and intimate relationships with each of our foster families and the children placed in their home.  We are also a Christian agency, centering our practices on faith in God, the power of prayer, and the redemptive work of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we prepare to begin a new year, we wanted to step back and praise God for some of the amazing ways He has worked through our foster families in 2017.  We are humbled by the incredible people we work with and thank all of you for stepping out in faith to serve Arizona’s foster children.

In 2017, our foster families showed that they not only love the children in their home, but the people connected to them.  Do you know how many of you emailed and asked to bring the children’s biological family to our agency’s Christmas party?  I promise you that is not standard!  We are humbled.  You never cease to amaze us with your generosity and fearlessness.  You supervise visits when parent aid contracts expire and the children are set to go weeks without contact with their loved ones.  You coordinate with other foster families to ensure the children see siblings they are separated from and even drive across the county to do so!  You model how to be a good parent.  This year, you attended doctor appointments and parent-teacher conferences with the children’s biological parents, ensuring they knew what kind of questions to ask and how to advocate for each child’s needs.  You even co-hosted birthday parties!  We know you were nervous at first, but did that hold you back?  No.  You are not a group of people ruled by fear but by courage and grace.  Thank you.  And did you stop there?  No. So many of you kept going further.  Whether it was having the single mom over to take her children trick or treating or inviting the family with nowhere to go over for Thanksgiving, you continually assessed each situation and found ways to show love and support.  Your love is relentless and it is a testimony to the true love of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for every awkward encounter, difficult conversation, and uncomfortable situation you overcame to ensure the children in your home were loved, supported, and connected to the important people in their lives.   We are so thankful for you.

In 2017, our foster parents persevered.  Twice a year, agencies are required to report on the number of disruptions in their foster homes.  Do you know how many reports we submitted this year?  One.  Just one.  I promise you, this too is not standard!  While we do take pride in the training and support we provide, we know ultimately the decision to keep going lies with you.  It is through trauma that the children placed in your home have come to live with you.  Children need a place to heal.  To bear the ugliness of their trauma in a home that will not judge them for it, but lead them through it.  IT – IS – HARD.  But you do it.  Every day you step up to the plate and do it.  Some of you have had a really rough 2017.  Thank you for persevering.

In 2017, our foster parents exchanged the ordinary for the extraordinary.  There are the empty nesters who gave up quietness and freedom to continue raising children.  From newborns to teens this group does it all!  And can we all just give a huge round of applause to our single parents?  You never cease to amaze us.  And our adoptive parents, thank you!  Over a dozen children found permanency through adoption into your homes and many more of you are set to finalize in 2018.  Such a beautiful picture of redemption and love. 

2017 astonished us.  To quote the apostle Paul “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6

Want to be a part of this amazing journey?  Attend an orientation today and find out if 2018 is your year to start the foster care or adoption journey: Orientation Events

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. Meal plan. This is one of our favorite suggestions that we give to our families.  Meal planning will save you both time and money as you jump back into the craziness that comes with a busy school schedule.  There are so many amazing tools to help family’s meal plan, but here are a few of our favorites:

http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/meal-planning/meal-plans-shopping-lists/

http://wellnessmama.com/1612/kid-friendly-meal-plan/

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/my-favorite-quick-and-easy-dinners/

  1. 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.
  2. 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 nosey stranger, but the conversation is bound to happen.  Roleplay 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.

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.

Home Inspection Fails: The Top 10

The Top Ten

A portion of the process to become a foster parent includes an inspection of your home by the state of Arizona.  This can feel intimidating but is intended to make sure that licensed homes are safe environments for children in care.  The state provides each family with a comprehensive list of inspection standards and relies on agencies to help get you prepared.  Below are the top 10 reasons families fail to pass an inspection the first time through, as provided by the state of Arizona:

  • Smoke detectors are not installed in each bedroom
  • Dogs over six months of age are not current on rabies vaccines
  • A record keeping tool is not available to document review of emergency evacuation plans with foster children
  • Smoke detectors are not installed in each living area
  • Electrical panels and outlets are in poor repair
  • A written emergency evacuation plan is not available and posted on each floor
  • Emergency phone numbers are not posted in a prominent place
  • Medication is not in locked storage
  • Highly toxic substances are not in locked storage

And the current number 1….

  • Lack of proper first aid supplies

We want all families to feel confident as they go through their inspection and do our best to ensure that each family passes an inspection their first time through!  To help prepare, please take a look at the most current inspection book closely and begin the process of preparing your home.  You can also review home inspections 101 to get an idea of the inspection process.

Home Inspections 101

During the licensing process, the Office of Licensing and Regulation (OLR) will conduct a life safety inspection in your home. This is to ensure that your home is in compliance with the safety requirements for licensed foster parents. We know this can be a stressful time for families, but no need to worry we have you covered! Simply, look over this document to learn about some of the major safety concerns addressed during the inspection.

*This is a brief overview of the most commonly asked about safety requirements. A full detailed list of safety requirements for foster parents will be given to you during the licensing process by your agency. Your licensing agency will also do a walk through with you to help you prepare for the States inspection.

Medication and Toxins    

(Many families attach magnet locks to existing cabinets for the locking of medication and toxins.  You can view a sample here)

  • Medication must be maintained in a securely fashioned and locked storage, unless:
    • The foster child may access their medication specified in their case/service plan
    • The medication must be readily and immediately accessible i.e. asthma inhaler or epi-pen
  • Refrigerated Medication
    • Must be safeguarded in a locked box within the fridge. (Many families use a tackle box with a lock)
  • Highly toxic substances are in locked storage (substances that can cause serious bodily harm or death if improperly used)

Fire arms

  • Fire arms and weapons must be unloaded, trigger locked and locked in a storage container of unbreakable material
  • Ammunition must be locked in a separate storage from the firearm
  • Other than some provisions for law enforcement officers, no foster parent is permitted to carry a weapon around or near a foster child. This includes individuals with a concealed weapon permit

Safety

  • 2A 10BC fire extinguisher is to be stored near the kitchen. If you have a multilevel house, you must have a fire extinguisher on all levels
  • Families are required to post and review emergency evacuation plans with foster children and maintain a record showing when it was reviewed
  • First Aid supplies must be maintained and available
  • Emergency phone numbers are to be posted in a prominent location (Poison control, 911, non-emergency local police, Family emergency contact, and crisis hotline)
  • Smoke detectors are to be installed in each living area and bedroom
  • If necessary, a functioning carbon-monoxide detector is to be properly installed on each level of the home

Animals

  • No animals on the premises should pose a threat due to behavior/venom/disease
  • All dogs over 6 months of age need to have documented proof of current rabies vaccinations

Pool Safety and Spa Safety

  • If you have a pool and intend to take in children younger than 6 years old, you must:
    • Have a pool fence that is at least 5 ft. high
    • Keep the pool gate locked, except when in use and there is an adult in the pool enclosure to supervise
    • Surround the pool with an enclosure (if your house acts as part of that enclosure you will need to read the Pool Safety section to see how to be in compliance)
    • Have a shepherd’s crook and a ring buoy
  • Hot Tubs and spas must have safety covers that are locked when not in use
    • In addition, a hot tub/spa is required to be fenced in compliance with R21-8-113.B for homes providing care to a child of six years of age or less
    • If drained, fenced or unfenced, you must keep the spa:
      • Disconnected from all power sources
      • Disconnected from water source supply
      • Covered at all times

Sleeping Arrangements

  • Each child in your home needs their own bed.  Futons, pull out couches, and trundle beds do not constitute a bed
  • Children need to be provided with a bedroom but they can share a bedroom with other children.  Lofts, or rooms without windows, walls, and a door, do not count as bedrooms
  • The state does not allow more than 8 total children, or more than 5 foster children, to reside in a licensed foster home.  There are some provisions available for sibling groups
  • Children over the age of 6 must sleep in bedrooms with children of the same gender

For a complete list of the state’s life safety inspection guidelines please click here