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.

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

5 Books to Read with your Foster Child

As foster parents we don’t always have the answers to every question our foster child asks us. Sometimes we find ourselves lacking the ability to explain how this big, complicated, and messy process works.

The following five books were written to help foster parents answer the hard questions and tackle real issues foster children face in a way that is relatable and understandable.  Through the use of characters like Murphy the Dog or Barley the Bear, foster children are able to connect with a character in a book to help them better understand their situation and feelings.

 

  1. Maybe Days by Jennifer Wilgocki and Marcia Wright

 

Will I live with my parents again? Will I stay with my foster parents forever? For children in foster care, the answer to many questions is often “maybe.” Maybe Days addresses the questions, feelings, and concerns these children often face. Honest and reassuring, it also provides basic information that children want and need to know, including the roles of various people in the foster care system and whom to ask for help.

*This book also includes an extensive afterword with a variety of ways to help children adjust to the “maybe days.”

 

  1. Murphy’s Three Homes by Jan Gilman

Being a pup in foster care is awfully confusing. What’s Murphy to do when he’s taken away from his family and placed in a new home, with new people, new pets, and…new EVERYTHING?!  As he moves from one house to another, Murphy begins to understand all his sad and angry feelings and finds ways to cope. Eventually he discovers what it means to be a “good luck” dog as he jumps and barks his way into a comfortable spot in his new home.

*This books comes with an extensive note to parents on how to help kids cope with the difficulties of being placed in multiple homes.

 

  1. I Don’t Have your Eyes by Carrie Kitze

 “I Don’t have your eyes…but I have your way of looking at things.” Thus begins this beautifully illustrated and uplifting book that explores the intimate parent/caregiver and child bond that is so important within a family. While others may notice the physical differences, there are so many ways we can celebrate the commonality that makes us truly family. We don’t look the same on the outside, but in our hearts, we are the same.

 

  1. I Love You So… by Marianne Richmond

I Love You So… puts into words the often indescribable quality of boundless, steady, and unconditional love. This comforting story embraces the reader like a warm hug and gently reassures a child that love is for always – despite grouchy moods or physical separation. It is the perfect pause in a hectic day, offering the gift of love to a treasured child.

 

  1. I Wished for You: An Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond

 I Wished for You: An Adoption Story, follows a conversation between a little bear named Barley and his mama as they curl up in their favorite cuddle spot and talk about how they became a family. Barley asks Mama the kinds of questions many adopted children have, and Mama lovingly answers them all. With endearing prose and charming watercolor illustrations, I Wished for You: An Adoption Story, is a cozy read that affirms how love is what truly makes a family.

 

We hope these books and stories prove to be a great bonding time for you and your foster child as well as a helpful tool in understanding the world and emotions of foster care. Happy Reading!

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

Who are the kids in foster care?

With over 21,000 children in the Arizona foster care system, it is important to stop and reflect on who these children are and what help they need.

Why are they in foster care?

The number one reason children come into care is neglect (85% based on the latest report).  This means lack of appropriate food, supervision, and shelter.  Children also come into care when they experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.  Often times children who come into care because of neglect later disclose that they have also been physically and or sexually abused.

How old are they?

The largest percentage of children in care are between the ages of 1 and 5 (approximately 33%) followed by the ages of 13-17 (21%).  When foster homes cannot be found for these children, they are placed in shelters and group homes.  In Arizona, approximately 1 out of every 5 children in state care live in a group facility.

How long do they stay in foster care?

Children can come into your home for as short as a few days and as long as a few years.  Many factors affect the amount of time in care, but 50% of the time their stay lasts between 1 and 12 months.  56% of children are eventually reunified with their parents.

What behaviors do I need to be prepared to parent?

Behavior is the language of children.  As such, children will display a wide range of behaviors such as tantrums to express frustration, hording to express fear of starvation, lying to express fear of abuse, and bed wetting from night terrors.  They need loving foster parents who will not personalize or shame them for these behaviors but rather hold their hand through the healing process. Foster parents need a good support team and behavior management skills in order to meet this challenge.  Behavior and behavior management are addressed at length during the 30 hours of pre-service training.

What resources are available?

Children come fully insured with Arizona’s comprehensive medical and dental program (CMDP).  CMDP covers a child’s need for dental, health, and behavioral care.  There are also many non-profit organizations ready to help with clothing, educational resources, and access to scholarships for extra-curricular activities.  Arizona also provides WIC services to children under five and the free lunch program to school aged children.  Children in state care also qualify for financial assistance in enrolling in day care or before and after school programs.

Godly, patient, and loving foster parents are needed to care for these precious children as they wait to re-unify with their birth families or to be placed in an adoptive home.  Who are the children in foster care?  They are real children, with real needs, and real stories.  If you feel God might be calling you to this task, please consider attending an orientation to find out how!

Not ready to foster?  Here are five ways to help now!

Who are the kids in care?

This is the final entry in a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.

With over 21,000 children in the Arizona foster care system, it is important to stop and reflect on who these children are and what help they need.

Why are they in foster care?

The number one reason children come into care is neglect (85% based on the latest report).  This means lack of appropriate food, supervision, and shelter.  Children also come into care when they experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.  Often times children who come into care because of neglect later disclose that they have also been physically and or sexually abused.

How old are they?

The largest percentage of children in care are between the ages of 1 and 5 (approximately 33%) followed by the ages of 13-17 (21%).  When foster homes cannot be found for these children, they are placed in shelters and group homes.  In Arizona, approximately 1 out of every 5 children in state care live in a group facility.

How long do they stay in foster care?

Children can come into your home for as short as a few days and as long as a few years.  Many factors affect the amount of time in care, but 50% of the time their stay lasts between 1 and 12 months.  56% of children are eventually reunified with their parents.

What behaviors do I need to be prepared to parent?

Behavior is the language of children.  As such, children will display a wide range of behaviors such as tantrums to express frustration, hording to express fear of starvation, lying to express fear of abuse, and bed wetting from night terrors.  They need loving foster parents who will not personalize or shame them for these behaviors but rather hold their hand through the healing process. Foster parents need a good support team and behavior management skills in order to meet this challenge.  Behavior and behavior management are addressed at length during the 30 hours of pre-service training.

What resources are available?

Children come fully insured with Arizona’s comprehensive medical and dental program (CMDP).  CMDP covers a child’s need for dental, health, and behavioral care.  There are also many non-profit organizations ready to help with clothing, educational resources, and access to scholarships for extra-curricular activities.  Arizona also provides WIC services to children under five and the free lunch program to school aged children.  Children in state care also qualify for financial assistance in enrolling in day care or before and after school programs.

Godly, patient, and loving foster parents are needed to care for these precious children as they wait to re-unify with their birth families or to be placed in an adoptive home.  If you feel God might be calling you to this task, please consider attending an orientation to find out how!

Not ready to foster?  Here are five ways to help now!

arrow back

Click here to go back to the beginning of the 6-part series to learn the steps of how to become a foster parent and more.

This blog entry is part of a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.