Category: Uncategorized

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. 

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!

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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.

5 Ways You Can be Involved in Foster Care Today

I’m sitting in a coffee shop reflecting on the information I have just received. News of DCS workers receiving five newborn babies in one day and having to halt their desk jobs to care for them. Stories of a new facility being built to house children so they don’t have to sleep on the floor while they try to find homes for them. It is overwhelming and simply not okay.

I hear the stories, I know that God has not asked but that He has commanded we care for these orphans. So what do I do?

Many of you, like me, are wondering how you can follow God’s command to care for the orphaned according to your calling and gifting. Here are five ways to serve God in caring for the orphaned children in Arizona, I implore you to pick one and begin fighting for the voiceless today.

PRAY

Paul tells us in Ephesians to always be alert and praying for the saints (Ephesians 6:18). So pray for the foster parents; those preparing their hearts and homes for these children, and those already parenting children in their homes. Paul tells us to pray that when they open their mouth words may be given to them so they may make known the mystery of the gospel. Pray that they would share the Gospel daily with the children in their home.

Pray for God to raise up parents and homes to house these orphans and pray for these children of the state to be safe and cared for.  Set a reminder on your phone to make it a daily priority to pray over this crisis.

RAISE AWARENESS

How can someone help if they are not aware of the problem? It is important to share the information about foster care and the great need with everyone you know. Share articles on the internet, tell your friends, family and Church. Orientations are held weekly so that people may learn more about what foster care is and the great need for more people to open their hearts and homes. Keep up to date with these orientations so that you may provide an opportunity for anyone looking for more information.  Make the Church aware of the problem so that one day they may say “Lord here am I, send me”

RESPITE CARE

Respite care is a way to provide short-term care enabling the foster parent to take a break. Some children require round-the-clock intensive care, and this allows for the parents to take a break and reenergize when their energy is running low. Respite care is a great way to minister to families providing foster homes and a way to care for children in foster care.

MENTORSHIP

Many foster care organizations have a mentorship program, you can mentor a local foster child in your area. Take this opportunity to pour into the life of a child in need and to provide a positive role model for them. Take a moment to walk alongside someone and live life with them just as Jesus did with so many in His day.

FOSTER

We are in need for people, especially the Church, to rise up and open their
homes to these children.  To find out more about becoming a foster parent, please see Steps to Becoming a Foster Parent.  The first step you can take in this process is to attend an orientation. Here you can gather more information on Foster Care to decided if this is the next step for your family.

God has not asked us, He has commanded that we care for these orphans and to do so is to have a heart ready and willing to serve.

The Devastation of Separation

I attended a conference today.  The conference highlighted research by the ACE Study.  Before I get to the heart and soul of this post, let me just throw some fast facts your way.

In a nutshell, your ACE score is calculated by the various types of adverse childhood experiences encountered while growing up.  The score is not per incident, but per category.

If you’re feeling brave, have a moment of self-reflection and find out your score here.  The categories are:

  1. Recurrent physical abuse
  2. Recurrent emotional abuse
  3. Contact sexual abuse
  4. An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household
  5. An incarcerated household member
  6. Someone who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal
  7. Mother is treated violently
  8. One or no parents
  9. Emotional or physical neglect

According to the Center for Disease Control, as your ACE score increases, your risk for the following health problems increase dramatically:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

As a worker in the social services, this research is of particular interest to me.  So as I sat and listened (getting totally bummed out b.t.w), I thought the information was fascinating, but now what?  How do I reduce these risks for people with high ACE scores?

The solution?  There really isn’t one.  Of course there were some panelists who gave great suggestions for our community and the legislators.  But the true reality that Dr. Vincent Felitti pointed out was that there has been no research conducted showing the efficacy of interventions on the health of those with high ACE scores……insert jaw drop here.

No one else on the panel wanted to touch that.  They politely interjected that there are great programs with great successes, but not ones that have been tested against this data.  (Enter moment of panic as I pictured the futures of my high-scoring loved ones).

Now it’s time to back up.  Programs are great.  Early intervention programs are critical.  Research is necessary.  But as Dr. Felitti pointed out, they’re not the cure.  And if we pretend they are, we are slapping a band-aid on a festering wound.

As a Christian in a secular culture, I have been very well indoctrinated that faith is to be kept separate from every other aspect of life.  Keep your faith out of school, government, health care, public opinion, and particularly research.  And as a student of history, I can point out many times when individuals have taken “faith” into these areas and run amuck with their personal agendas in the name of Christ.

But the devastation of this separation is band-aids for people in need of major surgery.  The gospel was not written for perfect, rich, individuals living in their castles.  The gospel was written for those individuals with high ACE scores.  It was written for the sick, for the dying, for the lost, for the lonely, for you, and for me (Matt. 9:12-13).

And the solution is not to create a “Christian” government or “Christian” programs, but rather for the church to rise up and share this truth with the people.  Rise up church.  Rise up Christian.  Because the reality is, if you know the truth about Jesus Christ, you have the truth that makes the power of an ACE score obsolete.

It is the power of Christ over sin.  Not only the power for you to overcome sin, but also to overcome the scars embedded by the sins of others.

Set that Truth free.  Don’t be afraid to share it.   Don’t separate it from the rest of your life.  The devastation of that separation is death, disease, and more devastation.  But the reality of the Truth is everlasting life and healing, in this life, or the next.

John 8:31-34

31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’