Day 7: Transportation

When we first started out, our little family cars were sufficient.

 

….for a month….

 

Then we upgraded to this….

 

van

 

We ballooned from a small family into an overnight family of 8. We are okay with it,  but we did our research.  So when looking for a vehicle, obviously you wanted seats.  However, never knowing the ages of children coming into our home we went back and forth over where and how many car seats are you going to get in. We ruled out anything with a 3rd row pretty quickly as I didn’t want them jumping on seats and depending on how many car seats, I didn’t want to take out a car seat so someone could climb over. I was thinking daily wear and tear, daily use and I wanted something that was going to last for while. My husband has the great idea the van as it could provide for a variety of seating arrangements and could spread children out depending on how many we had.

We looked at passenger vans, mini vans, SUV’s  and jokingly a small school bus.  Gas mileage on this van is 14-15 mpg, so yes we filled the tank. But on the plus side, we could fit everyone. At one point we had 13 children (so even our 12 passenger van wasn’t enough for the entire family to go out) and 8 in car seats.

The cost of the 12 passenger van was much lower then a SUV or mini-van. We even had the back-up camera installed as an added safety feature.  We are still plugging away and now have a trailer hitch and when we go on vacations pull a trailer.  Honestly, I have pulled the trailer to do my grocery shopping (sometimes find it easier to unload a trailer, then climbing over the seats in the vans – but this is usually for my once a month super shopping I do, not for the little weekly stuff I need).

My question to you is, what do you need it for? How many will you be carrying? Do you know there ages? How many car seats do you need in a row?  Please feel free to comment, I would enjoy helping you figure out what vehicle is best for your family ministry opportunities.

 

~Until tomorrow,

 

Ruth

Documentation: Why is it so important?

He sneezed. She has a lot of bug bites. Just got a call from mom, she is high and wants me to come to get her and take her to hospital. He fell and skinned his knees. He didn’t receive any warnings today in school.

I could go on and on about all the usual daily things.  As a parent, it just rolls off your shoulders. You smile, enjoy the moment and treasure it for later.

Not so, as a foster parent.  It is very true we live in a glass house. Everyone is watching us to include their family, state agencies, communities, and schools. Everyone is watching to see if you are going to fail.

No, I don’t document out of fear. Nor, do I think anyone’s documentation should stem from fear.   But as a parent, there are things of my son’s history that I know intimately and will never forget. When he was younger, I tracked his feedings and diaper changes on an excel chart in case he ever got sick.  With your child you know the history.  With our foster blessings, while we love them as our own, we don’t have the history.

Documentation then becomes the way to show the history. To articulate their needs and feelings. To show courts they are progressing in a variety of situations. Documentation does also give you, the care giver, the opportunity to see where the system is letting them, shows you where you are doing great and in areas you can improve.

This is what I do, I carry a little memo notebook and at the beginning of each day, I write the name of one child and date on a page and continue through my children.  Then when something good or not so good happens, I would jot a quick note on the child. This also gave me time to pause before I react. Then over the weekend, I would compile those notes into an e-mail  and send it to case manger, state licensing, and GAL.  I also included any and all upcoming appointments. If one had happened, I attached the proper paperwork and give a short brief and of what is going on.  My e-mail format has positive, improvement, positive, improvement and end on a positive.    This way all involved in the case are getting the same information.  I tend to use e-mail more then phone as I like a paper trail can which eliminates the confusion of remembering or the accusations of it was never sent.   With appointments, I print out 2 schedules for each parent, at visit we both sign them and they get one and I get one. I scan the one I keep and attach it to my weekly e-mail.

Document what happens at visits; however, be careful of your adjective choices. You are observing, not sentencing. If the kettle is black, call it black, but be careful not to mislead or cast doubt.

Finally documentation can aid or hurt a case. My intent is never to hurt anyone, however I tell my parents that I will either be their best advocate or worst nightmare. Documentation is everything.

This history is a lifeline each child needs. Documentation is often the best way you can advocate for your child’s needs.   How do you document your cases? What tips have you learned to help you?

Foster Care Humor

Yesterday I talked about the ignorant and sometimes hurtful questions that were asked. You can read those here.  So today, I thought I would lighten it up a little and bring in some foster care humor.

We usually got a lot of looks because of our blended and size of our family.  So we started having fun with it.

Are those all yours? This is a very frequent question, so here is a variety of the answers I or the kids have given:

  • Yes and they all have different dads.
  • Yes, and the guy she is married to isn’t the baby’s daddy (the kids love this one).
  • Yes, we have a tv but we haven’t figure out how to plug it in yet.
  • Yes, we believe in birth control, we just never took it out of the box. It looks pretty on the shelf.
  • Yes, but we have no idea how this happens.
  • Yes, there are 10 of us. So glad you can count (kids like using this one).
  • Yes, mom and dad take a lot of naps…then someone else joins the chaos.
  • Yes, (me looking around)…but I seem to be missing a few, if you find them, send them home.
  • Yes, we just like collecting them. We don’t think the population is high enough

What do you feed them?

  • With a quizzical look, you mean we are supposed to…. I wonder what this grocery cart filled with food is for.  Thanks for explaining it to me.
  • Food…what do you feed yours?

 

What are some your humorous moments? What questions make you laugh? I would love to hear some of the items that make you laugh.  foster-care-large

 

 

 

Day 4: Ignorant questions we often receive

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I get so tired of the questions. Questions like do the kids hurt your son? Have they stolen from you? Are you sure they are safe? What does your husband think about this? Is he a saint like you?

On and on they go.  They are stupid, ignorant questions and are hurtful to the children God has brought into our lives.  However, my first instinct was to be very angry with you. Mamma bear was about to become unleashed and open some mamma dynamite up.

But then… I took a breath and thought of what lesson and the teachable moment I could have. So I looked at you and with a look full of grace and compassion. I smiled sweetly and answered your questions. Not, because you deserved the answer, but rather to show my children they were worthy and WE WILL fight for every chance they get.

Here goes…  the raw and ugly painful facts and the beauty from ashes.

Has any of them ever “hurt” your son?   My response: Which one are you talking about? All the boys that come through my home are called my sons. No, they aren’t legally mine, but they are children of my heart.  But to answer your direct question, define hurt. Yes, they have called names to each other, thrown punches and a myriad of other childhood activities. But if you are asking if something evil or sinister has happen to our son from my womb, then here is your answer. Every child that walks through our door comes with their baggage of pain. They share it with M.  M takes some of as it own and in his own way offers healing. M. is a part of the healing process. One thing, I have learned is I can’t protect him from everything, I might as well teach him something.  But no, he hasn’t been “harmed.”

Have things ever gone missing? Well actually, we did have something stolen. However, I don’t have proof it was a child or someone that had been through the house. But regardless of who did it, it is just stuff. It can be replaced. How many times was forgiveness extended to you?

What does your husband think?  Well, in order to be licensed, we both had to participate and go through the classes. We Both went through extensive classes and questions.  In training they weeded out those that were there to be foster parents and those that didn’t really want to be there. So essentially I would say we are both on board with it.  I will say it took him longer to get there then me. I was willing 18 years ago, but we weren’t ready. My husband steps into the scary situations charged with as a protective husband and daddy should.

Are you sure they are safe to be around?  Umm, why not. They are convicted felons, even if they were. They are people as well with thoughts and feelings.  But no, foster children are safe.  They might be scared, hurt and lashing out with the only tools they know. But they aren’t lepers nor do you have to fear them. They bleed just like you and me.

Don’t they come with bugs?  Well sometimes. But, if you look at day cares and schools lice, bed bugs, scabies affect the affluent and not alike. The bugs don’t have a preference or a distinction. All are good to them.

In reality there are many more questions we have been asked. But I think it would be futile to answer everyone. I just want you to know that every child has feelings. Their parents and family are torn apart as well with this. I do not believe any parent dreams of making a series of choices that lands them in this predicament. I have found over my life’s journey that judging people or giving them condensing looks doesn’t help and only exasperates the situation.  But I would rather do foster now and not only impact the children’s lives but also change our families lives. As a family we are learning to understand, sympathize, give and receive care, when to lead and when to follow. Who knows what plan God has in store for him for future.

What can you do today to change people’s perspective? What questions have you been asked that are uncomfortable and how have you handled it?  I would love to hear from you.

 

Until tomorrow,

~ Ruth

 

 

 

Day 3: Device contracts good or bad idea?

Devices? How many are too many?

Devices? How many are too many?

 

Okay, so we would probably be considered crazy. In the past 3 years we have welcomed 46 blessings into our home and our hearts. We have had children as young as 10 days old and as old as 17 approaching their 18th birthday, but not ready to finish school.

Currently we are blessed to have all teen boys. However, having 13 children under 11 with 6 in diapers and 8 in car seats was much harder then the current house of all boys.  Anyways, back on topic of device contracts.

I guess my husband and I hadn’t thought ahead about what to do with devices (computers, phones, tablets, x-box 1). Honestly, I don’t think we expected children coming into our home to have amount of material stuff they came with. When placed with us at shelter, they literally had nothing and brought nothing. Yet, by the first visit parents brought all sorts of gadgets.  So we found ourselves scrambling to figure out how to maintain a safe place for these kiddos, but yet at the same time, let them grow and develop as they are supposed to.

I happen to have a computer forensic as a friend and he said you can’t take technology away from them, but you can teach them safety.   So with his help we set out to teach their safety and enhance our awareness.

We actually started with all labeling all the devices and only allowing them for travel times in cars and appointments. Then came the phones and realized we had to do more. We wrote up a contract with parents and kids about having them in their rooms, usage and contact. We put consequences for when they had them outside of those parameters. It was actually the parents that were more upset when we followed through.

Long story short we ended up with this contract. It has been amended and is fluid, not concrete. While I am not the creator of this contract, it works for us. They get a voice and we get to practice the art of compromise. We get to teach them about how adult contracts work and how to have a voice and use it to articulate their needs and wants without throwing a chair through a wall or punching someone.

After the youth has signed it, we sign it and then I keep a copy, and give a copy to case manager, guardian at litem, their parents and the youth. We also provide a small file case for youth to keep other important documents as they continue to strive toward independent living.

Contract for Use of Property

Enjoy. Please feel free to use this as a starting point, change what doesn’t work, and find your own way to make this work.  It isn’t easy, but it is important to set boundaries.  Why not come along for the ride and check back tomorrow and see what is going on in the world of foster care.

Until tomorrow,  Ruth

31 Days of Foster Care: Why is Nurture important?

foster-care-large

Nurture by definition means to care for and encourage development.  Dr. Purvis in her studies shows how having a balanced life in nurture and structure is crucially important to the long-term development.  However, how do you provide the right nurturing environment?

Regardless of ages, whether child or adult. Nurturing environments are important. The trick is finding the right environment without being over the top.  Ultimately in a nurture experience the child (or adult) needs to receive and give care.

Volunteering in a homeless shelter I asked a group I was working with to take a band-aid and ask the other person sitting next to them where their pain was and to put a band-aid on the pain and then reciprocate. I was amazed at what happened. These hurting souls reached out. I saw a young man gently put a band-aid on an elderly lady’s jaw who had just had several teeth pulled.  When she asked where he was hurting, he opened his hands and showed her his raw hands.  She literally picked up his hands, caressed them, and held them as soft tears rolled down her face.

I have watched little ones have compassion and get a cloth when someone is sick. I have seen teen boys bake cookies and make smoothies for others in the house.  At one point we were having set times when we called everyone together for “nurture groups.” It took us a while to catch on they were resenting the idea of “nurture groups.” It was awkward and all the children resented it. What  better way to have nurture groups than in a playful manner with laughter and fun?

Instead of calling all of them together, we ask and encourage someone to make cookies for others. When we hear someone had a baby, we make a meal together. When someone is hurting or in a wreck, we think of things we would like and take them a goody basket.

In other words, find a way they can serve others. Think of it like your random act of kindness. Giving care is equally important of receiving care. How are you being nurtured and giving nurture to others?  Please jot me a note and let me know how nurturing has changed your life.

31 Days of Foster Care: Expectations Vs. Reality

 

foster-care-large

 

I sit in a room alone, wondering, praying I am making the right decision. Yes, I have been a foster parent for a while. Yes, I have shared my heart honestly; but, I have never shared what my expectations were and what reality was that first year.

 

Before we became foster parents I had the grandiose idea that these hurting children were often sad and JUST needed someone to come in and love them.     Reality is a bit different.  True, sometimes they were sad. However, they love to laugh, giggle, play games — often though they needed to be shown how.  They already had someone to love them, perhaps just didn’t know how to show them.

True, they also wanted to be loved, wanted….but that wasn’t or isn’t just a hug and tuck them in a night.

My expectation, although naive, was they would be excited to be a part of my family and just fit right in.   Reality, these precious children have a family.  Only when I learned to be an extension of their existing family did we make progress.

My expectation was tons of support from system, agency, educators and medical practices. Reality… not so much.  The system has flaws and cracks like any system. The checks and balances don’t always work. The agencies actually have more children then case managers can logistically care for. With educators, I often see 1 of 2 things. One, they have pity and feel sorry for the children further crippling them or judge them based on the file and never give them much of a chance. The medical aspect is quick to give them medication but slow to treat the individual child and truly meet their needs. Yet, when pushed and the doctors actually saw my intent for the welfare of the child and the family, they in turn, became our biggest supporters and advocates in the community. On the flip side, we received support in way we weren’t expected from our church, friends and family. Families we met along the way who were also fostering, we all just rolled together. These sweet individuals are accustomed to being flexible and the unexpected.

I expected to be able help them more then we did. Reality was we did help them and their families but also saw far more ways we could help. I expected on some level to just join in and be like a sister. In reality, I was viewed with skepticism and questioned about why I wanted to care for their kids and what was in it for me.

To sum it up, reality was far different from my expectations. However, in many ways, reality was better. I still got to give and receive the hugs. I still got to see parents make life changing decisions. I still got to become extended family members of these children.  If asked, would you foster again.  Unequivocally my answer would be absolutely, yes!

My intent of this post is not to scare you away from fostering, but rather reassure you reality can be better then expectations.  Come along and join in.  If you have questions, I invite you to leave them and I will answer.  You can also subscribe and follow our adventure.

Paralyzed by fear Part 2

Phonto

Recently I wrote about being paralyzed by your pain and gripped by fear. In this article I only addressed the initial release of the pain. Funny thing about pain; it is like an onion. There are so many layers, and each time you peel one back, there is another to deal with. You might have had great success with release of initial pain, but unless you continue to walk through the pain, it will paralyze you again

So, as promised, here are some practical tips to aid you in continuing your healing journey:

1) Write a letter to person who caused pain, then burn it. Oftentimes there are many words we want to say, but to speak them would cause more harm. Once the words are spoken, they can never be taken back. There are moments when I am angry at the parents as I watch the children struggle. I have started to write a letter to them and then burn it, giving my anger to God and letting Him take care of it.

2) Write an honor and a tribute. I know it sounds crazy. But, honestly, when someone has caused you great harm, if you can sit and pen a letter of positive blessings to them, thanking them for being a part of your life, this will significantly add healing and give release. My mother-in-law and I didn’t extend much love to each for many years. I kept trying to change her, instead of loving her in spite of her faults. At one point, I was challenged to write a letter, honoring her for positive choices she made. Initially, I could only come up with the fact that she gave birth to my husband. It became a daily goal to write another positive item about her. I was surprised when my attitude changed and my heart was excited to think about this precious lady.

3) Pray for them. Pray for their heart, their life. The more you see them from God’s eyes, the more you will love them.

4) Be kind to them. I know how hard this is, when someone has caused you great harm and you need to release yourself from the pain, being kind is the last thing on your mind. But if you can choose to be kind, your pain will lessen. The added bonus: as you are kind, it will diffuse the situation and lessen the pain.

5) Make a choice to do something different. I know it sounds hard, and when paralyzed by fear, any choice is hard. However, if you can do something different, whether it’s a choice of food, exercise, time to sleep, go for ice cream, or try a new hobby, do it. No, it doesn’t take the pain away; however, it does show that you can still live while processing the pain.

Yes, it probably seems trivial, but when you can take some control back from the pain instead of letting the pain control you and becoming a controlling monster yourself, pain can become a learning tool, a transformative tool.
Pain and grief, to me, are like fire-breathing dragons that are taunting and teasing me at every turn. I will never have a life free of pain, and I would not want to. Pain is my guidance, showing me where there is a problem. To ignore it increases the pain. I can’t fully conquer it, because without pain, I won’t know happiness.
On my life journey, pain will leave its scars. But the point is to not let it leave you crippled. How have you found ways to relieve the burden of pain?

Are you paralyzed by fear, grief or pain?

Up, over the tree......  Release the burden

Her lips were trembling and her body shaking as my little girl struggled to breathe. With each inhale tiny tears ran down her face. She was determined, she would fight to live. While she was fighting through pneumonia, her pain was slowly extinguishing the breath from my body. With every breath I felt an icier grip on my lungs. I felt like I had nowhere to turn, had no release, just pent up worry and anxiety.

He sat dejected, unwanted and a cast-off from society. He had heard the words mentioned around him while family thought he didn’t understand. Problem was, he understood all too well when his grandmother called him odd and friends called him crazy. Teachers talked about him in hushed terms, using words like non-compliant, inappropriate. All he ever wanted was for someone to believe in, someone to believe he could do it.

Papa. That one word, one name brought back a torrent of rich emotions. The feeling of knowing you belonged, contentment, innocent and unconditional love, but yet, now he is gone. How do you move beyond a grief that is paralyzing? Who do you talk to that fully understands? Shifted from place to place, because those you trust are hurting and can’t see your pain. The thought makes you wonder if it was better if you had never been born. You whisper the words …. “maybe it would be better if I was dead.”

Seriously, these blessings I am honored to love have similar fears to carry. Although I can teach all the life skills needed, unless I give them the tools to handle these problems and deal with this pain, I haven’t helped through move through this paralyzing pain.

I often hear and, let them speak their mind. They have a right to feel angry, hurt, betrayed. Maybe they do. But once they have those feelings, the questions I have been  voicing aren’tgoing to take it away. How do you thrive? I do not believe life was created just to go through the motions; but to have an abundant life; a full, enriching and invigorating life.

Typically the children that darken my door and are welcomed have experienced so much more than I could ever imagine. Time by itself isn’t going to take the pain away. In fact, if not talked about and expressed, the pain eats at them, tormenting them night and day. We have to find release.

After my first miscarriage, I was devastated. On my second, I no longer smiled. Third, I shut down, and I became a robot. Finally after the fourth when I became so numb my dear mom asked me what I had named them. I hadn’t. Often people didn’t know what to say, how to comfort. I had gotten so good at pretending life was okay. I had never released the burden, the grief. I hadn’t talked about it, shed a public tear or shared my heart. I just built a wall. But when I did that, I also built a wall around God. It was like I didn’t trust Him anymore.

That day when mom asked me what their names were, I didn’t have a clue. But it made me realize they were real to someone else. They were loved and missed by others. During this time I hadn’t allowed my husband to comfort to me, nor did I offer him any comfort. We never did name them and now I am okay with that. But we did something far more important. We had our own little ceremony. We went and bought eight helium balloons.

We wrote letters to our blessings. Letters of hope, letters of peace, letters of release. We attached those letters to the balloons and went outside and released the balloons. We stood there for what seemed liked hours watching those balloons rise. It was then the walls crumbled, the flood gates opened, weeping commenced.

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Releasing our Burdens and pain

 

During this, I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in years. A realization that God hadn’t abandoned me; no, He gave a strength only God can give.

A few weeks ago, we bought two dozen balloons and had our children write letters to those they have lost, expressing feelings. We also wrote letters to the addiction {drugs, alcohol, combination} and expressed their anger to them. Then we went outside. Initially some of the children were hesitant in letting their balloons go. One of them let go of a balloon on accident. He was so pained that it would get caught in the tree and no go up. I bent to reassure him, but as he urged the balloon to go up,

 

 

Up, over the tree......  Release the burden

Up, over the tree…… Release the burden

 

I noticed his countenance was changing. He was physically standing straighter, breathing deeper. And then as it cleared the tree, he raised his hand in the air and pumped his fist, yelling, “ It made it, I am free.”

I don’t think he really realized how free he was, but since then we have talked many times about carrying the prison sentence, not carrying the burden or the pain anymore. All the children have seemed lighter, quicker to laugh and giggle, quicker to adjust to new environments, quicker to hug and quicker to trust. We have seen amazing behavior differences.

I am not saying the balloons have any magical power, but there is something inspiring when you can physically release a burden and watch it disappear.

How do you release your pain? I would love to hear what helps you release your burdens?   Come back to read part 2, when I give practical ways to continue releasing your pain and gried weighing you down.

Nothing Else Happens

Recently I was invited to speak about being an entrepreneur and inspire several ladies how to find a niche of where they could start their own business.  After the session was over, I was talking with some attendees who had heard from another guest that I have a large family. I was anticipating her question about creating a business and balance with children. Boy was I ever wrong!

She went on to ask if my children had to do chores. I said absolutely. She then asked me if they complained and grumbled all the time. I said not really any more, but they did at the beginning.  She wanted to know how.  So I got out a paper and did a rough draw of how it works for us.  This way my children know what chores they have to do. It is their responsibility and do it without complaint.

In our house we have a dry erase board hanging just outside the kitchen which looks a lot like this table below.  The only difference is names instead of numbers for children.

Child Kitchen Bath Floor Other Date
1   M
Unload Dishwasher Tubs Sweep Keep playroom tidy Dad
2   T
Wash by hand Toilets Mop Clean van Mom
3  W
Load dishwasher Sinks Vacuum Clean Car Dad
4 Th
Set/clean table Mirrors Dust Garbage Mom
5   F
Load/unload silverware Compost Recycling Laundry Dad
6 Smile Potty Train Dress self Socks Mom

 

This is how the table works for us:  The number corresponds to child (I actually put their name). The letter represents the day they do their laundry. YES, you read that correctly. They do their own laundry. 

We help when needed but they are expected to do the majority of it on their own.   The next column is a kitchen chore and has to be done before/after each meal. Then the next three columns are chores that have to be done at least 1x a week.    Finally the last column is who gets dad or mom date night that week.

We have a slogan nothing else happens, until….  is finished.

So every Saturday morning when I redo the chores they know to look.  The more consistent we are with nothing else happens…. the better it is. I don’t nag, cajole or bribe them.  They have learned, aside from the kitchen chore, each one takes about 10 minutes a week.  We are now teaching them to look to see if they need to do any of their chores each day instead of cramming it all to get done. Were we messy and playing outside, then what needs to be cleaned up? Did we make a fort or get things out, what needs to be put away.  But this way we don’t spend an entire Saturday or Sunday cleaning. The house is perpetually being cleaned every week.

We have also instituted that if a child volunteers to help with cooking a meal, they get out of their after meal chore.  So if child 1, is helping me chop or cook dinner. While I am giving her a chore and talking about the meal (also great one-on-one time), I am unloading the dishwasher.

At first there were complaints and gripping but we were consistent. If got invited to friends house, if chores weren’t done…nothing happens.  They learned fast.  One had to miss swim lessons as his chores weren’t done.  A few got to miss game time as they spent their time talking and doing other things.  Not to say we never have any other chores in the house or other times we need help. But then we fall back on our home patrol.

This also leads itself to maintaining a clean bedroom. Of course, when I tell a child to clean their room, I am going to get a wide variety of results. Instead of a fight, this helps them know what I expect in a clean room. So here is a checklist for cleaning their room.  This also helps the children who have processing disorders, ADHD and a myriad of other issues keep focused.

Teaching children responsibility and work ethic are valuable life skills we all need.  Not only are they learning how to do chores, but also to manage a house, problem solve and time management.

Remember, nothing else happens.

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