Tag: foster child

Everyone deserves a family

May is National Foster Care month. According to Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, or SWAN:

“Most children are in foster care for a short time, with the majority of children returning to their family of origin. A foster home can be an important haven, keeping children safe, helping them to cope with their grief and loss and helping to prepare them for the eventual return to their family. Because of these challenges, foster parenting requires special people—people who can take children quickly and without hesitation into their homes knowing that, when the time comes, they will need to lovingly let them go.

“Although most foster children are returned to their biological family, if such a return is not in the best interest of the child, the court may order that the parents’ rights be terminated and the child be placed for adoption. Should that happen, foster parents should play a key role in a child’s transition to an adoptive family, or they may consider adopting the child” themselves.

Sadly, each year more than 23,000 young adults age out of the foster care system. Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members work tirelessly to recruit and support resource families for these young adults, along with the children and youths referred to us by county agencies.

Those staff members share why it is so important to find families for all ages, including young adults:

• I primarily work with older youths and see firsthand what happens when they age out of care without locating an adoptive home. Unfortunately, I have seen youths be arrested within only a few months of being on their own. I have seen others become homeless. I have seen youth so desperate for love and belonging that they end up in unhealthy relationships, resulting in domestic abuse.
• Teens who age out of foster care with no identified adult resources tend to do poorly in life. In general, they have higher rates of homelessness, poverty and even incarceration than their peers who have family support. They also are more likely to have children of their own earlier, but may not have the resources to care for their children, thus perpetuating the likelihood of poor outcomes in future generations.
• Situations vary and depend on support systems. Some youths continue living with their resource (foster) family and some return to birth family members. Others may move on to post-secondary education, while others find their own apartment if they have the financial means. Unfortunately, some end up homeless and without necessary support.
• These young adults often become involved with negative influences because they are vulnerable.
• Unfortunately, many have nowhere to go. They might couch-surf with friends, rent substandard housing or return to families who, unfortunately, have not resolved the issues that caused the youth to come into care in the first place.

Our staff agrees that having the love and acceptance of a family is critical to the success a young person experiences.

• They need permanency, a place to call home and the support of a family to help them with things such as applying to colleges, applying for jobs, getting a driver’s license and various other things.
• Teens are never too old to need a family! Without a family, from whom do they seek guidance? Who will be there to cheer them on and encourage them? One teen stated that he cried through his entire high school graduation because there was no one there for him. A teen girl has asked who will walk her down the aisle when she marries? When they are in college, where will they go for holidays when the dorms close?
• No one is ready to enter the world on their own when they turn 18. Young adults need the guidance and structure of family to help them navigate the world.
• Everyone needs a family they can share life with.
• At any age, individuals need a place they can call “home” and call “family.”
• It is still important for these youths to have a family. A support system is crucial to young people, especially at that transitional point of life.

And although there aren’t as many success stories of older teens being adopted as we might home for, here are a few examples our staff members recall:

• A young adult who was adopted as a teen has been able to secure a part-time job while going to college. She has a place to live and a family to help her with finances until she can afford to be on her own.
• A delayed, paralyzed young man found a home at the age of 19. He started smiling when he found parents.
• We helped one older teen find her birth mother, whom she hadn’t seen since birth. That family welcomed her in and even though she was never adopted, she has connections!
• A medically challenged youth was adopted by a teacher.

You can help be a part of the success story for a child, youth or young adult! Please consider attending an upcoming information session; you also can request an information packet here.

Foster-To-Adopt: God Knew My Heart Needed You

In this post, Lydia Carfagno, an adoptive parent, shares her difficult two-year journey that led to one of the greatest joys of her life—motherhood. She adopted her now-4-year-old son, Trevor, through Diakon Adoption & Foster Care’s legal-risk (foster-to-adopt) program. Legal-risk placements involve children and youths who are in the custody of a county’s children and youth services. Children are placed in foster homes with the intent of reuniting them with their birth families; however, if that does not occur, the foster family often seeks to adopt the child or youth.

Why Foster-To-Adopt?

As I was growing up, my mother worked and volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. As a small child, I witnessed my mother counseling women and providing them with the necessary resources to maintain their pregnancy. When I was young, I would tell my mother that I wanted to grow up and take care of babies that did not have mommies and open my own orphanage. I remember frequently checking our front door to see if someone left me a baby to care for!

Fast forward: I grew up and obtained a college degree in recreational therapy. As a therapist, I worked in various pediatric hospitals. Throughout my work experience, I witnessed firsthand many children suffering from neglect, abuse and trauma. Each of these children made my desire to adopt grow even stronger; however I knew I was not currently in the position to do that.

Upon marrying, adoption was something we always said we would do “one day.” We struggled to get pregnant and even experienced a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. The topic of adoption that was once on the back burner quickly became a burning desire in my heart.

It was something I believed had to happen immediately. Because of my experience in the health-care field, I was aware of “foster-to-adopt” type programs and I quickly began researching agencies.

Why Diakon?

In March 2015 we decided to take the leap into fostering and adopting. The only thing left to do was pick an agency. A lot of prayer and discussion went into our decision to begin this journey.

We had just started attending a new church. The Sunday after we made our decision, the message was about foster care and adoption. Numerous families shared their journeys that morning. My husband and I felt as if God was truly speaking to us and giving us the extra push that we needed.

As I was leaving church, I went to grab my coat off the coat rack; directly above my coat was a flyer for Diakon Adoption & Foster Care.. I pointed it out to my husband and we both took it as God pointing us in the direction we needed to go. We went through Diakon’s training sessions in April and May 2015, completed our home study in June 2015 and Trevor was placed with us in September 2015.

What was it like the moment you first saw your son?

On Sept. 18, 2015, we made the best, yet scariest, decision of our lives. My husband and I were both at work when we received a phone call from the agency regarding an emergency placement. The phone call came around 12:30 p.m. We both rushed out of work to attempt to prepare ourselves for Trevor’s arrival, but all we really did was pace until Trevor arrived in our driveway at 3 p.m. in the children and youth worker’s vehicle. As they pulled in, we could hear Trevor in the back attempting to talk. It was evident right away that he had some speech delays.

My first glimpse of him, I thought: “Wow, you’re a big guy, yet so unhealthy-looking.” We were advised by the caseworkers that we should bathe him immediately. Trevor was immediately captivated by our pets and the few toys we had. I quickly coaxed him into the bathtub, which I ended up draining and refilling three times. We had to stop him from drinking the bath water and sucking water out of the wash cloth. This is also when we discovered bedbug bites all over his little body.

Although appearing confused, Trevor engaged with us immediately. He had absolutely no verbal language skills and resorted to pointing and gesturing his wants and needs. After bathing him, we dressed him (I had some 18-month clothing) and went to a department store.

I remember on the drive there thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” We knew absolutely nothing about this little human. We had no idea what he liked, disliked or feared. We didn’t even know his medical history or if he was allergic to anything. We wandered through the store for about an hour-and-a-half putting anything he pointed to in the cart. As “crazy” as it probably looked to others, it all felt perfectly right.

What health obstacles did Trevor face?

It quickly became apparent that Trevor had social-emotional, developmental and health concerns. Some were easily noticeable to the lay person; however, coming from the medical field, I knew there were deeper underlying neurological challenges.

Our first obstacle to tackle was Trevor’s limited communication. He would become terribly frustrated (rightfully so) when he was not able to express himself. We immediately started teaching him basic sign language. We also set up evaluations with Early Intervention, pediatricians and various other specialists.

In addition to Trevor’s developmental delays, he had asthma (which had gone untreated) and required multiple surgeries because of medical neglect. Trevor’s days were quickly filled with various doctor and therapy appointments. Trevor made tremendous gains medically and developmentally once he was receiving all the needed services.

What prepared you for Trevor’s health issues?

As teens and young adults, my husband and I worked with individuals with special needs.

It quickly became apparent that God was using these experiences to prepare us both (years later) for Trevor. Not only did we have some experience, but our support system also did. My mom and my husband’s parents are special education teachers. This is not to say we knew exactly what we were doing. There was still a lot to learn, and a lot of scary, uncertain times. Again, this is when our faith came in to play. Trevor had his own prayer team of more than 100 people praying for him daily.

How did you cope with biological family visits?

Visits with Trevor’s birth family were definitely the most difficult part of our journey. We made a point of communicating with them as much as possible. At the start of this process, both of Trevor’s birth parents were incarcerated. Initially, Trevor visited them in jail every other week.
Once they were no longer incarcerated, Trevor visited with them at a supervised location and then eventually visits became unsupervised. This was particularly difficult as we had very little information as to what was occurring during visits. We created a communication book that we would write to one another in.

Unfortunately, Trevor’s birth parents were unable to provide stable caregiving. As with all children in foster care, the county sought other biological family members as a resource for Trevor. This process was terribly difficult because we had become so bonded with Trevor, and he was terrified to leave us. Our Diakon caseworker, the various health professionals Trevor saw regularly and Trevor’s prayer team were our support and advocates.

What is your best advice for someone looking to foster-to-adopt?

Almost everyone we come in contact with has made the statement, “I could never do what you are doing”’ or “You are better than me; I could never do what you are doing because I would get too attached.” Initially, it was difficult to find a response to statements like this.

Now, I typically respond with “I never said I could do it, but I said I would do it.” I am constantly reminding myself that God does not call the equipped; He equips those who are called. This journey has been one of the most terrifying and challenging experiences of my life. We fought for Trevor’s best interests for 689 days.

We were assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.

I know there are other men and women out there who have a deep desire to foster and adopt. Do not let fear and uncertainty stop you from fulfilling your calling. These children need love more than anyone’s need to protect his or her heart. No one should be afraid to grieve. What they should be afraid of is what happens to these children if no one takes the risk to love them.

Do you have any regrets?

Was our journey easy? Absolutely not! The past two years have been long, messy, hard and filled with grief. However, the day Trevor came into my life I knew what my purpose was. I promised him that day, and every day after, to love and protect him with everything I have.

Trevor has shown me a part of me that I did not even know existed. The day I became his mother (or “foster mom”) my life was forever changed. I found strength and grit inside me that I did not know was even possible. Sometimes God will put a Goliath in your life for you to find the David within you. God knew my heart needed Trevor. Trevor is without a doubt worth it all!

What does the future hold now that Trevor is officially your son?

Trevor is the most strong, brave and resilient little boy I have ever met. Although there are still a lot of unknowns in Trevor’s future because of the trauma and neglect he experienced at a young age, I truly believe he will overcome any obstacle he faces.

He entered our home a nervous, timid, unhealthy toddler and today he is full of spunk and joy. He loves to explore and experience all life has to offer. He is compassionate and intelligent and has just about everyone he meets wrapped around his little finger. The future for Trevor is limitless. God has great plans in store for him.

Trevor’s adoption occurred just recently so we are still in the process of figuring out what life is like without court, paperwork, caseworker visits and the dark cloud of the question, “will he stay forever?” hanging over our heads.

We are certainly enjoying our new forever family and cannot wait to see what God has planned for the three of us.

—Lydia Carfagno

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Connecting with birth parents – Five easy tips

Tim and I have been incredibly blessed to have a positive relationship with our son’s birth family.

In fact, the absolute best piece of advice we received in resource family training was to be friendly with birth parents. In some cases, this is probably incredibly tough to do. But in our case, a little bit has gone a long way.

I think it’s easy to see birth parents as the enemy in the foster care system. But regardless of whatever mistakes parents have made, they almost always still love their kids. It is tough to try to connect with them, but all outcomes of success include benefit for the child, so it’s worth it!

Here are a few simple ideas to break the ice and extend an olive branch to birth parents: 

1. Introduce Yourself! We learned that in six homes, we were the first family to introduce ourselves to birth parents. Imagine being a parent and not knowing who your child was staying with. Being able to meet and greet can significantly lower anxiety for both parties.

2. Start off with a deferential statement such as, “You have beautiful children.” At this point in your foster children’s lives, you are providing for all of their needs—physical, emotional and so on. Knowing that someone else is building a strong connection with your child can be very threatening for a parent. Find a way to indicate that you still acknowledge that the kids “belong” to their birth parents.

3. Ask birth parents if there is any important information you need to know to best care for their children. Birth parents want to be heard. They (like you) are at the mercy of the court system. Decisions about their child’s care have been taken out of their hands. Even if a child has been in care for a long time, a birth parent may have something he or she wants to share with you that a previous foster parent did not pick up on. If a parent does share with you something you should do to best care for their child, follow through with it if you can, and show the parents that you have listened.

4. Take photos to visits. Your home and the child’s world are unknowns to the birth parents. By printing out pictures to give at visits, you give them a glimpse into your world. This step will reinforce that the child is happy, has toys, and so on.

5. Speak well of birth parents when they are not around. If you smile and nod to birth parents at visits, but then talk poorly about them behind their back, your child will notice. Help reinforce that you, birth parents, caseworkers, and judges are all trying to work together for the child’s safety and best interest.

Building trust with birth parents can only benefit the child. By showing that you are not the enemy, you open a conversation that can result in working together for the child.

If your foster child observes you respecting his or her birth parents, the child’s trust in you will also increase.

After all—the goal of foster care is reunification. You have the power to help make that transition a positive one for children and youths by actively communicating with birth parents.

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Helping to make a hard day a little more “bear”able

A few months ago, I brought up the idea to my children to raise enough money for each of us to donate a filled duffel bag to a child in foster care.

You see, most of the children who have come to our home arrived with their items in a garbage bag.

After we decided to take on this project, we shared the idea with friends. We also presented it to our Sunday School program. And what began as a project to gather enough items for six bags turned into an amazing project that raised enough for 37 of them!

Time well spent

While Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are now past us, this guest column reminds us about how we should celebrate—and wisely use—our time with (and as) both parents and children.

 

It’s as if a mirror is being held up.

That’s how I often describe the early days of having our foster daughter. Similar to when you invite a guest to, well, anything—you become hyper-aware of how things look through their eyes (if you’re of the pious persuasion, try taking a friend to church—you’ll see what I mean).

Foster parenting wisdom….a mix of love, acceptance and accountability

When you prepare a child for permanency, you come into contact with a lot of people—birth parents, foster parents, caseworkers, mental health providers, educational staff, and so on. It is a lot for a child to have so many people involved in this process. Certainly it can be hard to keep up with all of it and still manage to be a kid. There is no normalcy about the children’s or youths’ lives at this point.

Let me tell you about just one example, condensing the details considerably.

A sense of belonging…the best gift of all

While the holidays are merry for many, children within the child welfare system may not feel quite the same way. In fact, some may feel acute grief and loss.

Many of the images we see during the holiday season are of family, friends and being home. Imagine not being able to get home to your family and friends? Children within the child welfare system typically face circumstances outside their control, circumstances that separate them from family, friends and home.