Foster care is supporting children and their parents during a period of separation. This involves co-parenting with the child’s biological parents. Co-parenting can be one of the hardest parts of a foster parent’s job. Done well, co-parenting can be an essential factor in the child’s smooth return home and reduce the likelihood that the child will reenter foster care. Co-parenting is a gift to kids in foster care because they see the adults in their life working as a team and struggling less with divided loyalties. The foster parent can also serve as a healthy parenting role model for the biological parents.
9 Tips for Co-Parenting
Written by Marilyn Robinson, Family Care Director
An Interview with a Caseworker
In honor of Caseworker Appreciation Month, Project 1.27 reached out to Jaalah Neerhof of the Collaborative Foster Care Program of Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties to ask her about her work, her heart for children in foster care, and any advice she has for prospective and current foster parents.
Tell me about yourself. Where do you currently work, and what does your job entail?
I work at the Collaborative Foster Care Program with Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties as a Recruitment and Retention Caseworker. My role is to recruit new families for general foster care, representing all demographics to hopefully match the children in care. In addition to recruiting, my role includes retaining current certified families. This is done with developing community partners who help support our families in a number of ways including: sending gift cards to families when they are going through a difficult season or case; filling needs such as bunk beds, high chairs, and other unique requests; freezer meal outreach; hosting Kids Night Out to give foster parents a much-deserved break; foster closets or unlimited access to thrift store items for new placements; Wrap Around support to surround a foster family and help sustain them long term; Business engagement to either give discounts to certified families or host information meetings to their employees and the general public around them.
Why did you want to become a caseworker? What led you to this career?
I can’t say this was a career I sought out, but it found me. I have been in the Child Welfare field for over 16 years. I have developed a passion for the families who say yes to opening their homes to care for our most vulnerable children and youth within our communities. It is not an easy ask nor an easy task. And these families continue to show up for our kids in amazing ways. I am passionate about finding more support and resources to help lighten the lift and carry foster families through their difficult days. They deserve all the help in the world.
What are your favorite things about your profession? What are some of the most rewarding things about your profession?
One of the most rewarding things about my current role is hearing the positive stories when a child’s life is impacted for good, and they have positive and healthy examples in their lives! My biggest joy is showing appreciation toward our families, celebrating them, and finding new resources to help them. Statistics show the average foster family burns out and closes after the first year or after their first placement.
What are your least favorite things about your profession? What are the hardest things about your profession?
The hardest part of my profession is not having enough families to care for all the youth in foster care. Hearing about youth not having a home to lay their head or about a youth bouncing between homes as they don’t have a long-term placement option is disheartening. We need more families to foster youth in care.
What things do you want people to know about your profession?
We need you. We need more foster families. We need families to love and accept our youth. We need people to support families of origin and the journey back home for our children in out-of-home placement as the goal of child welfare. We need people to surround, support and love on the families that say yes to this call. There is a place for everyone to serve in some capacity.
What advice do you have for prospective foster families?
There will never be the ‘perfect’ time to say yes. Just like having children of your own, you are never fully prepared. If you are afraid it would be too difficult, we’d say you are the right person for the job. These kids deserve to be loved intensely.
What advice do you have for current foster families?
Be flexible. Be loving. Have grace, forgiveness, and endurance. Thank you for sacrificing and giving so much of yourself, your family, and your home to these children in need. Lean into your tribe. Lean into your certification worker. Use any and all resources offered your way, and ask for help. You're not alone.
How can foster families and community members support caseworkers?
There are so many ways to get involved! Call your local county or CPA, and ask what they need. Take charge and lead an outreach within your circle of family, friends, church, neighborhood, and community. Get others involved.
Tell me about the roundtables with Project 1.27 and Colorado Kids Belong. Why did they start, and what is the goal of the meetings?
The CFCP has been actively working with Project 1.27 and Colorado Kids Belong roundtable discussions since 2018. Through these meetings, we have seen several faith-based organizations join the mission to help spread the word about the need for more foster families and engage their communities in leading a Foster Care outreach. Our families have been on the receiving end of these programs, where they have helped support and sustain them.
"Foster care and adoption provided obstacles and challenges to our marriage," Rachel Graham, a Project 1.27 parent, shared during this interview, "But I can honestly say we are happily married."
Rachel and Arick Graham knew early in their marriage that foster care and adoption would be a part of their journey as a couple. When they first became foster parents in 2016, they were a young family with three biological children ranging in age from 3-6 years old. They were also business owners, and Arick served as their church's worship leader and missions pastor. Shortly after becoming certified, they welcomed a sibling set of two into their home, eventually adopting both children in 2019. Arick remembers, "Foster care added strain to an already busy life, and it took time to figure out how to get in a rhythm. We learned quickly that we couldn't do it alone. We needed help."
Looking back, the Grahams have a few regrets from the early days of fostering. "I wish we did better," Rachel shared. "I wish we hadn't waited so long to get soul care. When we started counseling, it impacted our marriage so much that I wish we had done it earlier."
Arick recalls, "Early on, I shoved down emotions, which wasn't good for our family. I had to learn to engage emotions like disappointment, anger, and sorrow and work through my family history."
Today, Arick and Rachel Graham are the parents of 5 children aged 7-14. They will celebrate their 18th anniversary this summer. Looking back, the couple knows they only survived the hard seasons with God's help. "God has been gracious to us and our marriage. It's hard, not easy, and we have things we've done well, but we did them well by the grace of God. Things we didn't do well, we made it through by the grace of God. We are where we are today because we've drawn from His deep well of grace."
Arick and Rachel shared with Project 1.27 some tangible things that have made a difference in their marriage through the last 18 years.
Make your marriage a priority.
"We found it was important to press into God and each other," Rachel shared. The Grahams knew that their marriage mattered to God, and they made it a priority. They've realized that it's harder to prioritize their marriage when they're busy, so they focus on finding space on the calendar to slow down and spend time together. "Our counselor told us to write down what it looks like to make our marriage a priority. To write down practical steps we could take and then add the plan to the calendar."
Find Rhythm in each Season.
Family life is ever-evolving, and every season is different. Before they became foster parents, the Graham family had a sweet season where they could focus on their biological kids. During the first two years of foster care, they felt like so much was out of their control and struggled to keep their heads above water. Now the Graham family is in a season where all five kids are in sports, and they've realized they've overcommitted themselves. Everyone is going in different directions to different activities. They've decided to take a break from sports for the summer to practice a slower pace as a family. They hope to camp and take vacations and focus on resting. Arick notes, "Every season is different, and you must take time and identify the season's rhythm and how you can still keep your priorities." Rachel adds, "Sometimes it's just recognizing that you're in a hard or busy season, but it won't last forever."
Find time for Date Nights.
"You can't underestimate a good date night!" Rachel shared. The Grahams recalled times early in their fostering journey when they were in the trenches, wondering how they would fit a date night in."We had to be okay with short date nights and staying close to home," Rachel recalls. If their younger two had a visit with their biological family, Arick and Rachel would get a sitter for the other three kids and spend an hour together at a coffee shop. They also had to learn to trust their community. "I would think that no one in their right mind would want to be here with our five kids," Rachel shared, "But I had to learn that they wanted to help and that they loved us enough to watch our kids." Rachel remembers when some of her children had challenging behaviors, and she didn't think there was any way she could leave but knew she had to try. Thankfully, God brought them babysitters who could handle the behaviors for a short amount of time. "It's easy to isolate yourself and think it's impossible to get away without kids," Arick said, "But ask God to make a way. Ask him to bring babysitters and to bring community."
"You have to laugh through it all," Rachel shares, "You can just cry, or you can laugh and cry, and we chose to laugh and cry." The Grahams have relied on humor to get them through some of their most challenging seasons. They remember days when they were trying to figure out the foster care system, balancing visits with biological parents, and seeing behaviors they'd never encountered. "Without humor, without laughing, it would have been rough," Rachel adds. "We knew we had bit off more than we could chew, so we had to take the pressure off and the seriousness off."
Spend 20 minutes together on the couch.
Rachel remembers learning about "20 on the Couch" at a marriage conference they attended, and the Grahams have implemented it ever since. "After the kids go to bed, we set aside 20 minutes for the two of us to sit together and talk. We're not problem-solving, we're not planning anything, we are just talking and being together."
Pray together daily.
The Grahams take time daily to pray together and pray for each other. Rachel notes, "It's hard to stay mad at someone you're blessing."
Written by Jenny Watson
Project 1.27 Communication and Events Manager
Remember that moment in the big box store when you realized the “honeymoon” was over as you (and everyone else in Aisle 7) watched the precious child you’d been fostering have all their big feelings erupt in a huge melt-down? It’s not uncommon for those eruptions to come again (and again) when that same precious child enters a new stage of development, especially adolescence and pre-adolescence. Instead of the big box store, these later stage behavior challenges usually erupt first at home. Communication breaks down and more big feelings surface. The child and other family members can easily get caught up in a “fight, flight or freeze” cycle that impacts the emotional and even physical well-being of everyone.
Many parents discover that tried and true parenting tools and resources are ineffective. At some point, that precious child may refuse any boundaries. As one sibling said, “I never knew saying no to that boundary was even an option!” Parents seek help from mental health, school and spiritual professionals and then seek higher levels of treatment. Nothing seems to work. Daily calls from the school. Hospitalization and even police visits occur. Answers and resources that work are hard to find.
While the resources for healing will be different for every child, there are some things you can do as a parent as you go through this turbulent, scary time. The same things you leaned into as a new foster or kinship parent can help you in this new situation, but you may need to lean even harder.
Prayer. Activate your prayer warriors. For me, it was my mom and a small group of other mothers who had struggling teens. These women prayed when I was so tired and fearful that I could hardly utter an amen. Ask God to show you a Scripture verse to pray over your child, write out your prayer as well as a gratitude list. When worry and stress keep you up at night, read your prayer and review your gratitude list. Listening to audio Psalms and even whispered prayers of desperation can calm your soul and usher God’s healing presence into your family.
Safety. Consider what each family member needs to be physically and emotionally safe. That includes you! Do you need to re-think sleep or play space? Can one or more children stay temporarily with a friend or family member? Can your work schedule flex to provide more adult or two-adult supervision? Does every family member have a safe person to talk with about concerns and feelings? Is out-of-home mental health care needed?
Connections. When family life is in chaos, it’s tempting to isolate from family, friends and services. Isolation is the enemy. It separates you from prayer warriors, safety, services and resources. Email or call Project1.27. We won’t have all the answers, but we will listen, pray, brainstorm and work to connect you with resources. Reach out to your foster and adoption community. Push your school, medical and mental health professionals for higher level resources. If you don’t hear back, call again.
Connections, part 2. Look for opportunities to connect in positive ways with your spouse and all your kids. For kids, join them in favorite activities. If it’s basketball, shoot some hoops. If it’s dancing, film a silly video. If it’s music, even music that’s not your favorite, listen together. For your spouse, find places of agreement, and utilize friends to provide childcare so you can get away for a few hours. For your precious, struggling child, write a note or text reminding her of her strengths or stop for a shake after therapy. Even when she doesn’t respond, keep offering connection.
Grappling with Grief and Guilt. Acknowledge that this is not the family life you dreamed about. Write down what you are grieving – maybe its family game nights, cheering at a school awards ceremony or visiting possible colleges. Acknowledge what is good like a big hug after school or bedtime conversations Grapple with your guilt. Remember the QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally. Those big emotions may be directed at you, but they are not about you. Let go of guilt.
Wait. This is perhaps the hardest part. When you’ve leaned hard into prayer, creating safety, making connections and grappling with grief and guilt and nothing’s changed or the change you see is for the worse. Wait. God is working. Lean into God’s promises. (Click here for God’s Promises for the Wait)
Written By Shelly Radic
Project 1.27 President
The Art of Collaboration
Recently, I attended a roundtable event where leaders from area churches came to discuss the needs of foster families and how the church can meet those needs. The hard reality is that 50% of foster families quit within their first year because, let’s face it, foster Care is a big ask. It’s constant appointments, saying goodbye to kids you love, and navigating a confusing system. At this roundtable, the leaders recognized the hard reality that foster care isn’t easy. They also recognized that when the local church comes together, more needs can be met, and the possibility of foster parents being able to keep going is much higher. This roundtable recognized that when the body of Christ comes together, more can be accomplished than when we try to do things alone! One church offered to hold a Kids' Night Out event so that foster parents could be refreshed. Another offered to train the attending churches in how to wrap around foster families with meals, babysitting, and other essentials.
3 Tips for Church Collaboration
1 Corinthians 12:4 says, ‘There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.’ It was a beautiful gift for me to see the local church come together and ask, ‘What are our gifts?’
Written By Rhonda Denison
Project 1.27 Community Relations and FamiliesCare Manager
January means New Year’s Resolutions, and many of us consider changes we want to make for the year and the goals we want to set. Often these include health (I will give up carbs and walk every day), personal growth (I will read 85 books and learn to speak German), finances (I will stop buying Starbucks...and Black Rock...and Dutch Bros), and spiritual goals (I will read through the whole Bible this year). As parents, we often include goals that pertain to our children (I will not yell, have patience, and stick to a routine). And as February approaches, we’ve often already failed at most (if not all) of our goals for the new year.
For foster and adoptive parents, New Year’s resolutions regarding family and relationships can be incredibly stressful and disappointing. Often, our hope for our children and parenting doesn’t shake out as planned, and we lose hope.
Here are some things to consider when making your New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Be Flexible.
Resolutions don’t have to be forever. Make a goal but know that you may need to reevaluate after a day, week, or month. If something isn’t working, change it. Trying to power through will only lead to stress for you and your child.
Instead of, “We will go to bed every night by 8:00 pm and have everything ready for the morning.”
Try, “We will go to bed close to 8:00 pm, aiming to have things ready for the morning.”
2. Avoid Absolutes
Aim for words like “less” and “more” instead of “never,” “always,” and “only.”
Instead of, “We will only have video games for one hour on Saturdays.”
Try “We will have less screen time during the week.”
3. Focus on “Yes” goals instead of “No” goals
Restricting things is often frustrating and challenging to sustain. Try to rephrase your goals in a positive, encouraging way.
Instead of, “I will not yell when I'm angry.”
Try, “I will take a deep breath or find a moment alone when I'm feeling upset.”
4. Give yourself (and your family) grace.
Having too high of expectations is hard on everyone. Some days are just plain hard, and it’s better for everyone involved to recognize that all routines/goals/rules might need to take a “day off.”
Instead of, “I will play with my kids for 30 minutes every day.”
Try, “I will play more.”
We all want to be better parents, but it’s essential not to fall into the trap of trying to be perfect. When we follow these guidelines, we’re still working toward positive change without feeling we failed. And when the goal isn’t strict or absolute, we’re more likely to keep working toward it even when we have a rough day, make a mistake, or fall short.
When welcoming a new child into their home, foster and adoptive families need support to focus on caring for the new child and building a relationship with them. The first month a family has a new placement is the ideal time for the church to step in and help the family.
As you start the new year, here are three ways your church can support foster & adoptive families in your community.
1. Prepare Frozen Meals For Families
Preparing dinner can be one thing that families dread the most. Parents have spent all day at work or running kids around, and not having to worry about dinner is a huge blessing! Gather your congregation and make some frozen meals for families to have on hand on the more challenging days when they don't have time or energy to make dinner.
2. Bring Snacks or Meals to Support Groups
Many families find comfort in local support groups. They enjoy gathering with other families, and having a meal can be a great blessing. Have your congregation provide snacks for kids or dinner for the families at a support group. Use it as an opportunity to interact with the families and children you're supporting.
3. Host A Parents' Night Out
Foster and Adoptive parents often hold unique challenges as they provide loving and consistent care for kids who've experienced severe trauma. Providing a night out where parents can catch their breath and find some grounding helps sustain parents as they relentlessly pour into their children's lives. The best part is the kids are having so much fun they don't realize the evening is also for their parents!
Want more ideas?
The Parenting is Different.
As you support foster and adoptive families around you, you might begin to pick up on parenting differences. Maybe they are handling challenging situations in unfamiliar ways. You may hear more talk about connection than correction and something called TBRI. TBRI stands for Trust Based Relational Intervention. It is an attachment-based, trauma-informed parenting style designed to meet the special needs of children, especially those who may have been through hard times. Children who have experienced hard circumstances, like being separated from their families and removed from their homes for whatever reason, must be parented differently.
When children experience situations that are just too hard for their brains to make sense of, their brain chemistry changes, and brain scans will even show the changes in their brains due to trauma. Children who experience these hard things often live in what some therapists call survival mode, meaning their thinking brain cannot make sense of the situation, so their protection brain has kicked in. Their primal instincts have taken over and emit a danger signal in their brain. “Your life is in danger. You must do whatever is necessary to stay alive!” When we realize this is happening within a child, we must change how we see and interact with the child. The child needs to be seen with our greatest empathy. Their behaviors are indications of an underlying need or fear. Connecting is the best way to calm their protective brain and repair the rupture.
God has designed us all with a deep need for connection. We all need a connection to God and a connection to others. If we do not have these, our brain desperately attempts to help us fill this hole. You might have felt this during the worst times of COVID quarantine. Even those of us who are introverts were seeking out ways to find connections, hence the huge surge in social media and zoom. If we experience this as adults, think how much more the lack of connection could affect children. Often children that come into foster care do not understand that this is what their brain craves. To build connections, the first thing a child needs is safety. Until they feel safe, they live with a brain in survival mode. When they feel safe, they can trust adults and build connections. All children need safety, emotional regulation, and connection. As things increase, you will see their brains calm, and their behaviors change. Connection is not always easy with a child living with their brain in protection mode. It takes time, consistency, and lots of patience.
Tips to encourage connection:
Time and Space: Make time to be with the child. Every positive interaction with a trustworthy adult brings healing to their brain. Even if the child is not ready to participate in activities with you, make time to be in the child’s presence so they can start feeling safe and building trust in you.
Listen and Share: Listen to them talk about whatever is on their mind and try to find common ground where you can share in the conversation. Maybe all they can talk about right now is their favorite video game, then google it and try to find a way to connect over the competition. Showing interest builds connection.
Play and Praise: Playful interaction is the best way to build connection. Keeping things light-hearted opens the door to safety and helps establish trust. Anytime you interact with a child, be on the lookout for opportunities to build them up and praise them. If there is a rupture or a stressful time in the interaction, do your best to bring it back to play before the interaction ends.
The Christmas season is finally here! Christmas celebrations are an excellent opportunity for the church to connect with families of children with special needs. When planning your church's holiday activities, here are three things you can do to support foster and adoptive families and families with children with special needs.
1. Create Activity Bags
Take the time to create an activity bag for families who attend your Christmas services. You can include noise-reducing headphones, fidget toys, coloring materials, and a schedule of what you're doing during that service. These things can help keep kids entertained during downtimes and relieve some of the parents' stress.
2. Include Special Needs Families in Your Traditions
It's important to ensure families of every shape and size are involved in your traditions. Invite a family with a special-needs child to be part of your welcoming team or on your usher team. When you invite families of children with special needs to be involved in your church's activities, those special needs families who visit during the holidays can envision how they could also have a place in your church family.
3. Share What You're Doing
Families have started looking for places to worship during the holidays, but they could miss out on worshiping with you if you don't let them know about your church's accommodations. Post on social media, include it on flyers, and your church website so anyone can find what your church is doing to support all families this Christmas.
The Christmas season is always big for churches, but don't miss the opportunity to follow up with these families after the new year. Make a follow-up plan and your next steps for ministering to families of children with special needs.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Christmas tree is up, presents are all being bought, and holiday music is playing in the background. Little Maria has been in your home for eight months. There have been some ups and downs, but she’s been settling in and starting to feel comfortable in your home. You’re so excited to give her the things you purchased from her Christmas list, and you have so many fun Holiday activities planned. What could go wrong?
Fast forward to December 25. The past three weeks haven’t gone exactly as planned. Maria cried during almost every planned activity. During Christmas cookie decorating, she threw the icing across the room in frustration when her snowflake didn’t look exactly the way she wanted. She said she hated the school Christmas party and wouldn’t participate. And now it’s Christmas morning, and Maria’s frustration (and yours!) has only grown. The presents you thought she would love sit ignored on the floor while Maria fights with the other kids in the home over seemingly nothing.
So, what’s going on? Why is Maria struggling so much? When caring for kids from hard places, we must become detectives regarding behavior. A few questions you could ask are:
1. What traditions did Maria have before entering your home? She may have had a particular food or custom that she misses. Engage with the child in your home and ask them what traditions are important to them.
2. Is the child overstimulated? You may have planned your life around a child in your home for months. You created perfect routines, ensured environments weren’t too loud and held to a bedtime every night. These structures sometimes go out the window during the holidays. What routines and structures could you keep in place even when things around you are hectic?
3. Are there too many activities? What can be simplified? Sometimes because we want the kids in our homes to experience everything, we try to cram too many things for a little body to handle. Maybe it’s buying two unique presents instead of 10. Or perhaps it’s picking only one special outing (like zoo lights). You may find they hold more special meaning, and it’s easier to plan around the chaos when it isn’t constant.
The holidays are bound to come with a certain degree of chaos. But with careful planning and asking questions when significant behaviors happen, we can help the kids in our homes get through and even enjoy the season!