This time of year, families are usually registering for summer camps and checking community activity calendars with great excitement, looking forward to the Summer months ahead. This year, the impact of COVID-19 means Summer will look different. As families continue making the necessary adjustments there are still many opportunities to creatively engage kids in ways that bring joy and fun. Below are some suggestions that will keep kids busy, create happy memories and build strong connections, all of which are vital in developing healthy, resilient families.
Porch drop offs: Kids love surprise gifts! Porch drop offs can be a great way to bring the fun and a change of pace. Create a bag of items like coloring sheets or puzzle books, sensory objects, water toys, summer treats and an age-appropriate craft project. Consider porch swapping puzzles, games and toys between households as you feel comfortable.
Cupcake Wars: Have one or more families set up a place where kids can get messy and host a virtual baking party. Drop off vanilla frosting, decorating supplies and cupcake batter. Have each kid use two ingredients from the pantry to create personalized flavors. (For younger kids, pre-make different flavors of cupcakes and frosting.) Let kids be as creative as their hearts’ desire with fondant, candy toppings, melted chocolate, cookies, and piping bags full of fun colors. Designate a judge to determine the winner of the decorating competition, have kids share about their personalized flavors, and enjoy the yummy results together.
During Support Team Training, you may recall learning about the many traumas foster children experience and the resulting impact of grief and loss. As children go through the process of resolving their experiences, it is not uncommon for a new traumatic event like the fallout of COVID-19 to re-start the cycle. Foster parents work tremendously hard to create a sense of stability and safety, which for many kids was upended overnight by this pandemic. In a time where children are being asked to shoulder many changes and uncertainties in their daily routine, psychological and emotional distress may resurface. Below is a refresher on each stage of grief, how this global crisis may be affecting a child impacted by foster care, and some helpful tips on how to walk alongside a foster child navigating new losses.
Denial: It can be difficult to help children understand what is going during this pandemic. Children may feel that this viral threat does not affect them and they can still have visits with family, play dates with friends, and continue going to school. Since things changed so dramatically over spring break, children may have thought of the first weeks as an extended vacation and expected to quickly return to normal.
Foster care and adoption is a rewarding journey that requires a lot of planning and energy to manage day-to-day needs. Families are doing everything from managing appointments, school activities, and therapies to family commitments, crisis management and re-certification requirements. It can be difficult to find a moment to pause and rest, especially when rest matters the most.
When it comes to processing complex emotions as a result of trauma, children do not have the same ability to identify and articulate the things that are bothering them. As a result, it is common for foster children to exhibit the pain of their trauma through behavioral outbursts. Adults in a parenting or mentorship role to the child can play a strong role in helping the child understand their emotions and teach them how to express powerful emotions effectively. One of the greatest ways to build this connection is through play. Below are some suggestions on how to use play to unlock emotions and thoughts that a foster child might be struggling with.
Happy New Year! This season creates the opportunity to reflect on the year passed and look forward to setting new goals in the year ahead. If you find yourself inspired by a fresh start, here are some foster care resolutions to consider setting to support your foster family. At Project 1.27, we are praying for renewed energy and enthusiasm for all our families and their support team members.
Check in regularly: Set a phone/calendar reminder to pray for and contact your foster family regularly. Inquire of your family about any updated information or needs they have and share with the rest of the support team if there are any needs the team can meet.
A Safe Place for Everyone in the Family
Although adding a foster sibling to the family is exciting for the children already in the home, when a family is placed there are a myriad of changes occurring. Trauma can manifest itself in the form of challenging behaviors that are emotionally, even physically challenging. As a result, building healing connection and trust with a foster child requires a high level of parental attention. Sometimes other children in the family may feel neglected or forgotten during this intense process. Below are some suggestions to ensure that the needs of all children in the family are nurtured during placement.
Prepare children for possible challenges: As is appropriate – and while maintaining respect for the foster child – consider having a conversation with existing children about the needs of a new child coming into the home. Encourage children to ask questions and keep explanations appropriate for their developmental phase.
The holiday season can be an eagerly anticipated time of year, but for children in foster care, it can also be a difficult and emotional time. This may be their first holiday separated from biological family, and there may be triggers of sights, smells, sounds, and traditions that cause them to miss home. This may result in challenging behavior as a child attempts to process intense emotions such as sadness, homesickness, confusion or anger. Keep in mind the following trauma-informed tips to help your foster family enjoy the season. The holidays can bring opportunities to create special memories and experiences with foster children and enhance the bonds they have with foster family and community.
If you support a family serving in the foster care system, you are likely aware that the goal of any case is reunification with the foster child’s family. Not only is reunification a beautiful example of God’s redemption, it is also the goal per the federal law that outlines Child Welfare practice. Reunification can be the most difficult stage for foster parents. Even though foster parents know reunification is the desired outcome, they almost certainly will experience grief over losing a child they have embraced and grown to love. The end of a placement is one of the times your foster family will need you the most. Below are some ideas on how to help the family celebrate reunification and grieve the loss of a beloved child.
Since 2013, Karen & Paul Dunlap have fostered close to 50 children. Their three grown children have also fostered and adopted, and over 100 kids from foster care have been part of the extended family!
Recently, Karen and Paul welcomed Nia*, an angry 14-year-old, straight from a juvenile detention center. After Nia dumped black trash bags of stuff on the bedroom floor, Karen realized some of the anger stemmed from the fact that Nia was adamant that none of the things belonged to her. No jeans that fit correctly, or even a familiar pair of shoes. Karen asked Nia, “What if we take $100 and get you some things that you pick out.” The teen reluctantly went. Karen shared, “She purchased stuff I had to bite my tongue about, reminding myself that it wasn’t about the purchases. It was about Nia knowing I heard her, and I cared.”
Currently, the Dunlaps are taking short term placements, like Nia. Some are older, tough kids, even gang members. Even in the short time they are with her, Karen works to spend the kind of quality time with them where they feel heard, safe, and loved. She prays that they will see the real reason she can so easily love them. She says, "Especially with shorter placements, it's easy to feel like we have made no lasting difference in their lives." But knowing that God's heart will be forever chasing after these kids, she is content to be planting seeds he can use in their lives down the road. She hopes that one day they will say, “I remember that one lady who thought God was the answer. Maybe she was right!”
Back to school is a busy time of year and it can be difficult to get back into the rhythm of a constantly moving routine. Children in foster care may experience an additional challenge as they are starting a new school year in an unfamiliar home, school and community. This can cause a child to experience anxiety, sadness and fear which must be managed emotionally and psychologically.
One helpful tool during this season is to create a quiet space for the child to enjoy. Having a designated quiet area in the home allows space for a child to refresh mind and body. This is especially important for children who have sensory needs, mental health needs or no longer nap. Not only does this provide a break from stimulation, but it teaches children a new coping mechanism to manage stress and other big feelings, and how to advocate for themselves when overwhelmed.