LUK, Inc. Blog
The Foster Care Drift
by Michele Morrissey
We have all heard the stories from former foster youth who grew up in the system. Their stories often share the same common problem of growing up in multiple foster homes – the foster care drift (Placement Patterns in Foster Care). More than one disrupted foster home is traumatic enough for a child, but it’s difficult to fathom the harm experienced by a child when they have moved through 5, 10, 15, or even 20 homes.
What causes a child to move so many times? Who are these foster families that keep rejecting this child? Is the child welfare system so bad, that it cannot find permanency for these kids? The answers to these questions are not easy to find. It is too easy to say that the foster care system or foster family failed a child once again. It is also too easy for foster families to say, "I will never request a child be removed from my home."
I have had a specific child on my mind for a couple of months now. I was at a provider meeting that included several foster care agencies and this child was presented, as he’d been on a waiting list for some time. In professional lingo it is called a ‘placement request’ where agencies collaborate on locating an appropriate foster home for a specific child. This male child is three and half years old and needed to be transferred from his current foster home to a new home because of behavior issues. Further information reveals that he was part of a sibling group of four children and they were trying to find a home for him and his sister. The brother and sister had been separated from the other two siblings also due to behavior issues. When placed, the newest foster home will be his fifth foster home. The mother side of my brain is already shouting, "For heaven's sake this child is only 3 years old, how bad can his behavior truly be!!!"
Our intake coordinator presented his referral packet to a home and we found a match! The siblings had, what is considered, a long transition into the home. He finally moved into his new foster home with his sister. However, within days he was removed from the home due to severe behaviors and aggression. The little boy was screened by a state funded mental health team (the Mobile Crisis Team) and deemed safe to return to the foster home, but again, displayed very unsafe behaviors, property destruction, and aggression. He was moved to another foster home within our agency.
So what happened in this small child's life that brought him to this place? Obviously, abuse and neglect by his birth family brought him into the foster care system. Why so many foster homes? Most people think of behavior problems as tantrums, hitting or something similar. However, a child affected by trauma can bring bad behavior to new levels that are hard to imagine. Some of the most challenging behaviors that I have seen are bed wetting, hurting a family pet, hurting or battling with another child in the home, or even acting aggressively toward a foster parent or their biological children. It should also be said that rarely does this bad behavior mean one isolated incident. It occurs frequently and patience, additional supports, therapies, and “thinking outside the box” may have no impact. Providing a loving home for a child with these kinds of challenges will test even the most seasoned foster parents. Can a foster family that has tried everything under the sun and had no success be blamed for giving up?
One of the points that are taught in our MAPP (Massachusetts Approach to Partnership Parenting) training is that the safety and health of your own family needs to come first above the needs of a foster child. This is a hard concept to wrap the brain around until it has been experienced.
Foster families are all created differently and each experience is unique. The thought of a child with extreme behavior issues has chased many potential foster families away because of fear. Not all foster children have extreme behaviors. I have often been surprised by a family who seemed to be tailor made to handle a particular child. I admire those who choose not to give up and I understand the heartbreak and grief of those who need to make a change. There are no black and white rules when it comes to children in foster care.
The foster care system is working hard to minimize placement disruptions. There is now collaboration between state social services and private agencies to increase the chance of finding a home that fits a child's needs. Placing a child in a home that is good fit right from the start is an important piece of the puzzle.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, take the first step. Please call LUK at 800-579-0000 to talk about your interest in becoming a foster parent. We will answer any questions you have, and will begin the process when you are ready to proceed.
“Where am I in my window?” How to become a trauma-informed parent
By: Beth Barto, Director of Quality Assurance
Have you ever had a poor parenting moment when you needed to respond to your child’s need but instead took the easier road because of exhaustion? While parenting is the most important role in the world it can also be highly stressful. The stress of the job is compounded when parenting a child who has experienced trauma. For children who have not experienced layers of adversity your poor ‘tuning in’ moment will be viewed as a lapse in judgment and be forgotten in a matter of minutes. However, for a child who has experienced chronic stress, a parent who does not tune in or understand the big feelings under the big behaviors can be viewed as a threat in the storybook of fears developed through their experiences.
Children who have experienced layers of adversity often have an overactive alarm system. All humans have a built-in alarm system critical for our survival. The alarm system signals us when we might be in danger. Sometimes there can be false alarms. False alarms happen when something we see, feel or hear reminds us of a time when we needed to be alert for danger. Reminders can come in the form of people, places, smells, sounds, touch, taste and certain emotions. False alarms can be a way of being for children who have experienced chronic trauma. Being hypervigilent of situations can also be exhausting for children and they can miss out on important developmental milestones as a result.
So, what can parents do to help? Let us consider using ‘planned ignoring’ as an intervention for poor behavior. This type of strategy can be useful for many typically developing children and shift a child’s attention seeking behavior. However, using planned ignoring as an intervention for a neglected child can be a reminder of past abandonment. This important behavioral management skill can trigger the false alarm and a child impacted by chronic adversity can fill up with anger and demonstrate aggressive behaviors. Or, some children may shut down and go into their own inner world. All of these responses are ways children deal when they think something is dangerous. As parents it is important for us to understand that normal stress can trigger the false alarm and send a child to the extreme of rage or the extreme of numbing. This is the child’s automatic survival response. The “Window of Tolerance” (Ogden, et al. (2006); Siegel, 1999) is the optimal zone of energy where we are able to manage and thrive in every-day life.
The goal is to be able to be calm and peaceful and understand what events trigger the stress response. In trauma-informed parenting the parent is aware of where they are in their window in response to a child’s behavior. The parent understands that a child’s big behaviors are indicative of a false alarm and the behaviors tell a story of a child’s greatest fears. The parent is able to take a step back and become curious not furious and respond to the need instead of the behavior.
The main focus of trauma informed parenting is to reflect on one’s own state and become a detective of their child’s state of being. In stressful situations it is important to exercise your “thinking” brain by asking questions of the situation. When you notice concerning behavior, parents can step back and ask:
- Where am I in my window?
- Am I calm and can I respond effectively?
- What can I do to become calm?
- Maybe I should breathe. Maybe I should think about what might be going on for my child.
- Where is my child in their window?
- What is fueling their response?
- What is my child showing in their face, with their tone of voice in their approach and their mood?
- How do I let my child know that I understand them?
- What is the need the behavior is serving for my child?
- What happened to activate the false alarm: change in routine, transition, loss of control, feelings of rejection, limit setting, loneliness, and sensory overload?
Now that you have figured out what is going on you can have some great parenting moments. Consider that the most important action as a parent is to bear a child’s pain by being there, offering support, and helping children name, understand and manage their feelings. Consider being a reflective listener.
Remember that for a child with a false alarm the stress they are going through will feel extreme even though the casual observer will think they are over-reacting. Do not try to “change” the child’s feelings. The child will feel how they feel. Use eye contact; nod your head, and respond verbally. Do not interrupt or take over the conversation. Think about a time when you wanted to be heard and respond respectfully. Reflect back what you hear the child say and add that you can tell the situation is hard for them. Reflect back the child’s feeling but always ask the child if you got their feeling right. If you did not get the feeling right, apologize for your error and just name what you see. Don’t jump to problem solving. Validate the feelings and situation first, then help your child come up with the solutions.
A parent who is able to reflect on their own state in relation to the window will become an emotional container for their child. Please remember that we all have poor parenting moments just remember you can always go back when life is calmer and try again.
For more resources on parenting a child with trauma go to: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/audiences/parents-caregivers
Family Partners; A Growing Commodity
By Loree Nauman, Abby Sallila, & Karen Scofield
As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but to raise a child with special needs your going to need a whole lot more! We are parents raising children with Autism. We know all too well the extreme trials, tribulations, joys, and triumphs of raising a child with special needs. Raising sons with Autism is a tireless, never-ending adventure that helps bring awareness to all. We are also “Family Partners” under LUK’s Community Service Agency. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/commissions-and-initiatives/cbhi/
Gratitude and Well-Being
By: Karen P. Carlson, PhD>
The fall/winter season is a time where people from a variety of cultural, religious and ethnic traditions engage in celebrations and rituals focusing on acts and expressions of gratitude. Sometimes the gratitude and thankfulness is directed to a higher power and is thus considered a spiritual virtue. Sometimes it is focused on the life forces and provisions given from people and the natural world. In this sense gratitude is seen as a social virtue, a positive personality trait that helps one interact with the world in positive ways (Sansalone & Sansalone, 2010; Emmons & McCollough, 2003). Religious leaders and psychologists agree that gratitude involves attitudes, emotions and actions that are given unconditionally, not when deserved. The word gratitude stems from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, gratefulness (www.merriam-webster.com). Gratitude is something that is both given and received.
October is Substance Abuse Prevention Month
>By Vicente Sanabria, Dave Greco and Annie Womer >
Over the last year many communities have been made aware of the over-prescription of opioid pain medication and the consequences of overdoses. A mass devastation has visited Individuals and families throughout our country with opioid addiction and overdoses. This has led them to mobilize and increase the voice of substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery. (http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/substance-abuse/prevention/opioid-overdose-prevention.html) As the premier agency on the front lines of community health, LUK has seen the despair of addiction and the hope that prevention brings throughout its service area.
In recognition of the work that is addressing this opioid crisis as well as underage drinking, LUK would like to dedicate this blog to Substance Abuse Prevention Month – October 2015.
Along the continuum of prevention, treatment and recovery, the decreasing number of opioid overdose deaths exemplifies how substance abuse prevention requires entire communities to be local resources who are available 24/7.
Substance Abuse Prevention Month celebrates the work of hundreds of people providing countless volunteer hours. These hours are spent providing education, awareness, training and developing and implementing strategies to decrease opioid overdoses. These volunteers represent families, individuals, schools, faith communities, law enforcement, public safety and public health, businesses, youth, local and county government, and the list goes on. This is the heart of the substance abuse prevention coalitions working in many of our communities across Central MA and the state.
If substance abuse prevention had a mantra it might go something like this, “Multiple strategies in multiple settings with common goals.”
The work of substance abuse prevention differs in two complementary views. Treatment, in many cases, provides an empowering atmosphere through a clinical relationship to address a diagnosable individual or group problem. Prevention focuses on creating an empowering environment where these individuals live. While the client of a treatment model can be one individual or a group, the “client” of prevention strategies is an entire town, school district, faith community or any of those community stakeholders mentioned previously.
At a state level, the Commonwealth has launched a series of resources that communities, families, and individuals can review here:
At the local level in Central Massachusetts, the Montachusett Public Health Network (MPHN), which is working on reducing underage drinking in the eleven towns which they serve in North Worcester County in collaboration with LUK. (http://www.luk.org/services/prevention-services/substance-abuse-prevention)
LUK is currently implementing a series of substance abuse prevention strategies to reduce underage drinking in those eleven towns. through funding that MPHN received from the MA Dept. of Public Health.
Researchers believe that there is a high probability of a correlation between underage drinking and later opioid addiction for a large number of high school and middle school students. A question in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given to middle and high school students every 2 years in the state of MA, asks them about their use of alcohol (as well as other drugs). The question in the survey asks them about their personal current (defined as within the previous 30 days) binge or episodic drinking behavior. The self-reported rate of high school students, for this type of drinking, has gone down from 27% in 2005 to 19% in 2013. For middle schoolers it has been cut in half from 4% in 2007 to 2% in 2013.
Why is this important? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), when an adolescent begins to drink alcohol before the age of 15 they are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some point in their life. They are also at highest risk to develop an addiction to opioids and other drugs. Those who are familiar with the personality traits of an alcoholic know how addiction impacts every aspect of the lives of the active user, their family members and the community as a whole.
Substance abuse prevention is not a one size fits all answer to substance abuse, however, it is extremely effective in protecting adolescents from future substance use. As the rates for adolescents continue to decline so will the number of future addicts. And that is something worth celebrating.
So, please, join LUK in celebrating and recognizing National Substance Abuse Prevention Month and help spread the word that Prevention Works! Treatment is Possible! And Recovery Happens!