Why Foster Parent? Lots of Reasons… Here’s where it started for us!

seventh grade

See that geeky girl in the first row, second from left? Permed and bespeckled, wearing a too-short dress even though everyone else was wearing cool blue jeans?

You’re looking at the genesis of a foster mom.

Like most middle-school students, I led a fairly self-involved existence. It was years before I discovered that not everything is always as it seems. The pretty, popular girls — the ones who could wear mascara and had pool parties at their house that I was never invited to — had parents who were divorcing or drank too much. The unpopular kids … well, they had their own stories. It’s amazing how resilient kids can be.

Me, I was living out my own family drama. My sister’s cancer and the related financial devastation my parents faced had left its mark on my childhood. I was a good student primarily because books were my escape (we had no television, and secular music was forbidden). Money was so tight, there just wasn’t enough to buy the jeans the other girls were wearing. I didn’t even ask, because I knew the money wasn’t there. Instead I wore my best friend’s hand-me-down water print dress. It was too short, and my mother made me wear a longer skirt underneath. But to me, if was the epitome of haute couture.

There was a lot I didn’t tell my parents back then, not wanting to add to their load. (A neighbor lady who used to watch my sister and me while Chris was in the hospital planted this idea in my head, and it took root.) I spent a lot of time alone. One sweet boy (with the unfortunate last name of “Roach”) who talked to me and sometimes walked me home after school, disappeared after eighth grade, and I never knew what happened to him. I could only hope the rumors weren’t true.

How did all this add up to my becoming a foster parent? When Craig and I first started to talk about having a family, we knew we couldn’t conceive. Adoption was an option, but I kept thinking back to those months of being passed around as a kid, staying with one set of church friends or neighbors after another. I was always being reminded to be good, quiet, helpful. That, too, took its toll.  Looking back on my middle-school self, I can see now that I wasn’t ugly, or fat, or worthless, or unlovable. But back then I felt it to my bones.

I wanted to spare some other kid those same feelings. Each time I passed Catholic Charities in Detroit on my way to and from seminary, I thought about that twelve-year-old, until finally Craig and I pulled in and asked about becoming foster parents. We attended the classes … and next thing we knew, our children arrived on our doorstep.

To be perfectly honest, we were pretty naïve going into it. Like many foster parents, we discovered that sometimes love and compassion isn’t enough to heal the wounded heart of a child. Sometimes you just have to journey with them as patiently as you can — and remind them, over and over, that they are loved, and wanted, and safe. For me, it was the ultimate middle-school payback.

Have you ever thought about becoming a foster parent? I’d like to hear your story!

Do you need to REFRESH?

me-tooAs parents, we love our children. We revel in their giggles, rejoice in their accomplishments (“Yeah! The big-boy potty!”), and willingly sacrifice precious hours of shut-eye to tend to their most basic needs (“Good night, Sweetie. What’s that? Thirty cupcakes for Teacher Appreciation Day tomorrow!?”). And yet, parenting children with a history of abuse, neglect, and trauma, parenthood often means other, darker realities as well: isolation, embarrassment, worry, and never-ending self-doubt.

Well-meaning friends and family observe the chaos and try to help, slipping copies of Love and Logic and gently chiding your kiddos to stop climbing the walls, teasing the dog, or hiding turkey under the bed. They press for revealing details about your child’s history and first family, while you attend family functions on pins and needles, just waiting for the next disaster to erupt. You wish for a place where you can just relax and find kindred spirits who truly understand—who respond to your most embarrassing blunders and incriminating thoughts with the two most compassionate words in the English language: “Me, too!”

It’s time for “Refresh,” a regional (Seattle and Chicago) gathering where foster and adoptive parents can find camaraderie, training, and perspective. Founded by evangelical Christians Andrew & Michele Schneidler and “Confessions of an Adoptive Parent” bloggers Mike and Kristin Berry, this year’s event for Midwestern families was hosted in Wheaton, Illinois on November 11-12, 2016. The next conference, in Seattle, will be March 13, 2017.

Craig and I weren’t sure what to expect when we drove up to the Church of the Resurrection on Friday night and walked in the door as laughter and upbeat music emanated from the auditorium. Display tables for Bethany Adoption Services, New Hope Equine Therapy, and Capable Sensory Products lined the walls. Just outside the sanctuary, baskets of paddles reading “Me, too!” (to hold up in solidarity when a speaker shares an observation or story with which you can closely identify). Inside the auditorium, participants wore buttons that helped them connect with those who had similar stories: “Foster-Adoption,” “Sibling Adoption,” “Special Needs,” “Birth Mother,” “International Adoption.” Most people, like us, wore multiple buttons. In no time, we were chatting with new friends about daycare vs. in-home care, and sharing how we bonded with our kids using “love banks” that enabled them to communicate the amount and type of affection they most needed from us. No one pulled away or changed the subject when we talked about the harder stuff, the frustrations and worries. They knew. They had been there.

As Catholics, we had wondered if we’d be welcome—having spent my first thirty years in the evangelical community, I was sensitive to the smiling anti-Catholic undercurrent I sometimes encountered. But to my great relief, we were met with open arms – by their own admission, these parents had known rejection and isolation because of their children’s behaviors, and they were determined to include everyone. When I gave the Schneidlers and Berrys a copy of my book Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta, they responded with genuine warmth. And I was delighted to see Henri Nouwen’s quote displayed prominently on the screen in one of the talks:

Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position, it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity …. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most cute and building a home there.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. This particular event was dedicated to a cause close to the heart of all Christians who are truly pro-life: supporting families who have said “Yes” to journeying alongside children who have been traumatized by abuse and neglect, and trying to make a difference in their young lives. Not all our stories have a neat-and-tidy, happy ending – one speaker spoke eloquently about what it’s like to watch the police take away your oldest son and place him in the juvenile justice system.

I felt the tears begin to surface as I held up my own paddle. “Me, too.”

If you are unable to attend the next conference but would like some “virtual” help, be sure to sign up for Mike and Kristin Berry’s
“Confessions of an Adoptive Parent”
mailing list.

The Things We Do for Love: “Chopped”!

"Chopped" All StarsWhen you’ve been married for more than a decade, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a routine: He nods off around 9 o’clock while I “channel surf” until I land on a decent movie or one of my cooking shows. My current favorite is “Chopped.”

Each week four professional cooks vie for $10,000 prize money by creating culinary magic from a basket full of unlikely ingredients, creating first an appetizer (from grape jelly beans, conch, purple potatoes and kale), main dish (tofu, rabbit tenderloin, raddicchio, and Sambucca), and dessert (pumpernicle, lichi fruit, quail eggs, and corn nuts). Thirty minutes, starting NOW.

In each round, one chef gets “chopped.” A messy plate, unseasoned vegetable, or (gasp) forgotten ingredient — a regular occurrance at our house, I might add — is enough to send the ‘choppee’ on the walk of shame to those glass doors leading out of the studio.

“What is it ABOUT that show?” My husband usually stirs awake about 10:50, just as the last contestant’s crestfallen visage gets the requisite closeup as he (or, more often, she) recognizes the rejected dish. A fair question, that. Heaven knows I’m a utilitarian cook most days. But there is something about it that resonates with me. I can just see it: Getting trussed in a gown, forced to turn an armful of strange and not a little intimidating raw materials into something approaching a civilized dining experience, on pain of facing a chorus of alternately disapproving and appreciative “experts” whose opinion can make or break your future.

Yeah. A LOT like parenting . . . foster and special needs parenting especially. Alternately exhausting and exhilarating, satisfying and alarming. Sometimes you have to make do with a Cuisinart when what you really need is the sausage grinder, or the broiler when what you really need is the brulee torch. But somehow, inexplicably, joyfully, wondrously . . . it all comes together in the end.

And in the end, you get something a lot better than ten thousand dollars: You get to be “Mom” to a kid that some das you can’t but love so fiercely, it takes your  breath away. And on those other days . . . well, on THOSE days you hold on and just pray that bond between you holds tight. ’cause love never says “chopped.”

OK, all you secret chefs out there: If you could created a “Chopped basket” to challenge your favorite cook, what would go in YOUR basket?

Photo Credit:  “Chopped” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

Fostering Futures: A New Concept in Foster Care

jen devivo“Fostering Futures” is a foster care agency that has recently opened in southern Michigan; I am their newest board member!

The agency is the brainchild of a group of experienced, dedicated social workers led by Jennifer DeVivo, LMSW, the Chief Administrator of Fostering Futures. Ms. DeVivo initially began working in foster care in 1998 as a foster care worker and therapist at Boysville of Michigan.

This group’s dedication to (a) train and support high-quality social workers and foster parents and (b) invest state monies directly in the well-being of the children they serve has greatly impressed me. If you live in the Ann Arbor area, and have ever considered fostering, I invite you to attend the next training session and begin to explore the process.

Children in foster care are eligible to receive a wide variety of benefits: medical insurance, WIC, daycare reimbursements, college tuition, tutoring expenses, and a per-diem living expense ranging from $15-32 dollars per day. Singles and married couples are both welcome. If you’d like more information, just fill out this form or drop me a note at hsaxton@christianword.com and I’ll put you in touch with Jen.

Happy Father’s Day … Have a Frosty!

frostyThis weekend Wendy’s restaurants are supporting foster kids!  This ABC article announces …

During Father’s Day Weekend, Wendy’s will donate 50¢ from every Frosty product sold to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA), a national, non-profit public charity dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of adoptions of foster children in North America. Also customers can stop by Wendy’s and donate to the cause by purchasing a Frosty pin-up for $1 each.

Treat Dad … and while you’re at it, treat the whole family!

Focus on the Family Joins Obama Foster Care Reform Talks

Carrie Craft posted this article today about Focus on the Family’s joining the administration’s discussions on foster care reform.

I was surprised — and heartened — by the report that the current president of FOTF, Jim Daly, can empathize with the plight of these kids. I’m encouraged that people like this are being welcomed in the discussion.

6 Things to Know Before Becoming a Foster Parent

carriecraftCarrie Craft at About Adoption.com has a lot of helpful, practical advice about all aspects of adoption and foster parenting. If you aren’t already familiar with her site, I suggest you check it out!

Today I came across this article, “Six Things to Know Before Becoming a Foster Parent”. Lots of good, basic information about the logistics of foster parenting. If you’re contemplating foster parenting and aren’t sure where to begin, this article may help!

Should We Consider Foster Care or Foster-Adoption?

Check out my article today at Catholic Exchange, and decide for yourself!

WIth 500,000 children currently in need of temporary or permanent homes … TODAY, Christians who want to affirm the dignity and value of human life from conception to natural death can do no better than to open their hearts and homes to a child.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how rich. The other day at the Post-Gazette I read this heartwarming story of a couple who has been fostering kids for 35 years!

You don’t have to be a homeowner, or have a lot of money (foster kids come with their own insurance, and are eligibale for all kinds of services to offset the expense of raising them).

You can be a single parent, or a working parent — many states offer daycare subsidies as well as college tuition for foster children (and former foster children). They are also eligible for free hot lunch and WIC.

All you need is a lot of love and patience, and a spare bed (children of the same sex can room together).  And the willingness to be a force for good in a system that desperately needs a “Few Good (Wo)Men.”

Has Your Child Been Abused?

It’s a sad reality of life that many of the children who go into the foster care system have been exposed to horrific kinds of abuse and neglect. In some cases, the abuse is “passive” — such as being allowed to see pornography on television. In many cases, however, the abuse takes far more sinister forms.

Children who have been abused have scars that make them vulnerable to subsequent abuse. So sorting out the real threats from the fears is very important, and often requires the help of a trained professional. However, it is usually the parent (adoptive or foster parents included) who first see the signs that the child has unresolved trauma. Signs include:

* Child acts out in ways that are sexually suggestive or physically aggressive,
* Child has persistent nightmares or bedwetting (age 5+),
* Child touches self or others inappropriately and/or compulsively,
* Child is suddenly fearful or overly compliant around another adult (80 percent of molested children know their abusers – family friends, teachers, extended family members, etc.)
* Child is suddenly fearful of changing clothes or venturing outside home (to school or babysitter’s)
* Child draws disturbing images (or reenacts these stories with dolls),
* (In teenagers), child suddenly loses interest in her appearance, and/or alienates him or herself from friends and family.

Additional information may be found here: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

As adoptive parents – particularly parents of older adoptees with a vague history of neglect and/or abuse – we must steel ourselves for the possibility that the time may come when we are asked to participate in the painful process of redemption for our children. We may find ourselves having to re-direct our children again and again, and get for them (and ourselves) the help needed to resolve and receive healing for the violations they received before they came to us (or even, God forbid, at the hands of a third party while under our care). These wounds go deep, and leave a scar that may make them unwitting targets for subsequent abuse.

What should you do if you suspect your child has been abused?

First, pray and seek counsel so you can think clearly and react calmly. It is crucial that you can be spiritually strong for the child. You are being called to model authentic love for a child who has suffered at the hands of the counterfeit. While you are getting help for your child, go to daily Mass if you can; pray the Rosary and have others do the same on your behalf (though be careful to protect the child’s privacy as much as possible when you make your request known).

Assure your child that you love him or her, and that you are going to help him or her. Nothing he tells you will make you angry with him, or make you love her less. Be careful not to react with anger or disgust if you witness an “acting out” episode – see it for the cry of help that it is. For your own safety and that of your child, carefully document in writing how, when, and where you encounter signs of abuse.

Second, consider the safety of the other children in the family. Children who have experienced sexual abuse frequently abuse younger children. You may need to install door alarms or other safety devices, and take other safety precautions (such as not bathing the children together or allowing them to be left alone in a room together). Children can and do heal from all kinds of abuse … However, such healing does not occur overnight. It may be necessary to have the child placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where no other children are present, for his own good and for the safety of the other children in the home.

Third, get professional help for the child. As a parent, you must find the truth and get your child the help he or she needs – the sooner the better. Catholic therapists who specialize in sexual abuse may be found at http://www.catholictherapists.com/. If no qualified Catholic counselors are in your area, Pastoral Solutions (http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com/services.htm) offers telecounseling.

Fourth, protect the child’s privacy as much as possible without endangering others. If you have a social worker, consult with him or her about what you have observed and get his or her recommendations for next steps. Again, be sure to make careful records of when, where, and what you have observed. This information is too crucial to entrust to memory.

If your child has been “acting out” with other children in the home, make an appointment with the school counselor and/or teacher to discuss the importance of supervising children closely, especially in the bathroom and on the playground. By acknowledging that you are aware that your child has a history of abuse, you safeguard your own child’s well-being as well as that of other children.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a third party, it is absolutely critical that you trust your gut and do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. If another child is the source of the problem, alert that child’s parents; if the children must continue to have contact with each other (such as siblings), they must be monitored continuously and closely. If you suspect your child is being abused outside the home, changing babysitters or even schools is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Once the child is safe, you may then need to file a formal report with Child Protective Services (CPS), for the sake of other children.

Suzanne Baars adds: “Eighteen states require by law that one must report suspected child abuse. Once a child is in counseling and this information is shared with the counselor, either the counselor or the parent will be required to report the matter to Child Protective Services.” Adult perpetrators will be required to leave the home – or the children will be placed in protective custody. When the perpetrator is a child, that child may need to be placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where there are no other children present.

Fifth, do not waste time in self-blame or self-doubt. You love your children, and want them to grow up to be strong, healthy Christians. You may have ambivalent feelings about what has happened – questioning whether you could have said or done anything to prevent the abuse. You may be angry with yourself for having unwittingly endangered your child, for having put him in this school or her in that daycare situation. You may be harboring hateful or even murderous thoughts about the individuals who did these things to your children, wanting more than anything for them to experience the full consequences of their actions. This is normal … but it is also harmful to hold on to these feelings.

Talk with your priest in the sacrament of reconciliation; seek out a professional counselor who can help you work through these issues so that you might be able to forgive yourself and (ultimately) the perpetrator. It is important to release yourself of that burden, so you can be free to help your children. God has entrusted a special cross to you; He is asking you to help your child find healing, and to model forgiveness. Not for the sake of the abuser, but so that those who are touched by the abuse might find peace. God bless you!

Heidi would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Suzanne Baars and Dr. Gregory Popcak, who both reviewed this article prior to publication. Suzanne was especially helpful in describing the legal responsibilities of one who suspects abuse has occurred. You may contact Suzanne through “In His Image Christian Counseling Services” (http://www.conradbaars.com/SueBaarsBio.htm).

Save Our Children!

A wise man once said, “The greatness of any civilization is measured by the treatment of its weakest members.” America has always been a great nation. We enjoy unrivaled personal and civil liberties. And yet, we are now a nation in undeniable decline. How did we get here?

To put it simply, we have forgotten ourselves, where we came from and where we’re going.

* We have abandoned spiritual principles that brought us greatness, turning “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion,” poisoning decency and sacrificing the common good in the name of “tolerance” and “individualism.”

* We have robbed our children of their right to take their place as vital members of society, having abandoned and neglected them on one hand, and and overindulged and under-disciplined them on the other.

* We have wasted our natural abundance and vast resources, allowing those less fortunate — both around the world and in our own backyard — to die of poverty.

* Above all, we have sacrificed millions of young lives — both born and not-yet born — in the name of freedom.
Today my friend Sarah posted this YouTube video that is a must-see for any woman — especially any African American woman — who has ever considered abortion. It is profoundly ironic how the abortion industry has waged “Black Genocide,” legally, by swathing itself in red-white-and-blue bunting and calling it a “choice” rather than a “child.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Our two Democratic presidential contenders have the blood of thousands and thousands of preborn children on their hands. Senator Obama has gone so far as to argue in favor of actually denying medical care to children who survive abortion. (For more information about “Democrats for Life,” click here.)

Five hundred thousand children across our nation are being herded together into group homes, or are kept in permanent “limbo” without a family to call their own. (Here is information about how to become a foster or adoptive parent.)

Four hundred thousand children are in a state of embryonic suspended animation, abandoned by the very people who were willing to go to any lengths to have a child — even if that meant sacrificing their own flesh-and-blood. (If you would like to rescue one of these little ones, click here for more information on the “Snowflakes” program.)

In the first four centuries of Christianity — when the Catholic faith was considered a dangerous Jewish sect, and our leaders were routinely rounded up and executed by the Roman State — history records that thousands of Roman citizens nevertheless converted because of the witness of the lives of these ordinary Christians. In particular, they were admired for tending to those in prisons and hospitals … and because of their efforts to rescue and raise as their own countless abandoned Roman infants (infanticide was legal in the Roman Empire up to eight days of age).

There is a lesson for us here … The question is, how will you respond?