New publication (April 2013) from the Child Welfare Information Gateway that provides foster parents with guidance on how to help youth and emerging adults build a foundation for a successful transition to adult life outside of foster care. This factsheet for families includes eight tip sheets that provide specific guidance on topics related to self-sufficiency.
Helping Youth Transition to Adulthood: Guidance for Foster Parents
Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway: “This issue brief is intended to build a better understanding of the characteristics and benefits of AF-CBT, an evidence-supported intervention that targets (1) diverse individual child and caregiver characteristics related to conflict and intimidation in the home and (2) the family context in which aggression or abuse may occur. It was written primarily to help child welfare caseworkers and other professionals who work with at-risk families make more informed decisions about when to refer children and their parents and caregivers to AF-CBT programs. This information also may help parents, foster parents, and other caregivers understand what they and their children can gain from AF-CBT and what to expect during treatment.”
March is National Social Worker Month. Just about every person reading this can probably name a social worker who has made some sort of impact on you – from a social worker at your high school; one who assisted your family with an elderly loved one; a clinical social worker who helped you or a loved one through a difficult period in life or maybe a social worker is a member of your family. One thing the best social workers have in common is they love what they do – they are passionate advocates for the families and individuals they are charged with helping. They radiate a special internal light that some might label a “calling” or a “mission.” And one thing those of us whose lives they touch can say is we are blessed for having them in our lives. Below is the story of one such social worker.
Lighting up a room is a specialty of Arlene Velazquez, social worker with the New Britain office of the Department of Children and Families. This is a woman with two speaking speeds as she is the first to laughingly point out – “fast and very fast.” Born in Puerto Rico, Arlene’s family moved to the north end of Hartford when she was 7 years old. At the time, she only spoke Spanish. Despite the challenges of learning a second language while acclimating to a different culture and a new school Arlene aspired to more than what she experienced in her family – a family she admits that while very loving and committed to one another was “very poor” and struggled with feeling disenfranchised. She quickly adapted to life in Hartford and “became involved in everything.” She learned to love public speaking. She was even named Prom Queen of her high school class! The oldest of three siblings, she was the first in her family to graduate from high school and the first to graduate from college. Because of a required sociology class in high school she turned her attention to sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University where she attained her undergraduate degree. At the time Arlene thought she would pursue a legal career because of her interest in Civil Rights and interestingly enough, celebrity law. One thing was certain; she definitely wanted to work with people. But life has a strange way of intervening.
After graduation from Eastern, Arlene went to work as a counselor at a halfway house for men. She began to think about wanting a family and children and decided that she needed to change course. Law school would have meant many more years in school and much more debt. Looking through available positions, she spotted a job opening at DCF and submitted her resume. “I had all of the things they were looking for. And I spoke Spanish.” She believes that being bilingual really made a difference. She got the job.
Arlene is one of the first DCF staff a prospective foster parent meets during the licensing process. Now a 12 year veteran at DCF, Arlene’s current assignment is as a PRIDE trainer and licensing worker. Initially hired as a trainee working in the Waterbury office, Arlene found social work was a really good fit for her. “I was starting to see the difference I could make in people’s lives. It was such a high. And it was so humbling. My first removal was so surreal. I went home and cried. We have so much power over people’s lives.” Arlene has obvious respect and humility regarding the power afforded social workers at DCF. She states, “I have been blessed to have good supervisors,” people whom she feels have provided her with astute guidance and sage advice that have made her appreciate and understand the positive ways she can help change the direction of people’s lives.
Arlene applied for a transfer to the CPS Unit in New Britain in 2003 and was delighted when the position was offered to her. She was pregnant at the time and thought she would be transferred upon her return after maternity leave. No. They wanted her right away. So, she jumped at the opportunity. After stints with Child Protective Services (CPS), Investigations and Permanency Units, Arlene now works with the Foster Adoptive Services Unit (FASU). Her unbounded enthusiasm and genuine passion for her work, the families she teaches and the kids she teaches about are likely some of the biggest reasons families love to attend her PRIDE classes – that and her knowledge base. Arlene genuinely knows what she is talking about and she communicates honestly and effectively with “her families.” All of her experience prior to her current position prepared her well. She learned a lot of good assessment skills. Arlene explains, “I’m a writer. I like to write about the strengths and challenges of a family. I like to make my family come to life. It’s important for them to have a well-written home study. Especially for adoptive families – this is their marketing tool.” She feels a real obligation with adoptive families to portray them accurately so that a good match can be made when the time comes. In fact, you get the impression that Arlene always puts forth extra effort for every family she comes into contact.
In addition to her professional passion, Arlene also identifies with foster families in a very personal way. A number of years ago, her 2 year old nephew was removed from his mother’s care and Arlene and her husband became his foster family. The young boy was living down in Florida at the time and had been placed in a group home. Arlene immediately flew to Florida to take custody of him as soon as her family found out about his situation. She cared for him for 4 months until he was reunified with his mother. When he was 7 years old, he was again removed from his mother’s care this time in CT. Her nephew lived with her family for 3 months until it became clear that he needed a higher level of care. Although he was moved to a congregate care setting, Arlene and her family visited him at least monthly. They wanted to be sure he knew that his family cared about him. Family situations can be complicated, though, and whenever he was reunified with his mom, her family rarely got to see him. This experience has made Arlene very insightful about the feelings foster families experience. She sounds thoughtful when she says, “It is not an easy thing to do, to become a foster parent. I’m big about commitment. This was hard for me and my family.”
Arlene says that she is very honest with her classes. “I’m very strict with my class. They need to take it seriously. The first sign of their commitment – to me – is coming to class. How will you ever deal with the kids if you cannot keep this commitment?” Pausing for a minute, she collects her thoughts and continues now talking about birth family contact, “We all need to remember that we are doing this for the kids. FOR THE KIDS. It’s so important for them to have relationships with family. Eventually you understand where they are coming from. Compare it to a divorce. Would you talk bad about the other parent? Prevent them from seeing the other parent? YOU might have issues with the other parent but you don’t let that interfere with the kid’s relationship with their parent. Ask yourself: Can I deal with all these? DCF? Appointments? Issues? Birth families?” She is very clear with families. This is not for everyone but – if it is for you – she will prepare you well.
Another of Arlene’s passions – which every family who attends her PRIDE classes can attest to – is teenagers. Her eyes sparkle and her speed jumps to very fast as she discusses these youth that are often not the first choice of families going through the licensing process. “People think that our kids are all bad and that’s so sad because they are not. When I worked in other units I had teens on my caseload, really good teens. Back then I had no idea that there was such a shortage of foster homes for this age group. I just didn’t know it was that big. I thought that some of the kids might have chosen not to be close to a family.” Arlene becomes sad at this point. “It could have been any one of us. They’re just like we were except a little higher degree. Hearing the stories – yeah, the babies are cute – but what about the other kids? And I think about my nephew.” She sighs, “These kids don’t get to experience all the things we all experienced like prom and other rites of passage. It’s just not right. So, yes, I have a passion about teens. If I don’t think something is right I want to change it.”
To rectify the lack of homes for teens, Arlene came up with a plan – this is not a woman who sits idly by when she identifies a problem. Arlene approached her Program Manager, Dina Kelly, and asked if she could add an additional class onto her PRIDE training. Arlene describes Dina as “incredibly supportive and open to trying new things.” Dina told her to “go for it” so Arlene did the research and added a 3 hour training dedicated to helping families understand the needs of teens in the hopes that more families might become comfortable parenting kids older than those they had originally identified. Arlene’s new class starts with a fun “icebreaker” which gets families thinking about their own behavior as teens; a section on brain development and a panel with social workers who are adolescent specialists, foster families who parent teens and teens in foster care. It has been a smashing success!
Someday Arlene hopes to adopt. She says, “I plan to wait until I can give them what they need. You should hear my husband. Initially he was not willing but now – now – he sounds just like a social worker when he talks about the kids and us adopting.” She laughs. Her eyes sparkle. You know some kid, someday, is going to be really lucky.
Realistic Expectations for Fostering Families
“Deciding to foster is a huge commitment and leap of faith. The best foster parents share that being prepared and connected with other families like theirs is a step on the road to successful placements.” (from guide intro) This guide is a powerful resource for you to use to help you understand better the commitment you are choosing by fostering/adopting or caring for kin. It also provides valuable insight as to the thoughts and feelings of children and youth affected by foster care.
The Second Time Around
Church, faith and service are central to understanding Debbie and Sal. In fact, this couple met at a church in North Haven where they both volunteered as Lay Youth Ministers. They fell in love and soon were married. Debbie and Sal began their married life like many couples do; they had three kids (two girls and a boy) in short order. Still extremely involved in the church, they felt called to reach out to the youth in their congregation who lacked adult support. Debbie says, “Nurturing was natural for us. We took in a lot of kids who needed the extra. We housed several teenage girls who were pregnant and saw them through their pregnancies. In fact, we still keep in frequent contact with some of them. While raising their children, the couple continued to minister to children in this voluntary and “unofficial” capacity. A change in church homes, as well as a family move to another town resulted in a halt to this ministry.
Debbie is a diminutive woman whose essence is anything but. Her kind and gentle manner convey a strong commitment to children and the unshakable belief that she is doing what she was meant to do. Once her children were grown she felt “empty-nested” in her words. “All of the kids were off to college so we got a puppy but that wasn’t enough for me.” Searching for another way to help kids, in 2007, with the blessing of her children, she and Sal attended an Open House in Cheshire. Life, though, has a funny way of intervening in the best laid plans. Soon after, a young lady who needed a home unexpectedly came back into their lives. Cydney, considered by Debbie and Sal to be another of their “kids”, had lived with them as a toddler. She asked to move in once again as an adolescent. Debbie worked with Cydney’s grandmother who was caring for Cydney, to be able to let go and take back the role of “grandma.” Debbie and Sal took temporary guardianship through Probate Court and Cydney remains with them to this day. It is so clear that Debbie is proud of Cydney when she talks about her. “Cydney graduated from high school, and is attending a local college full time as well as working full time at a daycare.”
In 2008, with Cydney comfortably installed in their home and ready to jump back into the foster care licensing again, the couple attended PRIDE classes. Even before the ink was dry on their license, issued in 2009, Debbie received a call from DCF regarding a sibling group. In fact, when they called, she said she did not think her license was issued yet. The DCF worker assured her they were printing it out at that very moment. A sibling group of three, two boys and a girl, ages 2, 4, and 7, needed a home. The oldest child at 7 was just enrolled into Kindergarten and the 2 year old was not speaking yet. Miraculously, the 4 year old seemed developmentally intact. Debbie had only one bedroom available at the time so DCF issued a waiver in order to keep the kids in the same home. On May 11, 2009, Debbie and Sal met the kids at a Safe Home. They were placed in their home on May 15th. Bionca, the oldest and very protective of her brothers (and her biological mother), told the boys that the parents looked like nice people. “It was love at first sight,” says Debbie. “They seriously looked at us with such hopeful eyes. I still love looking into their eyes to this day.”
At the time, Debbie worked at a daycare, which was very convenient. She became the Toddler teacher for one of the boys once she registered them there. “Daycare was my biggest support system,” she explains. “My husband was working 70 hours a week at the time.” Sal worked as a carpenter at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown where the explosion occurred in May 2010, killing 6 and injuring at least 50 workers. Sal was there that day and has not worked since. He acts as full-time dad to the kids. Debbie thinks that caring for the kids is actually what sustained him through the long and difficult process of healing from the trauma of that day – that and their faith.
Initially, the kids’ case plan was reunification, and Debbie worked with the birth parents to help them achieve this. “My DCF workers were phenomenal. We initially thought we would only be fostering kids. Adoption was an unexpected turn of events, but there was no question that we would adopt the kids when we found out that the plan was changing. Our only concern was college – at our age we were concerned about saving enough. When DCF told us about the availability of help for college costs it was a done deal. We were really relieved.” On July 26, 2011, the family went to court and made the adoption official.
Debbie still keeps in close contact with the birth parents. They text and from time to time plan visits in the community so that they can see the kids. Right now, however, both birth mom and birth dad agree with Debbie that it is not in anyone’s best interest for visitation, so they confine their interaction to contact with Debbie, a not unusual occurrence in open adoption. There are many adoptive families who find that the type of contact that is appropriate will metamorphose over time – changing back and forth depending on the stage of developmental stage of the child as well as the mindsets of the birth family. The kids do still visit with a 14 year old half-sister and at some point might visit with some of their other four half-siblings.
Some readers might find Debbie’s name sounds familiar. Three years ago, while visiting the CAFAP website to register for an event, she noticed a job opening for Regional Liaison for the Meriden DCF office. She sent in an application and at the banquet she had just registered for, she introduced herself to Diane Orlando, the Program Manager. They had a nice long “chat” and soon after Debbie was offered the position. Debbie is very enthusiastic about her job. “I love working with the families and I particularly love facilitating trainings and support groups.” She speaks of “her families” with such obvious affection and devotion. Diane Orlando, Debbie’s supervisor, speaks of her with obvious affection and respect. “Debbie and her husband are such caring, loving parents. And Debbie shows that same care to the Meriden area foster, adoptive parents and relative caregivers daily. She is an asset to our organization.” Dina Kelly, Regional Program Manager for the Meriden FASU, also speaks highly of Debbie, “Debbie is a true joy to work with. She has endless energy, wonderful ideas and loves to help in any way she can. The foster families she supports have only positive things to say about her. She listens to their needs and advocates for them in effective ways. We consider her a true partner!”
Asked about the changes to their lives since beginning their foster care journey, Debbie laughingly states, “We traded in a 25 year wedding anniversary cruise for Sesame Place season tickets. Sometimes we think about going on a vacation by ourselves but we would just miss the kids.” Then she gets serious. “This is our ministry, just the natural thing for us to do. Foster care is a way of life.” And for this family, it truly is.
-written by Deb Kelleher for Foster Adoptive Mission
Finding and Using Postadoption Services (CWIG)
Per the Child Welfare Information Gateway:
It is common for adoptive families to need
support and services after adoption. Postadoption services can help families
with a wide range of issues. They are available for everything from learning
how to explain adoption to a preschooler, to helping a child who experienced
early childhood abuse, to supporting an adopted teen’s search for identity.
Experience with adoptive families has shown that all family members can
benefit from some type of postadoption support. Families of children who
have experienced trauma, neglect, abuse, out-of-home care, or
institutionalization may require more intensive services.
A Q&A on Child Sexual Abuse
The National Child traumatic Stress Network provides many useful tools for families. Childhood sexual abuse is often difficult to understand and talk about. This Q&A About Child Sexual Abuse provides useful information and tools to help parents deal with this difficult issue.
From their website:
Established by Congress in 2000, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) brings a singular and comprehensive focus to childhood trauma. NCTSN’s collaboration of frontline providers, researchers, and families is committed to raising the standard of care while increasing access to services. Combining knowledge of child development, expertise in the full range of child traumatic experiences, and dedication to evidence-based practices, the NCTSN changes the course of children’s lives by changing the course of their care.
The Network is funded by the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services through a congressional initiative: the Donald J. Cohen National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative. As of November 2009 the Network comprises 60 members. Affiliate members—sites that were formerly funded—and individuals currently or previously associated with those sites continue to be active in the Network as affiliates.
Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adopted Child
This informative Factsheet provides guidance and summarizes the importance of obtaining as much thorough
and accurate medical, genetic, and social history information as possible about prospective adopted children.
Click here to download : Obtaining Background Info on Your Prospective Adopted Child
Instability and Early Life Changes Among Children in the Child Welfare System (NSCAW Study)
Are you raising a child who entered the foster care system during infancy? Did your child experience trauma during his or her early life? This study looks at the effects of high levels of stress and trauma on the development of infants and young children.
“This is the eighteenth in a series of NSCAW research briefs focused on children who have come in contact with the child welfare system. Additional research briefs focus on the characteristics of children in foster care, the provision of services to children and their families, the prevalence of special health care needs, use of early intervention services, and caseworker judgment in the substantiation process.” – NSCAW
From the Children’s Bureau Express website: The Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) released a research brief exploring the stability of caregivers and households of infants in out-of-home care. Based on data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a longitudinal study of children at risk of abuse or neglect or already in the child welfare system, the brief focused on 1,196 children who were infants involved in investigations of abuse or neglect and were followed until they reached 5–7 years old. Data were collected from 1999 to 2007 and through interviews with caregivers and caseworkers.
Specifically, researchers sought to find answers to the following questions:
- How common are caregiver and household changes that last 1 week or longer for infants involved in a maltreatment investigation?
- How many changes in caregivers and households occur during the first 2 years of life and up to the time that children enter school?
- What are the characteristics of these children and their families?
- Are some children at increased risk for experiencing a caregiver or household change or a higher number of changes?
One of the interventions suggested in the NSCAW brief is Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up Intervention (ABC Intervention.) Click here to access the evidence-based ABC website.
Understanding the Effects of Trauma on Brain Development
Published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, This issue brief provides basic information on brain
development and the effects of abuse and neglect on that development. The information is designed
to help professionals understand the emotional, mental, and behavioral impact of early abuse and
neglect in children who come to the attention of the child welfare system.
Download Understanding the Effects of Trauma on Brain Development as a PDF here.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a service of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides access to print and electronic publications, websites, databases,
and online learning tools for improving child welfare practice, including resources that can be shared with families.
Check out a link to their website here.