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I Want YOUR Quote in My Book.

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Photo by Tekke

I’m writing a book (and have three publisher appointments this month).

Goals: 

a. present an accurate view of foster care

b. inspire people to step up and foster (or if they can’t foster, to support those who do)

I’d appreciate your input. Comment below to answer all or some of the questions (or write whatever you want). Be as detailed or as brief as you like. Alternately, send your response to casey@hypervigilant.org if you’d rather. 

Also, if you’re willing, please repost this to your blog or other outlet directing people back to https://hypervigilant.org to post answers so I can collect them.

THANKS for your help!

*In your response, please include a name (pseudonym is fine) for quote purposes. 

  1. What is your experience with foster care?

  2. Is foster care important/necessary? (please explain why/why not)

  3. Was your experience positive or negative, and what made it so?

  4. Who should foster?

  5. Other than the obvious (e.g., people with legal or abuse issues, etc.) who shouldn’t foster?

  6. What are legitimate reasons to foster?

  7. What are not legitimate reasons to foster?

  8. What do kids in foster care need most?
  9. What do potential foster carers need to know?

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Battle Gear

Related to: Put on Your Armor, Part 1 and Part 2

Several times, now, I’ve “diagnosed” our children in the face of therapists who disagree…only to have a psychological evaluation support my assertion six months (or more) later.

This is not because I’m more intelligent or have higher qualifications.

I don’t point this out to brag.

There is a reason it happened:

NO ONE can be an expert on EVERYTHING.

Every therapist has specialties.

If you’ve been part of the Hypervigilant community for more than a year, you may have wondered why I sometimes write yet another “we have a diagnosis!” post. Since he came to live with us, I’ve asserted our boy is on the Autism spectrum. And every time a professional confirms Autism, a different therapist disagrees the following year.

Some people don’t want their kids “labeled,” but in our case, what I call a diagnosis-in-writing helps us obtain needed services. (A number of therapists agree, “yes, I see those traits, but I’m not ready to put the diagnosis in writing”)

In search of someone who could finally help him, we bounced through the counseling community for six years. When the yearly psych came due, his counselor du jour completed the process.

At the time, utilizing the counselor most familiar with his current behaviors seemed logical, but not all of them were adept. In some cases, he refused to complete questions or gave answers he thought they wanted to hear.  

His fluctuations in participation, combined with the wide array of specific spheres of knowledge, created anomalies in his diagnoses.

In January, a psychologist at the residential center completed a psychological for our son. Her field of expertise is ADHD. Almost all of her recommendations centered around mitigating ADHD symptoms. She did not address any of our concerns about Autism, ODD or social behavior, nor did she delve into factors impacting his aggression level.

I requested (okay, demanded) the center pay for a new psych evaluation with a different individual (since insurance wouldn’t pay for another). They declined to provide a full workup but agreed to a specialist performing certain specific testing.

Here’s what I never realized until now: we needed a TESTING expert.

The individual who performed the second battery does not provide counseling, therapy or psychological services of any kind. He only handles TESTING.

Our son’s session with the tester ended up fielding even better results than I’d hoped and I learned a valuable lesson in the process:

For therapy, turn to a licensed therapist or counselor. For medication, seek a psychiatrist. For accurate test results, consult a testing specialist.

But I digress. My point here is that no professional will ever have full command of every possible issue. Have you seen the DSM-V? It’s a chunky little book. And some of the diagnoses it contains are the sole focus of entire Ph.D. degrees.

When it comes to the kids in our homes, it is OUR responsibility to be the expert.

Children who’ve experienced trauma are each unique, but parallels appear in symptoms and behaviors across the group.

Unless your counselor is well-versed in results of a traumatic beginning, you will likely be your child’s best advocate.

If you live with a child, you know the child better than the “professional” ever could.

Don’t allow fear of being wrong or less qualified stop you from speaking up about concerns.

The most important part of being a child’s advocate is preparation. We need to put in the time to learn and to research.

With this in mind, in the next few weeks I’ll be posting resources to help kids who’ve had tough beginnings.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 encourages study of the Bible, so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While not specific to kids who’ve experienced trauma, it’s a great resource for finding hope and fighting fear, both integral to healing.

The idea also applies to studying on behalf of our kids. The more we know about needs and behaviors related to trauma, the better equipped we are to help them and to fight for them.

Let’s get out there and do GOOD WORK.

 

Put on Your Armor, Part 2

Continued from Put on Your Armor, Part 1

Preparation for helping our kids also applies to the spiritual side.

If, during a professional baseball game, the umpire decided to forgo the mask and padding, we’d think he was crazy.

If a policeman waded into a firefight without his bulletproof vest, we’d consider him nuts.

And yes, if someone ran a marathon in stilettos, we’d be amazed at the reckless (yet fabulous) nose-thumbing at potential bodily harm.

But so often, I neglect to prepare my mind and heart and spirit. And the days I forget, separating my child from his behavior becomes difficult.

My child is not my enemy. 

The enemy is the evil that caused the trauma. I need to prepare mentally to make that separation and help my child heal.

I can’t do it alone.

…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17

If I prepare my spirit and mind to do what is necessary, I can focus on the true target: helping my children find healing.

I may not win every fight in this battle for my kids.

But if I remember to put on all of my armor, at the end of the war, I’ll still be standing.

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Photo credit: Alexxx Malev
*This statue, The Motherland Calls, is in Volgograd, Russia (formerly Stalingrad). I found her while looking for images of a female warrior and before I saw the title, could almost hear her calling, “follow me, and fight. I will fight before you.” I want to be this brave, to have this spirit, to defend, to protect. She is simply amazing.

Put on Your Armor, Part 1

Do you slip into stilettos to run a marathon?

Would you slather on sweet-smelling lotion before slogging through the Everglades?

Have you ever heard of Mt. Everest climbers leaving all the sub-zero gear at base camp?

A little closer to home:

Do you take Monopoly money to the market, leave your gas tank on empty before a road trip, or forget to feed your kids (or your animals…or yourself) for three days?

Of course not. How ridiculous.

Every day, all day long, we plan our day and prepare for those plans.

How is it, then, that we invite children who’ve experienced trauma into our homes with so little preparation?

In a perfect world, a good social worker will thoroughly understand the child’s case and recommend training or reading material for the caregiver weeks ahead of time.

We don’t live there.

We reside in reality, where wonderful social workers are buried in paperwork and policy, or are overburdened by the number of cases they’re assigned. They’d love to provide training and make recommendations but simply have no time.

Or, as was our case, the workers are less than stellar, burned out, close to retirement and just wants to clear their desks with the least possible effort.

The responsibility, then, falls to us.

We must prepare to become experts in order to defend our children.

What excuse do we have for ignoring available information? 

Read. Learn. Recognize. Advocate.

 

 

Let’s Ride Again

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Photo Credit: Warren County CVB

Roller coasters are my favorite amusement park ride.

If you stay at the park late enough, people stop filling the queues for cars in the middle of the coasters. If no one is waiting, the nice 16-year-old earning minimum wage to run the train will let you stay on for extra rides.

The day our son almost passed out on a kiddie ride, I thought my dreams of sharing terror and joy at top speed were dashed.

Five years later, I rode the tallest coaster in our state. The air rushing around me filled with the happy screams of my kids.

I love roller coasters, and I love that my kids have become amusement park thrill-seekers.

Sadly, this summer, I found my limit.

Three coasters with upside-down loops, and I’ve had enough. (Thankfully, I can still ride no-loop coasters in indefinite glee.) 

***

Our son has been in a residential treatment facility since the fall. Sometimes I think of it as

Centre Residential Amusement Park, where EVERY ride goes upside down.

I’ll leave you to think through the park name acronym for yourself. 

Good behavior earns passes for leaving the facility with family in 6-, 12-, 24- or 48-hour increments.  

He displays consistent major upsets over minor issues; because of this, he qualified for only one 6-hour off-grounds pass in nine months.

However, this month he appeared to turn himself around and managed to have ZERO incidents requiring a staff member to physically intervene.

We worked with the therapist to quickly arrange two passes, hoping to show him that his good behavior benefits him.

One of our concerns is his potential intent to hurt his sister, but she was away at camp, so we brought him home for a day, and the following week we brought him home for an overnight.

He appeared to be a different child; even when things didn’t go exactly as he wanted, he managed beautifully.

We talked with the therapist and decided to try bringing him home for an overnight now that his sister has returned.

And then…

Tuesday, he intentionally provoked a peer, trying to get the child to fight him.

Wednesday, he punched someone.

He hasn’t physically assaulted another individual in almost two months.

The therapist called to let me know he didn’t feel comfortable approving a pass.

After a month of good news, I thought we were heading for the exit of Centre Residential Amusement Park.

Guess I’m buying a few more tickets for the roller coaster ride: one for me, one for Hubby, one for Jesus. I thought I’d reached my limit, but it looks like we’re riding once more.

Sometimes I forget to mention how much I appreciate Hubby and Jesus.

If I have to ride these loops again, at least I’m never alone.

 

 

Microsoft’s Missed Opportunity

UPDATE: I checked in with Microsoft’s Mike Tholfsen. He was kind enough to reply directly: “We are still actively trying to work through the original pilot program data, stay tuned.”

Also, correction: the pilot program included 2500, not 20. I evidently misunderstood the rep. My apologies!

Microsoft is missing an enormous opportunity.

I’m a little bit shocked, actually, that the company’s PR people don’t appear to have noticed.

What opportunity, you ask?

First, a few statistics:

NUMBER OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

According to the U. S. government’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the National Home Education Research Institute, approximately 1.7 million students (ages 5-17) were estimated to be homeschoolers in 2016. In other words, 3.4% of the student population.

DIVERSITY OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

HSLDA’s article quotes NCES: “among children who were homeschooled, 68 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, 8 percent are black, and 4 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.” A quick look at the U.S. Census Bureau site reveals the diversity in homeschooling closely mirrors diversity numbers of the U.S. population.

SUCCESS OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

Chris Weller’s article in Business Insider says, “homeschooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once they’re enrolled.

A 2009 study showed that the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was about 67%, while among public school students it was 59%.

Students from Catholic and private schools fell even lower in college graduation rates, with 54% and 51% of kids, respectively, completing all four years.”

GROWTH OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

Per Dr. Susan Berry, from 2003 to 2012, homeschooling experienced a 61.8% jump. (I couldn’t find a more recent study.)

The increase in homeschooled students from 2003 to 2012 alone (677,000) is greater than the population of Washington, D.C.

-CNS News

Why am I presenting you with a bunch of stats?

To make one point:

Homeschoolers are a rather large demographic to ignore.

Earlier this year, I found Microsoft 365 Education; the program is super and has a number of ways to help struggling learners. Of special interest was the Immersive Reader feature with One Note.

I found a page stating that the program is “FREE for all home-based educators and students…” which, of course, thrilled me.

Unable to find the option to sign up (three web pages sent me in circles, linking back to each other), I spent four hours on the phone and additional time on chat trying to track down a link to join the program.

Bottom line: I can’t.

Although the web page says it is “FREE for ALL” home educators and students, it turns out that’s not actually the case.

Microsoft ran a pilot program announced in 2016.

The pilot program is now closed and I can only sign up for the educational awesomeness if I have an email address ending in .edu or am teaching in a traditional school (with an official email address), per the same kindly apologetic Microsoft rep.

So, my daughter, who would benefit greatly from the opportunity to utilize the learning tools, is not able to do so. Basically, if I want her to have that access, she has to go back to public school, where they gave up on her ability to learn math (which she aced this year, by the way).

I’m a little surprised at Microsoft, giving up the opportunity to reach 1.7 MILLION diverse, intelligent kids.

Google has recently made some incredible learning features available to the public. For all. For FREE. For real.

Imagine. 1.7 million kids, getting used to Google tools and Google Docs and Google…well, everything.

Soon, they’ll grow into 1.7 million adults, communicating, writing, doing business and running companies. If they’re making decisions, they’ll choose Google products because, let’s face it, most of us continue using the programs with which we’re most familiar.

I’d love to introduce our girl to Microsoft tools, as my mom taught me (seriously; our house was Microsoft Mecca) but we’re already spending quite a bit on core curriculum pieces. Google is making the tools available and free, so I guess it’s time I learn Google Docs…

I hope Microsoft will follow Google’s lead and provide free access to the fabulous learning tools in Microsoft 365 Education for ALL educators and students.

Three Things Every Kid with RAD Needs

There is NO silver bullet and NO easy way to overcome Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Kids exhibiting RAD symptoms have endured deep loss and continue to grieve.
As I understand it, their brains have rewired to compensate. They may experience low levels of emotion or pain. Our daughter was able to turn off her emotions at will, but some of her lack of emotion was not intentional and concerned her. She used to ask me if there was something wrong with her because she didn’t always cry when she thought it would be appropriate (e.g., funerals, pet loss).
Our son’s pain receptors don’t work properly; at the treatment center, our guy broke his hand by punching a wall in a fit of rage. When I confronted the nurse on duty after seeing his hand (swollen three times normal size), she said they’d checked it earlier and assumed he was ok because he went back to activities with no complaint. He played basketball with a broken hand all afternoon.
He had to have an MRI for something else and I mentioned this to the neurologist. She said lack of response to pain is typical of kids who’ve been through trauma.

Kids with RAD need three things:

  1. True belief that you will not abandon them and will never give up on them

  2. Motivation (external or internal; sometimes related to #3)

  3. Definite realization they want to stay with you 

Finding ways to help them accept #1 and identifying #2 are equally difficult. When you’ve been abandoned by the people who should have been your rock solid forever protection (bio family), you have a hard time understanding why anyone else would stick with you. When everything that matters has been stripped away, you cease to put value in anything because it will likely be taken as well.
It is impossible to create #3, although this often grows from #1 and #2.
Seven years of CONSISTENT love, positive and negative consequences and promises kept worked for our daughter. About two years ago, we openly discussed the fact that we needed to consider residential treatment for her (because if your kid has cancer and you’re not a doctor,  you go to the hospital…we’re not psychiatrists and nothing was working). This shocked her into realizing that she did want to be with us. She asked us to give her time to try to change her behavior, and we gladly agreed.
That same amount of time has not worked for our son…YET. We had the same conversation with him last August, but he had a different reaction. He’s been in residential treatment with wild swings in his behavior and very little progress until last month. The one thing that does motivate him externally is television; he’ll do anything for TV time. Unfortunately, the treatment center hasn’t been the most cooperative with behavior modification; it’s “too difficult” to tie TV time to behavior. We’re looking at moving him elsewhere due to many factors, and as a part of that process our post-adoption social worker (whom he’s never met) needed to visit him. I asked her not to introduce herself as a social worker or as from social services because every time a SW showed up at our house during the foster years, he freaked out.
I was sure he’d assume she was there to take him, because I know he still doesn’t believe we’ll keep him.
The center therapist wasn’t aware (I didn’t realize she was going so soon and didn’t have time to prep him or our son) and introduced her to our son as “from DSS.” Our guy immediately went there.

They’re sending me to a new family?! I knew it!! 

The therapist said he morphed to scary-angry on the spot. Once they calmed him down and explained, he relaxed a bit. We called later that day and reinforced that we are not going anywhere and neither is he.
I think the misunderstanding shocked him into realizing that he really DOES want to be with us. Since her visit, he’s had a completely different tone with us, both on the phone and in person. His behavior is suddenly better; he’s like a different kid. We are praying that this will be his turnaround.
RAD is a roller coaster that never fully ends. I never get completely comfortable or expect things to be wonderful forever, because ridiculous expectations = death to healthy relationships. Expect that things may sometimes be rocky, and know that you’ll survive.

To anyone parenting a kid with RAD symptoms: ENJOY the quiet ride while it lasts, and just know that the crazy ups and downs are all related to their pain. As they heal, things will get better. Keep in mind that they’ll likely never be “over” the hurt, but they can move past it in many ways.

 

 

 

 

Adoption Reddit

You may already be familiar with Reddit. Have an interest? Reddit probably has a running discussion; it’s a treasure trove.

(Careful…it can be addicting. Hilarious kitty pics are hard to ignore.)

If you have Adoption connections, I’d like to recommend that you join the Adoption group* (sub).

If you’re part of the Adoption Triad (an individual who was adopted/fostered, an adoptive/foster parent or a biological parent) or if you’re considering fostering or adoption, it’s a great place to hang out.

Many members who were formerly adopted or in foster care provide excellent advice for adoptive/foster parents with honest questions. I won’t list user names because there are too many (and I’ll end up accidentally leave someone out), but believe me, if you have a concern, someone can help. It’s also a great place to talk with other parents in similar situations.

*I feel as though the sub has gotten a bad rap recently; if you get a negative response in one (or more) of the comments, just ignore it. Most of the time, individuals posting negative views are dropping in to stir the pot (you can click the user name to see their post history). Most of the truly active members are incredibly helpful and truly care about making life better for our kiddos.

Also, keep in mind that negative comments often source from a well of deep grief and loss, so if someone’s acting like a jerk, they are probably hurting. 

Why Would I Say That?

I used to write down funny things the kids said.

(For those of you beginning the journey, keep a journal, send yourself a text, etc. You’ll definitely want it later).

Looking through old texts to myself, I found this one from early 2016:

Me (to my daughter):

“I couldn’t hear what you said, but it sounded like ‘I love you so much!'”

She (with emphasis and attitude):

“Why would I say THAT?!”

Wordpress

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

At the time, we were in the throes of RAD. She and I did not get along. Every time she considered loving me, her trauma triggered anger and fear.

Two years later, LOVE WINS.

We have come so far, this girl and I.

We’ll probably have more roller coaster days and maybe months ahead, considering she’s now a teen, but we’ll make it.

She’s gone to camp and I really miss her. She’s one of my favorite people in the world.

Reactive Attachment Disorder, you can kiss my butt. 

 

 

Why Kate Spade’s Suicide Doesn’t Matter

Kate Spade had it all.

Met a cool guy named Andy. Started a business with him (and they later married). Business skyrocketed and became a household name (at least, in any household including teens or young women).

A New York Times headline describes her as the woman “Whose Handbags Carried Women Into Adulthood,” passionate and approachable.

She and Andy seemed to be unbelievably well-matched partners. He came up with the rough draft. She ran with his ideas and crafted the finished product.

Friends said the couple were “perfect” partners in business and life.

She sold her stake in the business shortly after the birth of their daughter. Even in her absence, the website still seems to draw from her unassuming, quirky, vibrant personality.

The designer told Moneyish last year she wouldn’t trade the time with her only child in exchange for her self-titled brand “in a million years.”

People.com

In almost every article, Kate is described as the driving force of a fashion empire, impacting young ladies across the globe and in every layer of socioeconomics. “Attainable” fashion, with something for everyone from British Royalty and Chelsea Clinton to high school students. Fans like Jonquilyn Hill, now a producer, are reminiscing about buying their first Kate Spade bags.

Kate Spade was famous. Kate Spade worked hard and attained success. Kate Spade was a fashion phenom.

These are the reasons news of her apparent suicide is splashed across every web page around the world.

 

But Kate Spade’s suicide doesn’t matter.

 

At least, not for the reasons listed in many of the articles.

 

Kate was a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend. Kate Spade’s suicide matters because she was a PERSON.

 

According to a CBS story, she may have been a person battling mental illness.

Most of us did not know Kate personally. 99% of The Web Collective freaking out right now did not know Kate.

Kate’s suicide doesn’t matter because people everywhere are mourning memories of their first handbag or wallet. Kate’s suicide doesn’t matter because she was a success. Kate’s suicide doesn’t matter because she is proof the American Dream comes true.

Kate’s suicide matters because people cared about her. Really cared. Not because famous people bought her products.

EVERY suicide should receive the same coverage. We should all mourn EVERY life lost to depression, to mental illness, to bad choices made in a moment of hopelessness.

Kate Spade’s suicide doesn’t matter any more than the suicide of my friend or of your parent or of that guy’s brother or of the kid from the neighborhood.

Her suicide also doesn’t matter any less.

The loss of a bright female leader (who chose to take time away from her fashion empire to focus on her daughter) is heartbreaking.

The fact that she is one of 45,000 individuals in one year to commit suicide is devastating.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,

  • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
  • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).

At-risk children, including those in the foster system, are even more likely to commit suicide.

In one study, children in foster care were almost three times more likely to have considered suicide and almost four times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had never been in foster care.

-youth.gov

Perhaps “Kate Spade’s suicide doesn’t matter” isn’t really what I want to say. I think, “my friend’s suicide should matter just as much as Kate Spade’s” is closer to my true intent.

My adopted son’s declaration last September that he’d rather not be alive opened my eyes to the need. IN MY OWN HOME. Maybe in your home, also.

Hopelessness is rampant.

Be Hypervigilant.

Pay attention to the people around you—especially if they belong to an at-risk population like kids who’ve been in foster care.

If family members seem a little “off,” don’t wait to ask if they’re okay.

If friends admit to feeling depressed, encourage them to seek help—and don’t walk away.

You might be the light that draws them back to life.

 

 

Here are a few resources for help:

https://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/life-issues/challenges/mental-and-emotional-issues/help-for-the-suicidal/

If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/april-web-only/when-suicide-strikes-in-body-of-christ.html

https://answersingenesis.org/sanctity-of-life/christians-and-suicide-prevention/

 

Sending hugs your way.

 

 

 

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