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Employment Opportunities

Embrace is currently accepting applications for our Director of Programs position. This full time position is located at our office in Historic Downtown McKinney, and primarily focused on serving children, families and congregations in the Collin County area. A downloadable PDF of the full job description for this position is available here.

To apply, please submit your resume and a cover letter to denise@embracetexas.org. Selected applicants will be contacted for an interview. Thank you for your interest in serving children and families in our community!

Donation Drives

Hosting a donation drive can a be a fun way to work together as a church, business, team or small group to help children and families in need. Embrace only collects specific items, so make sure to check with our staff and read the following tips BEFORE hosting a donation drive.

FAQ’s

Q: Does Embrace accept gently used toys, children’s clothing items, baby equipment or furniture?

Continue reading “Donation Drives”

The Heart of the Home

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The kitchen is the heart of a home.” If that is true, then my home is [currently] in critical condition. Our kitchen is being remodeled (yes, during the month of December), and never have I been more keenly aware of how many critical family functions take place in the kitchen.

We cannot cook.

We cannot use the dishwasher.

We cannot store anything in the cabinets, so EVERYTHING from the kitchen has been moved to other parts of the house.

We have no sink. And, for the few dishes we have been using, I have been using a basin and washing in the bathtub. 

And the dust. It’s everywhere. Even the things covered in plastic sheets are still coated with a fine layer of dust. You can see footprints on the wood floor. (It’s a bit like video of the lunar landing.) We cannot decorate for Christmas, because of the chaos. Most importantly, we cannot eat and connect as a family.

I don’t share this situation to garner any sympathy (although I do hope you laugh at the visual of me washing dishes in the bathtub).

I share because, standing in the midst of this temporary disruption in my everyday life, I was struck with the thought of the many children in our community who have never known the warmth and security of a family kitchen. They may have spent time in many kitchens, but not had one of their own. Due to poverty, neglect, abuse, homelessness or transience, they may not had the pleasure of decorating a family Christmas tree, or waiting in joyful anticipation for delicious smells and tastes of a Holiday to emerge from the “heart of a home.”  There may be a refrigerator where they are currently staying, but it probably isn’t packed full of bountiful food choices, and their artwork and photos probably do not adorn the front. So much of their life is temporary.

Imagine how that would feel. Instead of fond memories of Christmases past, approaching holidays bring anxiety, and dread, and an acute awareness of the instability of your current situation. What for many people is a joyous occasion is, instead, a time these children endure—to pretend like it doesn’t matter that Santa seems to visit the houses of classmates but not their own. To ignore the glittery commercials on TV, and to hope that some generous soul somewhere will choose his/her “angel” from a tree so there will be something to open on Christmas morning.

And what if this pattern was repeated, year after year, until that child had lost all hope? My struggle to endure my kitchen project seems very small in comparison to years spent wishing for a permanent family and a loving home. I’m an adult. I can see that the project will get completed, and this disruption is brief in the scheme of things. But a child in need may not see a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Now, you may be thinking that I am about to suggest you send money somewhere. While monetary donations are always needed and appreciated by churches and nonprofits serving children and youth, giving money is not what everyone is called to do.

Look around you.

View the circles in which you travel through a different lens—one that notices a family that may be struggling. They are out there.

Reach out.

Invite them over for a hot meal and a time of fellowship.

Offer to care for their children so the parents can revive their strength.

By opening your home, and offering encouragement and support, you may help keep that family intact. There are children and youth who will spend many more Christmases without a home and a family, but you can have an impact on their quality of life. Not everyone is called to foster and adopt, but everyone can do something. Prayerfully ask yourself, “What is my something?” If you need ideas, please let us know. We are here to guide you through the coming year as you commit to give of yourself and your talents to serve vulnerable children. Share the “heart of your home,” and while doing so, you will be sharing the love of Christ.

Blog post by Amber Fulton

Director of Operations, Embrace Texas

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Are you aware of some of the most common warning signs of sexual abuse in children? These behaviors don’t mean that a child has been sexually abused, but adults who observe several of these warning signs in a child should take note, and take action. A local Children’s Advocacy Center is a great place to get help. Suggestions for what to do if you see warning signs are also available here.

Warning signs in young children:

  • Behaving like a younger child (regression to bedwetting or thumb sucking)
  • Acquires new words for private body parts
  • Fear of being away from caregivers
  • Sudden interest in sexual organs of self & others
  • Acts out or suggests sexual games with other children
  • Wetting or soiling accidents (beyond toilet training)
  • Mimics adult-like or sexual behaviors with stuffed animals or dolls
  • Avoiding clothing changes or bathing

Warning signs in school-aged children and adolescents:

  • Suddenly has toys, money, or gifts without explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant
  • Sudden change in eating habits
  • Nightmares or sleep problems
  • Sudden fear of certain familiar places or people
  • Talks about having secrets or being unable to talk about something
  • Mentions a new or older friend but unwilling to share details or name them
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams about sexual or frightening images

Signs primarily seen in teens:

  • Self mutilation, cutting, and other self-injurious behaviors
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Eating disorder
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Rebellion or withdrawal; running away from home
  • Change in attitude towards school or academic performance

Physical warning signs of sexual abuse are rare and may include bleeding, bruising or discharge in genital, anus or mouth, STPs, painful urination or bowel movements, and trouble walking or sitting.

Remember that traumatic events such as a divorce, death in the family, or bullying can elicit similar behaviors, but listen to your instincts. If something seems off, and can’t put your finger on why, talk to the child about it.

The warning signs above are compiled from a number of resources including:

stopitnow.org

Child Abuse Alert: A Desk Reference

rainn.org

d2l.org

Foster Parenting Myths DEBUNKED

Have you considered becoming a foster parent but are unsure if fostering is a good fit for the season of life you’re in? Do you feel called to foster but encumbered by obstacles (genuine or perceived) that are delaying your obedience in this area? We want to challenge you to investigate some of the most common misconceptions that hinder families from opening their homes to care for kids. Additionally, spend some time in prayer about your motivations for becoming a foster parent and keep an open mind & heart about how you can impact the lives of neglected, abused and abandoned children.

I live in an apartment.

Foster parents live in all kinds of homes. Apartments, houses, mobile homes, townhouses, little country cottages and mansions on the hill may all welcome foster children. All dwellings must be health, safety and fire inspected, as well as meet minimum requirements about the amount of square footage appropriate per person. Child placing agencies provide foster parents with a guide and checklist they can use to walk through their home and make sure it will meet the qualifications for licensing. Sometimes small modifications (such as adding a door to a room that doesn’t have one) can be made to bring a home up to standards. In general, children may share rooms with other children of the same gender and infants may sleep in a caregiver’s room in a crib.

I’m single.

Single individuals may be licensed as foster parents with most child placing agencies. Like any other household, you’ll need to be financially stable, independent, and have space in your home for children. If you have a roommate, parent living with you, or someone who stays over regularly, be upfront with your agency. Other adults living in the home are part of the agency’s considerations when it comes to foster parent licensing and need to be part of the training and homestudy process.

I’m divorced.

See above information about single individuals. Divorced individuals must provide proof of divorce. Your child placing agency may require you to wait 2 or more years after a divorce to become licensed (as is the case with almost any major life change or loss).

I’m too old. 

As long as your health is stable and you’re able to care for children, age does not preclude you from becoming a licensed foster parent. Seasoned parents often bring a lifetime of parenting experience to the table, but no parenting experience is required. It is important to recognize that, due to the trauma, loss and abuse foster children have endured, foster children require unique discipline and parenting approaches. Your child placing agency should supply you with ample training opportunities and resources on this topic. “Empty nesters” often find their adult children are excited and willing to help with the nurturing and care of their younger foster siblings.

I enjoy traveling.

So do foster kids! Typically, foster children are permitted to travel with their foster parents within the United States. Permission can (in some situations) also be granted for international travel. A child’s visitation schedule with their parents or siblings, school attendance, and health are factors taken into consideration by their caseworker before a trip can be approved. A caseworker or judge may need a detailed travel itinerary well in advance of your trip, so plan ahead. A family vacation or road trip can be a fun, bonding experience for any child and caregiver. As a foster parent, you have the incredible opportunity to give a child a new, exciting experience. For emergencies (or trips that are not appropriate for children in your care) you may be able to arrange respite care (another foster family who can babysit while you’re out of town) for children in your home.

My spouse is not on board.

Do NOT begin the foster care or adoption journey if your spouse is not on board. It’s okay if one of you is more enthusiastic than the other, but a united effort is imperative. Investigate, share what you find, and pray that God will give you both clarity about his plans for your family.

I want to foster, or even adopt, but I’m on a tight budget.

Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes… as do their homes and incomes. As long as you are financially stable and able to provide for everyone in your home, a modest income should not preclude you from becoming a foster parent. Individuals who are already accustomed to careful budgeting are often the most resourceful parents and advocates for their foster children. Foster parents receive a small, daily reimbursement for each foster child in their home. These funds help offset the cost of meeting the child’s needs. When a child arrives in care, they may not have sufficient clothing or hygiene items. Providing an entire wardrobe, car seat, baby equipment, diapers and more can make the first few months of a new “placement” pretty slim, but it’s a great opportunity to look into what help and resources are available in your community. From foster parent supply closets to free school supplies, there are many individuals and nonprofits eager to help children in need. Foster children automatically qualify for free school lunches, WIC and Medicaid. Sports and camp scholarships based on household income can be applied for based on the child’s “household income” (daily reimbursement). Additionally, should you have the opportunity to adopt a child from foster care, this process is very low cost. Adoptions from foster care are generally less than $2,000. Some children with special needs adopted from foster care are eligible for a small, monthly stipend to help offset the cost of their care longterm.

I’m too young.

The minimum age requirement for becoming a foster parent is just 21 years of age. For young, married couples both spouses must be over the age of 21. Child placing agencies may suggest that younger couples care for younger children, so there is an appropriate age-gap between caregiver and child. Some young adults living at home with their parents become licensed together as a household/team.

have children of my own.

Most foster parents in Texas are currently, or have already, parented children of their own. The interaction between your biological, foster and adopted children can be a healthy, beneficial experience for all. Foster parents may choose to foster children younger than their own children, older, or even the same age. You can select the age range of children you’re open to caring for. There cannot be more than 6 children [total] in the home at any time. Children over the age of 18, but still living at home, may become licensed caregivers and would not be counted as part of the 6. In some cases, agencies may license “group homes”. These can be typical, two-parent households that go through additional training and meet a different set of minimum standards to allow for more than 6 children in the home. If you already have 6 children in your home, you will want to check with your child placing agency in advance to make sure they offer group home licensing and that you meet the requirements for this certification.

But my kids are really little…

What a perfect time to begin teaching your children generosity, hospitality and love for their neighbors! 1 Peter 4 says that we should put aside our desires and focus on the will of God, and to “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” If you’re waiting for the perfect time to start fostering, you may find that the day never arrives. A teenage foster child may flourish with the opportunity and honor of being a big sister. Likewise, having younger children in the home provides an appropriate setting for children who may have missed early childhood play and experiences to go back and help a little sister dress a baby doll or learn to braid hair. While some foster children may do better as the youngest or only child in the home, most foster children enter homes where other children already reside.

I haven’t parented before.

Well, there’s a first time for everything! Many individuals without parenting experience become foster parents. Experience caring for children in the age-range of children you wish to foster is always beneficial, but not required to become a foster parent. Your agency should provide you some basic parenting, discipline and safety training for a variety of ages. If you are new to foster parenting AND parenting, it may be helpful to provide respite care (babysitting for a few hours or days) for other foster parents to get some experience. Make sure you have a network of experienced moms and dads who can help coach you through the challenges you will face and answer questions you may have.

I work full time.

Because foster parents are expected to be financially stable and independent, it’s common for one or both parents to work full time. Foster children who are school-age must attend public school, but can also attend before and after school care programs. Infants and preschool age children may attend daycare facilities or stay with in-home babysitters or nannies. In some cases, caregivers who work full time may qualify for financial aid for specific daycare programs. Finding care for a child who arrives in your home with little notice can be challenging, so it’s helpful to talk with your employer about taking leave or days off when children are placed in your home. A flexible work schedule is ideal, but not imperative.

I have a disability.

Many individuals with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses serve as foster parents. As with any foster parent, you should prayerfully consider the age of children you feel able and equipped to care for, and the types of special needs you feel you can accommodate. Discuss your concerns and strengths with your child placing agency. You know you

rself and your abilities best. The stability of the family as a whole is key for foster parenting success. Your agency may require you to take a break if your health,

or that of others in the household, becomes unstable or is negatively affected by the strenuous work of foster parenting.

 

I couldn’t love a child then let them go.

Foster care is a journey filled with challenges, adrenaline, trauma, joy, growth, heartbreak and loss. And it’s not easy for the foster parents either. To love a

child fully, even if only for a time, is an incredible investment in that child’s life and well-being. Knowing that your relationship with a child is likely to come to an end is a sad justification to avoid loving them in the first place. For some children, their time in foster care is the healthiest and most stable experience of their lives. Foster parenting can give your family front row seats to beautiful reunifications that take place when a child is returned to parents who have created a safe home for them. Beyond the children in your care, you can encourage and love a child’s parents, siblings and extended family. There are, of course, times when family restoration is not possible, or a child is returning to a situation that seems bleak or very tenuous. While these situations are hard to endure, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 reminds us that our God is the Father of compassion and comfort. He shows us comfort so we can comfort others. We reflect our Creator when we do hard things.

I don’t like children.

Okay. You’re probably off the hook. Not everyone can or should be a foster parent. But you can and should have a positive impact on the lives of neglected and abused children in our community. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that don’t require interaction with children or families. Embrace volunteers host donation drives to provide household items for teens “aging-out” of foster care, then organize, inventory and deliver these “First Apartment Kits”. Volunteers set up the “Portraits of Hope” photographic gallery of children waiting for adoption, and move it to new locations each month. Volunteers plan and assemble crafts for respite night events, prepare and deliver meals, sew blankets for foster children and much more. Embrace can help you find a place to use your time and talents to help kids.

For more about becoming a foster parent in Texas, visit: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/Get_Started/steps.asp

Please note: The information provided above is not the word-for-word policy of any agency or the Department of Family and Protective Services. We hope to debunk many common misconceptions about foster parenting, but you will certainly find that minimum standards for becoming foster parents vary from agency to agency and state to state.

Would you like to learn more about local children that are currently waiting for forever homes? Head on over to our Second Story ministry page to see how you can be a part of of the answer.  We would love to see you at our next Child to Family Connection event and will update details as we are able to. We’re also happy to answer your questions directly. Email us at info@embracetexas.org.

Check out our recent Facebook video explaining how you can get started on your journey to fostering.

Foster & Adoption Info Meeting and Q&AThe amount of children waiting for their forever families in foster care is on the rise. We need more families who are willing to take in, love and care for theses vulnerable children. In this video we want to give a very general overview of the licenscing process and answer a few questions that you may have. If you have any further questions after watching this video, please comment below or send and email to info@embracetexas.org.

Posted by Embrace Texas on Friday, April 3, 2020

Consider donating today to help further our efforts as we continue to help find families for children who need them.

Locating Missing Children in CPS Conservatorship

Children are in foster care because they, or their sibling(s), have experienced abuse and/or neglect. Having experienced trauma in their lives, these young children are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by outside persons. When a child is in CPS conservatorship and runs away, it is extremely important that the agency put every effort to quickly locate the child before they are exploited.

National data underscores the need to find runaway children quickly:

  • Children are being approached for sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away
  • Many of the children approached are in the age range of 12 to 16
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had 18,500 runaways reported to them in2016. One in six were deemed likely victims of sex trafficking. Of those likely victims, 86% were in the care of social services or the foster care system when they ran.In 2014, President Obama signed into law the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, Public Law (P.L. 113-183). This law amends the title IV-E foster care program to require child welfare agencies such as DFPS to:
  • Develop and implement specific protocols for expeditiously locating any child missing from foster care;
  • Determine the primary factors that contributed to the child’s running away or otherwise being absent from care, and to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements;
  • Determine the child’s experiences while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim;
  • Report such related information as required by Health and Human Services; and
  • No later than 24 hours after receiving information on missing or abducted children or youth, providenecessary information to law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and provide necessary information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Click Here for the full DFPS Resource Guide

Keys to foster parent recruitment & retention in Texas

The following is a transcript of an invited testimony given by Denise Kendrick, Executive Director of Embrace Texas, to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services on March 22, 2018. Kendrick was given 7 minutes to address obstacles prevent prospective foster families from completing the licensing process and how to improve retention of existing foster parents.

“Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I am Denise Kendrick, Executive Director for Embrace Texas, a non-profit organization supporting foster, adoptive and kinship families in North Texas. To be clear, we are not a child placing agency. My work includes facilitating foster parent support groups and administering programs that provide me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of foster and adoptive families each year. In addition to my professional experience, I served as a foster parent for over a decade and in Texas and cared for 25 children in that time… including adopting two teenagers and a sibling group of 3 from foster care.

Our nonprofit works closely with Child Protective Services in our region, as well as CASA. Embrace also facilitates the Child Placing Recruitment Collaborative In Region 3 and regularly review statistics related to the foster parent shortages in each county. On an almost daily basis, we get calls and emails from CASAs and caseworkers asking if we know of any families in our network who can foster a specific child or sibling group. We are keenly aware of the need for more quality foster parents and see the ramifications of these shortages in our community.

I want to share with you today what we feel are some of the leading obstacles that prevent interested candidates from completing the licensing process and issues that cause burn-out of newly licensed foster parents.

It’s no secret the foster care has a PR problem. When foster care is in the news, it’s almost always bad news. A child death. An abusive foster parent. Children spending the night in CPS offices. For those who look past this negative stigma related to foster parenting and decide to investigate or pursue licensing, the confusing recruitment process can curb the enthusiasm of even the most eager perspective family. While this is an area that can and should be addressed, I believe the real solution to the state’s foster parent recruitment issue lies in the retention of active foster parents.

Current and former foster parents are the single most effective recruitment tool the state has. I come in contact with dozens of foster parents every week, and a huge majority of these report that their initial interest in becoming a foster parent was not a compelling brochure or PSA commercial, but a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is a foster parent. Having court-side seats to the beauty, healing and hardship that comes with opening your heart and home to care for abused and neglected children… it sells itself.

If this journey is intrinsically motivating, where is the disconnect? 

Why aren’t more of these prospective parents becoming licensed?

The disconnect is in our care for those who are already fostering. Care of our current foster parents is doubly beneficial. Increased retention equals increased recruitment. With improved morale and satisfaction, foster parents become the recruitment effort. They tell the stories of the hard and beautiful job of caring for other peoples’ children. And they stick with it for the long-haul, and gain the skills necessary to care for children with more challenging needs. This means more placement stability for children and an increased return on the investment it takes to train and license foster parent.

How do we better care for the families caring for our most vulnerable children?

Back to that PR problem, the State, along with child placing agencies, must take steps to weed out bad foster parents who give fostering a bad name. Agencies should be charged with closing homes that “give notice” on children when the going gets tough or when things aren’t going as they had hoped. We can make the title of “foster parent” something parents can take pride in.

We also need to clarify messaging surrounding the “job” of foster parents. Foster parents are service providers. As a foster parent, you need to meet the need for care that exists in your community. The openings in licensed homes should reflect the age, ethnicity and level of care of children entering the system in their community. It’s supply and demand, but it’s not presented that way. When many homes are licensed for the same, small population of children, on paper, it appears the need has been met. But in reality, we know that a majority of children are placed outside their home county, and a good number out of region. Then  licensed foster homes sit open and empty, and families assume there’s not really a need. This mismatch further dissuades new parents from jumping through the hoops necessary to become licensed.

Another point of confusion and frustration is use of the phrase “foster to adopt”. When I “Drive to the store”, there is no mistake. Driving is the means to the end… the store. When we talk about fostering to adopt, we’re communicating that fostering is means to the end: adoption. We understand that many families foster with the hopes of adopting, but the way we’re framing this communicates that adoption, not reunification, is the ultimate goal.

Words matter.

From the moment prospective families start their licensing and training journey they are labeled “foster to adopt” or “straight foster”. This puts the focus on the goals of the foster family, not the needs of the children.

The true implementation of HR 4980, the prudent parenting standards for foster parents, is another way we can improve retention of foster parents. We need to allow parents to care for foster children in a fashion more similar to their biological children, or typical peers. This increases the normalcy of a child’s time in foster care and reduce strain on caregivers.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were foster parents caring for a sibling group, we had an out of state trip planned for work. We were to depart on New Years Day, and had arranged respite care for our foster children with a fellow foster family who knew and interacted with our children regularly. At 5 pm on New Years Eve we received a call that the respite family had an emergency, and was no longer available to keep our children for the week. Although my parents were willing and capable of caring for the children while we were out of town, they were only certified as “occasional caregivers” with our agency, and not permitted to watch our foster children for more than a day or two. We had not orpiment but to call random foster parents from a roster provided by our agency, in hopes of finding somewhere for the boys to go. I am ashamed to say that, the next morning, I dropped my foster children off at the home of a complete stranger. While she was a licensed foster parent and a safe care provider, I can honestly say it’s something I would never do to my “own” children, but I was left with no other option. Foster parents find themselves in similar situations on a regular basis. These instances are a burden to the parents and promote abnormal parenting decisions. The parents cannot choose what is best, they must choose what follows policy. Foster parents bear the burden of the day-to-day responsibility and risk for caring for the children in their home, but little of the freedom to balance it out. That’s a recipe for burnout.

This unbalance is also reflected in the lack of representation foster parents experience. While I do not believe foster parents should be a party to a child’s legal case, I do believe more consistent communication about the goals and progress in a case would make foster parents feel more valued and go a long way toward improving their overall morale. These parents on the front lines deserve a platform to share their thoughts and observations, and to feel like part of a team working towards a common goal. Foster parents should be consistently invited to attend court and to interact directly with the parents of foster children in their care, when possible. Training can and should be developed specifically to guide foster parents in these interactions.

In summary, improved care and support of foster parents is:

– better for current foster parents

– better for future foster parents

– better for the bottom line

– and, most importantly, will improve outcomes for children at the heart of what we do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.”

      

Before You Write That Check…

Here we are, almost to the end of the year. Decorating is well underway, and shopping and wrapping are daily activities. Our “To Do” lists grow longer and longer as we hurtle toward the holidays. And with the holidays comes the never-ending list of “opportunities” to give to those in need. After all, who can ignore the steady “ding-ding-ding” of the bell ringer in front of the mall? Or the thought of a child having nothing to open on Christmas morning? We all want to be charitable, right?

Before you write that check (or, for the digital experts, click that “donate” button), pause for a minute to consider the donation you are about to make. Are you being “charitable?” or “philanthropic?” You might be thinking those terms are interchangeable. To some, they are. A quick Google search will provide you with a plethora of opinions. Not to be outdone, I’m here to share mine.

Charity is, to me, the donation of money or stuff (water bottles, food, clothing, etc.) in response to a crisis or a heartfelt plea. We all feel compassion for the starving child on the poster, or the flea-bitten dog, or the photo of the long line of unfortunate souls shuffling along at the soup kitchen. We give to those causes because we “want to do our part,” or because “we have so many blessings,” or really, because stuffing a few dollars in a jar for “those people” makes us feel (at least temporarily) that we are doing something to ease their plight.

As a nation, we are very charitable. According to Charity Navigator (https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=42) an estimated $390.05 billion was given to charitable organizations in 2016. Of that 15% went to education-based charities,12% to human services, and a whopping 32% ($122.94 billion) went to religious groups.

What, then, is philanthropy? Is it a grand gesture by a Hollywood star? A huge gift from a family foundation? A donation that gets a big splash on Facebook and in the media? Yes, it can be all of those things. But in my opinion, it is not the size of the gift that makes it philanthropic. To me, philanthropy is a strategic and sacrificial gift given with the expectation of facilitating long-term results or lasting change. Philanthropy is not a knee-jerk response. It is not a quick fix. It requires discernment, wisdom, and above all, faith. It is a down payment for sometimes yet-unseen results with the reasonable belief that the results can (and will!) be achieved.

I’m not suggesting you halt your charitable giving. Spare change in a jar or small bills dropped in a firefighter’s boot still have merit and benefit many worthy causes. But if you want to have an even bigger impact, consider how you can also become philanthropic. It might mean you narrow down your giving to a select few organizations or churches who demonstrate their ability to be good stewards. It might mean you commit to monthly giving, which provides a predictable funding stream. It might mean you look at giving not as something you do to make yourself feel good (an inward-focus), but instead as something you do to ensure the sustainability of organizations you see effecting real change (an outward-focus). Whatever it looks like for you, do it because you WANT to, and because you CAN, and because you are CALLED to fulfill this purpose.

Let’s Do This

As the new school year has begun, the need for advocating and championing our children is reinvigorated.  

This year our son entered kindergarten.   As I filled out the paperwork, there were so many things that I could answer (where he went to preschool,  what he loves, what scares him, his birthdate) but there were also so many things that I could not answer (first words, first steps, family history).  This always gives me a sense of sadness and brings up all the “what if’s”.  I know that this does me no good, but I also know that it is important to mourn what could have been in order to come to a realization of what is.  

As I turned in a neuropsychologist’s report with the other stack of papers, I realized I was asking the school to look at my child differently.  Yes, to treat him differently.  Yes, I was inviting them in to see the “yuck” of my child.  Yes, I was admitting that my child is not like the other children.  Yes, I was admitting that I, his parent, would not be enough for my child.  Yes, I was admitting that I, too, would need help.    No, I was not asking them to allow poor behaviors.  No, I was not suggesting they  tolerate laziness, but I was asking them to understand where he has come from, what has happened in his life, and to help him achieve his best.  

The school called, and we scheduled an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting.  As a former teacher I have sat in many meetings just like this one.  I have had the opportunity to listen to parents’ hearts and hear their dreams for their children.  I have had the privilege of sharing what their child is doing well and how he or she is growing and meeting and sometimes exceeding goals.  I also have had the difficult burden of explaining to parents the goals we set for their child might not be achievable.  Now, it was my turn to sit and share my desires for my child and to hear from the team if they thought he would benefit from their services.  As we walked through his neuropsychological results, I would be lying if I didn’t say my heart hurt for my son.  My heart was sad to think the reasons he had some of these issues were due to trauma in the womb.  But, I was also reminded God created this little man.  God already knew what he had to overcome.  It was my job to cheer and spur my child on to become the young man who would honor and please Him.  

In the meeting we did decide that he would, in fact, benefit from having an Individual Education Plan (IEP) .  This is the plan that will help my son succeed in school.  This plan, no doubt, will be changed many times in his life,  but it is this IEP that will equip him to conquer the world.  Will his goals be the same as other kids his age? Probably not, but that’s okay.  Will his goals be those that lead him towards a high paying job?  Probably not, but that’s okay.  His goals will be… his.

As you and I enter into the schools, it is OUR job to advocate for our children.  It is OUR job to be their voice.  It is OUR job to nudge and maybe gently shove others into seeing the child that is before them.  It is OUR job to respect and come alongside educators in order to ensure our children get what they need.  It will be heartbreaking.  It will be challenging.  It will be worth it.  Hang in there.  Our children are different, not less.

What are some things you, as a parent, can do…

  1. Educate yourself on the rights of your child if special services are necessary.
  2. Be realistic about your child’s behaviors- who they are at home and who they are in public?  How and when do these behaviors overlap?
  3. Trust that the school wants what is best for your child.  Remember, the more information that you provide,  the more successful your child can be at school.
  4. Be present at school and at home.  This reinforces that school is important.
  5. Include therapists in the dialogue. They have an outsider’s view.
  6. Include every person that’s in your circle of education– the entire school village.
  7. Record every success big and small.

The Plot Twist

I’m a bit of a movie snob, but nothing captures my praise and attention like a well-played twist in the plot. Many of my favorite movies; Sixth Sense, The Village, The Prestige, Planet of the Apes, and The Sting hooked me with one “WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?! I did NOT see that coming!” moment. Even a few recent-ish family films like Frozen and Maleficent featured surprising twists that left me and my kids gasping in delight. The best plot twists make so much sense once they are revealed. You’re left wondering “WHY couldn’t I see it all along?!?” Today I had an adoptive parenting “why didn’t I see it all along” moment.  

*SPOILER ALERT* Reading further may reveal plot details about adoption that you cannot un-know.

As adoptive parents we do a lot of dreaming about our child before they come home.  We wonder what our child will look like, if we will share common interests and if our personalities will “click”. Most compassionate parents-to-be also put themselves in the shoes of their adoptive child and think about their dreams as well. You may worry that you’re not the hip, playful, or good-looking parents your child has been dreaming of.  What if they walk into your house and think it smells funny? What if they hate your cooking? If you’re like me you may, for one fleeting moment, consider buying a jet ski or a miniature horse to help seal the deal that you’re the coolest family on the block.  I usually end up reassuring myself that although we may not be “dream family material”, we’re here, we’re loving, we’re safe, and we’re all in this together. Whew! What a relief! Surely this kid will love us. But wait… Here comes the twist…

What if the family your child dreams about being with is the family they lost?

Why. Didn’t. I. See. It.

Like any great twist, you may find yourself reeling. Even though it makes so much sense, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Can I urge you to not let this thought put you on the defensive? Our knee-jerk reaction may be to start comparisons between the life we can offer a child and what might-have-been in other scenarios, but these thoughts are divisive, unproductive and insensitive. Many adoptees are deeply loyal to the parents who brought them into this world. It’s loyalty so strong that, in many cases, even abuse, disappointment, distance, and time cannot diminish it. It may be loyalty to someone they’ve never met or can’t remember… but this doesn’t negate your child’s longing. It doesn’t discount their loss.  

Several years ago on Christmas morning one of our foster sons was acting moody and ungrateful. He made it clear that Christmas at his “old house” was way better than anything we had to offer. I let it get under my skin and my husband found me grumbling and growling to myself in the kitchen while putting cookies in the oven. He stood there and allowed me to vent while the kids tore into new puzzles and toys in the other room. My lengthy, hissing monologue ended with me triumphantly declaring “And why WOULDN’T he love it here?!?! Why WOULDN’T he be having a great time today?!?” My sweet husband took my face in his hands and said “Because he didn’t ask for it.”

So, after we’re done quietly weeping, WHERE do we go from here?  

Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  

Now I know better.

I can look back over my parenting and see many times that I said and did ignorant things that hurt my child. My child’s loss and grief exist, whether I acknowledge them or not.  But now I have the opportunity to walk alongside my child in a place that my ignorance once sent them alone. I have a truth that can silence those old feelings of rejection or resentment I felt regarding my child’s connection to his birth family. Maybe my painful self-realization can save some of you prospective, waiting, or new adoptive parents from making the same mistakes I’ve made. I hope this post is shared with and read by many of the people who surround and support foster and adoptive parents as well. The more people who understand where our children are coming from the better. I hope it makes us all pause when faced with children’s tears, fond memories, harsh words, or difficult behaviors and remember the losses they’re grieving.

I’m doing better now and, although I may not be “dream family material”, I’m here, I’m listening, and we’re all in this together.