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’m 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.

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.

Be a Friend

You’re a friend.  Someone who is trusted enough for a family to identify you as a support when they travel the journey of foster care or adoption.  You want to help.  You may have even considered fostering or adopting yourself, but any number of barriers has kept you from doing so.  Nonetheless, you’re excited about your friends starting down this path, and you really want to encourage them in any way you can!  You just aren’t exactly sure what you should or shouldn’t say and what you should or shouldn’t do.

Here’s a quick reference guide for what to do and say with some warning signs intertwined so you can help your friends, and your friends can lean on you when they’re in need.

Be proactive.  Once a week, check-in to ask how you can help, and if a month goes by without any help being requested, cook a dinner you know their kids will eat and drop it on their front porch in disposable containers with a note of encouragement.  When in doubt, impose a little help.  Sometimes just not being alone is all that is needed.

Be mindful.  Don’t feel the need to go so far out of your way it seems burdensome to help, but if you’re already at the grocery store, ask if there’s anything you can pick up.  If you’re already mowing your lawn, what’s one more lawn?  If you’re already planning to be home on a Friday or Saturday, offer to babysit so your friends can have a date or make it a double date!  Little things make a huge impact.

Be content.  You don’t need to know why a child was removed, what their birth parents were doing or not doing, or any of the details of a child’s case.  If you’re babysitting, you should ask, “Is there anything I need to know to make sure [the child] is safe and has fun?”  If your friend offers more information about the child, keep it in confidence and respect the child’s story.

Be aware.  Children removed into foster care are wrestling with any number of traumatic experiences.  They may be sensitive to being touched or hugged due to abuse or sensory processing issues, or they may be overly affectionate due to a lack of boundaries.  Children may know expletives due to their environment or have language that is limited to just a few words due to neglect.  Know that behavior is just what’s on the surface.  There’s always a deeper cause.  Avoid labels that describe them by their experience (i.e. foster kid).  Give them personal space and expect the same in return.  Remember every child is a developing child always learning and growing, and your words and actions can have an impact..

Be normal.  Because these are your friends, you may be less likely to get tripped up in this area, but a lot of people who don’t know a family like your friend’s want to help.  They tend to offer help in ways that are well-intentioned but may do more harm than good like throwing a birthday party or selecting things for a child that a child would normally pick out for himself.  Birthday parties are great, but not when they’re put on by strangers.  Gifts are great, but not when they encourage entitlement or undermine dignity.  Providing experiences is always better than giving stuff (i.e. museums/zoos vs. toys/clothes).  You can help others find normal ways to encourage your friends, too.  Think about how you received and experienced things as a child or how your children experience life, and attempt to make this child’s experience as much like that as you are able.

Be alert.  If your friend’s church attendance becomes rare, or if venting about a child or an inability to get on the same parenting page with a spouse become regular behaviors, realize these are warning signs that a season of additional support might be needed.  Occasionally missing church is natural.  Bunkering down at home most Sundays is not.  Venting for 5-10 minutes is to be expected.  Being unable to say anything positive about a child is not.  Having disagreements with a spouse about parenting is normal.  Complaining about how a spouse parents a child is not.  Additional support may include bringing on some other friends to help for a time, increasing the amount of childcare help you offer, affirming your friend’s decision to foster or adopt, or speaking truth compassionately amid an emotionally charged moment.

Again, you’re a friend.  Someone who was chosen to help.  That means you’ve earned enough trust that they would want you to care for their children which is really the highest form of honor you can be granted, isn’t it?  This doesn’t negate the fact that you can get busy with life too.  You probably have work, kids, and obligations you have to tend to as well.  Your friends get that.  They just don’t want to walk this path alone.  So, whether you can remember all the details above or not… be a friend.

The Spiritual Act of Unclogging a Toilet

We were staying at an RV Park five minutes from our house as we transitioned from life in suburbia to life on the road. We had setup in the rain while the children were relegated to wait in the van, and all of them were in dire need of the one shared bathroom available. We finally released them from captivity only to realize we would need to make one more run back to the house to grab some vital things for the next day.

So I hopped back in the van with two of our daughters, and while we were scurrying across the house to collect everything, my phone rang.  On the other end of the line was my wife saying the toilet wasn’t flushing in the camper.  As my mind quickly ran through troubleshooting options to give my wife over the phone, I knew nothing could really be done until I got there.  After all, one of the top five responsibilities of every husband and father, which cannot be delegated to a child or wife, is the fixing of emergency toilet problems.

We loaded up and drove back to the RV Park to be greeted by a line of children still in need of that sacred sanctuary of relief.  I walked into the phone-booth-sized bathroom to open the lid, and at the bottom of the toilet was nothing more than some toilet paper.  I flushed the toilet and everything seemed to work normally.  The special camper toilet ran water and opened the slide which dropped the toilet paper down into the tank of the camper.  I thought maybe they had forgotten how to use the foot lever to flush.

I stepped out and the next customer in line stepped in.  She flushed and exited, then the next child stepped forward.  Then came the pause, “Dad! It’s not flushing again.” Feeling an air of confidence, I walked back in, and sure enough, it wasn’t working.  I could floor the foot lever to flush the toilet, and all I could see was the toilet paper sitting on top of darkness.  The water began to build up.  So I did what any frustrated, overly ambitious, amateur plumber would do… I thrust my arm into the hole and to my unsuspecting surprise pulled out a pile of $&!#.

As this surreal experience was playing itself out, I immediately began looking for the perpetrator who should be conscripted as my plumbing assistant.  I turned into Sherlock Holmes as I deduced who was waiting in line to go to the bathroom, who had traveled back to the house with me and could not be a suspect, and who was left in the crosshairs of my investigation while toilet refuse moistened my arm from elbow to finger tips.

The subdued rage must have been just as palpable as the smell because no confession was forthcoming.  And thinking back on it… I don’t blame them.  Would you confess to stopping up the only toilet nine of your family members were restricted to on the first night of a yearlong adventure with your father’s arm dripping excrement while veins visibly pulsated in his neck?  Not if you even had a chance of avoiding it, you wouldn’t.

It is in moments such as this that I am reminded of two parenting truths.  First, if you want your children to be honest with you, don’t turn into the Gestapo whenever they have done something wrong.  Secondly, and more importantly, a fundamental component of being a parent is getting exfoliated by your children’s $&!#.  It’s almost spiritual to the degree of being intimate and humbling in the most grotesque of ways.

Needless to say, I never caught the culprit.  After a fierce hand-to-hand battle, the clogged toilet gave up the ghost, and we have permanently installed a “No #2” policy for the camper.  This has not prevented additional skirmishes of the same sort from arising because the human digestive tract knows no authority during times of crisis.  However, I am now seasoned in the art of decongesting toilets and judiciously training apprentices.

All We Taught Him

We had 8 kids. Three were added to the family the old-fashioned way where a man loves a woman, a bee loves a bird or something to that effect. And, five were added the other old-fashioned way where a child wants a family, a family wants a child, a judge slings a gavel and an adoption or in our case five adoptions are finalized.

But we like kids. So, we asked, “You think we need one more? You think we need one more. Let’s have one more.” And once again, we went the old fashioned route. And, we added what we currently consider our final biological child to the family… Chapel Henry Kendrick.

It’s been great. He’s real chunky. He still has his baby blue eyes. He eats some solids, drools a lot, and army crawls all over the place. He says, “Dada” and “Mama”, and we taught him some sign language so he could tell us when he wants more rather than screaming at us. The “more” sign has just become him clapping, and he uses it for everything which probably means we failed in actually teaching him sign language. Nonetheless, it’s super cute and works for us.

He’s about ten months old now. Whereas our other children all started sleeping through the night no later than four months after joining the family, Chapel, well… he still doesn’t sleep through the night. It’s been a fairly consistent schmorgesborg of co-sleeping, night nursing, frantic pacing while patting him back to sleep, and the ever-popular crib-to-bed-to-crib rotation. We have never devolved into circling the neighborhood with him in the backseat of one of our cars, but if it would give my wife a full night’s sleep… I’d circle all night long.

We decided last night to stand our ground. We’ve nurtured dozens of children and never had this problem for this long of a time before. I don’t recall having to “stand my ground” in the past. Usually, they just started sleeping through the night to our pleasant surprise. Regardless, we chose to let him cry it out no matter how long he wales from less than 10 ft. from the end of our bed in his crib.

And so it began. Some time in the early hours of the night he fussed for a second and then launched into a blitzkrieg assault on our eardrums. At first, we tried to ignore him. Then I gave a stern, “Chapel, lay down and go to sleep.” Then my wife got up, walked to his crib, told him, “No.”, and laid him back down. After what felt like an hour of auditory abuse, I walked over to the crib, gently but firmly laid him back down, proceeded to pat and massage him back to sleep, and reminded him he was not getting out of bed. My wife and I laid back down, and in her steadfast support, she said, “Any other ideas?” My reply, “Got any earplugs?” She did. We put them in, and the cacophony subsided to a dull roar, but we were still aware of his presence.

After a few minutes using our earplug tactic, all of our defenses were torn down by Chapel’s most lethal maneuver yet. In the midst of his desperation for someone to come sooth his anxiety, he resorted to the only form of communication we had taught him. He started clapping. We could not muffle the sound of his marshmallowy, little hands coming together, and it broke us. I pulled my earplugs out, walked over to his crib, and lifted him into my arms. I held him for a minute as his cries turned into a rhythmic whimper, and he caught his breath. We sat down in the rocking chair used so many nights in the past, and I massaged his back, patted his bottom and told him he was okay. He slowly turned his whimper into a sniffle, his sniffle into heavy breathing and his heavy breathing into a sleepy rest.

Children communicate the way we teach them. In our care of abused and neglected children in foster care this has been just as true as in our care of biological children. Abused and neglected children often come with a litany of communication skills both verbal and non-verbal. Some cuss. Some hit. Some don’t cuss or hit, but they scream. We had another little girl who was 4 but functioned on an 18 month old level. She knew two words, “teevees” and “mommy”. Anytime she took a bath and we had to get her hair wet, she lost it, and IT. WAS. PIERCING. She was with us for 14 months, and by the time she was reunified with her mom, she was a healthy, little girl who could take a bath, talk to her peers and express herself to adults.

We had a nine month old placed with us for a time who had grown up in a Spanish-speaking only home. So he cried anytime he wasn’t asleep for about two weeks, and then one night my wife said, “Que paso, papi?” He perked up immediately. From then on, we knew we had to change the way we communicated with him so he could communicate with us. Still some don’t make any sounds at all. When a child has sat in a crib or been locked in a room and learned no one is coming, they lose their voice. They just freeze and wait until they’re not being addressed or until whatever is going to happen happens.

If a child has only been taught to hit, cuss, scream, be silent, clap or speak a completely different language, they will use those means to talk to us. If we, as parents, want them to use their voice to express their fears, anger or needs, we must be patient and observant enough to learn about where they lost their voice so we can help them find it and give it back to them. Sometimes the patience and observation required for a child to calm down so you can help or the gentleness needed to comfort them through things is the equivalent of ten months of sleep deprivation.

After Chapel snuggled his chubby cheeks into my neck, I spent five more minutes rubbing his back and listening to him breath. I placed him back in his crib and covered him with his blanket. I walked back to bed and laid down. Less than 30 seconds later… he was rooting around in his crib again just before the onslaught resumed. I could hear my wife subduing her laughter next to me.

I don’t doubt there will be more embattled, sleepless nights in my future. In the same way my children from foster care didn’t stop cussing, hitting, screaming or freezing just because I was patient with them one time, Chapel will continually need comfort and reassurance that he is not alone and not forgotten. Like every child, he needs help finding his voice and will require direction throughout life.

Hear your kids and know they often only communicate in the ways they have been taught. If we don’t teach them any other way, we can only expect what has been modeled. Be patient. Observe.