Monthly Archives: June 2012

He just needed so much love

Guest blog by Theresa Rosenberg, mother of two biological children and two adopted teenagers.

Theresa with her two adoptive sons, Seth and Dalton

Our 15-year-old son Seth had been with us for about four months, but he was still living a life completely apart from the rest of our family. If we were shopping for new clothes at the mall he would walk 20 feet ahead of us. We would go to his baseball games (sitting through hot and cold and enduring ever-present mosquitoes), but when the game was over he would get his stuff and walk to the car without us. He had no clue what it meant to be part of a family.

But as hard as it felt to see him being so distant, it is also what drew me to him. I knew he needed to learn to be part of a family and learn how to love.

Theresa, Dalton, and Theresa's husband

Well, one weekend he was severely grounded. I made him stay in his room with nothing in there but his bed and clothes. He could come out to eat and for the bathroom, but that was it. We had been called to the school the Friday before and found out that for months he had been intensely bullying kids around school. I wanted him to know that was NOT going to fly. We talked a lot that weekend and I could actually see that I was getting through to him. I could see I was reaching and making a connection, and it was awesome. I felt like a superhero.

After that weekend we got very close and Seth started doing something I thought was very strange for a 15 year old (especially one who was 6 feet tall at the time): He started lying next to me on the couch at night while watching TV.

Theresa's family the day they brought Seth home

He would lay his head on my lap and just cuddle with me. If he was little, then he probably would have been snuggled up in my lap. It reminded me of the times I had with my kids when I was holding them as infants and swaddling them. He would lay there and stare into my eyes as if he was looking for something. I would think to myself, “What is he looking for?”

I think he was trying to see if I was real, if I could be trusted. If I was someone who would always be there or if I was one who would leave. Could he let down his guard long enough to actually trust someone, could he really believe me? This went on for about two months. It was as if he needed an infant-like bonding time. He just needed so much love that the hugs or kisses he got at night couldn’t make up for what he needed. After those few months it stopped, but it was a very precious time for both of us.

Dalton and Seth hanging out

I really felt that awesome accomplishment we all long for. It’s also why I love that boy so much; he showed me his need, and now when things are so hard I can’t walk away. I am not the kind of person who walks away when things get tough, but believe me, it is something that creeps in your mind sometimes. Now, all I can do is show him that what he was looking for in my eyes so long ago was real.

I always share that story when I talk to people who want infants. I tell them that teenagers also need that cuddling and love just as much.

Theresa recently told more beautiful stories about her family at a DCF Summit, which can be viewed on this video. Her part starts at the 38:00 mark.

For more information about the 750 children available for adoption in Florida without an identified family, visit www.adoptflorida.org

Deplorable Predators

Today four men were charges with running a foster child prostitution ring. The following remarks were by DCF South Florida Regional Director Esther Jacobo at a press conference earlier today. 

It is deplorable that any human being would take advantage of children, especially children in foster care who have been through so much.

Today’s actions by law enforcement and the leadership of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle are a strong and welcomed response to the enormous challenge the Department and our community partners such as Our Kids of Miami-Dade and Monroe face as front-line protectors of children here in Miami-Dade.

We at the Department of Children and families battle a harsh reality every single day. Across the Country, almost 300,000 youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They are being exploited in our own communities. This is true not just of foster children. Youth outside the child welfare system are also at risk.

The battle against those who prey on the most vulnerable children in our state is taking on a new strategy thanks to several things:

  • Leadership and bold prosecutions of the real criminals, those people who would prey on our children and buy them for sex
  • Actions such as the ones taken today by Miami-Dade Police and Mrs Fernandez Rundle
  • On June 12 of this year, Governor Scott was in Miami and signed two significant bills into law:

House Bill 7049 which provides law enforcement with the ability to take these criminals off the street and away from our kids.

House Bill 99 which allows the Department to create safe harbors for these children, develop specialized treatments and give law enforcement the option help these children as true victims and focus on the real criminals.

  • Abuse Hotline changes that allow us to have these children enter the dependency system instead of the delinquency system.

The most important take away for today is that these are not just DCF’s Kids … these are all of our kids. The community has to help us. These children may not be easy to spot and Law Enforcement and Child Welfare professionals are already developing and participating in training.

This is not enough. We must put a stop to generations of children becoming prey for unscrupulous individuals. Professional predators that not only know what children are most vulnerable to their influence, but also understand limitations imposed on agencies by law.

As a community we must make it harder for them. I am hopeful that in the coming months as we work to implement new protections provided by law for our children, you will show this same interest you are showing here today.

I invite all of you to really understand the challenge, report on it and help us find solutions. If you know of someone who may be a victim of any kind of neglect or abuse, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

Kids in foster care are like any other kid

DCF Secretary David Wilkins

DCF Secretary David WilkinsI spoke with a group of teens in foster care while I was at last week’s Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association conference. They brought up many concerns with me and it was truly an emotional moment for me.

Kids in foster care are like any others. They should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

One teen told me she felt like her friends thought she was a “psycho” because she couldn’t go to a spend-the-night party unless the friend’s parents got background checks. If you were in middle school, how would that make you feel?

A 17-year-old boy told me it was very difficult that he was not allowed to drive to school. It made him feel like an outcast.

And there was one teen that really caught my attention – she said she’d like to go to Harvard. I told her we would do everything possible to help her reach that dream. We’ve already implemented a way to hold her teachers and caretakers accountable for her education, but we’ll also help her fill out her application and get paperwork sent in.

We are simplifying the rules. Each case is different, but these are important issues to these kids and can be easily addressed. We’ve already made a rule that all kids in foster care should have access to social media if they meet the age guidelines. Again, so they can be like any other kid and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

A Hidden Population of Family Caregivers: Children

Guest blog post by Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD, from Boca Raton. She is the Founder and President of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, which provides information and resources to youth, families and helping professionals, conducts research and promotes awareness of the issue of youth caregiving. The organization is a valued DCF partner.  

When Jason was 13 and in the middle of his 7th grade school year, his mother stopped cleaning the house.  She also stopped cooking. She would stay in bed all day. He didn’t want to bring friends to his house anymore because he worried about what he would find when he got home.

Jason tried his best to keep his mom happy and calm. He cleaned the house. He made her dinner.  Sometimes, he had to take it to her in the bedroom.  They ended up being evicted from their other apartment because of his mom’s changing behaviors.

Jason felt he couldn’t let anyone know about his mother. He knew she had some kind of “mental illness,” but he was afraid to ask for help.

These are the lives of youth caregivers and there are at least 1.3 million of them in the U.S.  They administer medications, assist with mobility and manage household chores. Some provide personal care such as bathing or helping a loved one to the bathroom. Others make sure the bills get paid on time. They have adult responsibilities and experience complicated emotions, but as children and teenagers they are not emotionally equipped to cope with the stress.

Caregiving Youth at Camp Treasure working together and building trust

Jason came to the Caregiving Youth Project, an affiliate of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, in Palm Beach County to participate in our activities and services.

Now he no longer feels like he must keep his mother’s condition a secret. He learned that by asking for help, he could get the support that both he and his mother need.

We sent a staff member to his house to meet him and his mother. Staff helped Jason’s mom contact an agency to help her with her illness. Jason was introduced to other kids his age who were caregivers and now he no longer feels so embarrassed and alone.

If you or someone you know is in need of help and is a caregiving youth, please contact the Caregiving Youth Project at info@aacy.org or call 1-800-725-2512.

Making the Commitment: Fostering

Guest post by Michael and LaShaun Wallace. The Wallaces are parents to four, including a child who was adopted from foster care, and have just become non-relative caregivers of an infant. Michael writes for ESPN.com and LaShaun is a board member for the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association and National Foster Parent Association.

Like any other challenging and rewarding venture in life, fostering offers a wide range of experiences. Some good. Some not so good. But it’s all well worth it.

We are former foster parents and have three biological children and one adopted child. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:

1. YOU are making a difference in a child’s life. Don’t let others’ misconceptions of foster care stop you from telling everyone you know, “I am proud to be a foster parent.” Your commitment and excitement is the best recruitment tool ever.

2. Fostering is a full-time job, just like parenting biological children. I used to feel bad when being placed with an infant and I couldn’t answer the phones or reply to emails as quickly, but then I had an “ah ha” moment: I didn’t feel bad with my biological children because I was expected to have crazy days. No difference here. There are no “off” days in fostering but if you do need a break, utilize respite care or babysitting services and don’t feel guilty about it.

3. You can’t take away a child’s pain from losing his or her parent, even if it’s temporarily. You can only be there, in the moment, when the pain is too much to bear. Even sitting in silence is better than not being there.

4. Celebrate successes, no matter how minor. Along the same lines, don’t ignore bad behavior, no matter how minor. Sometimes, as foster parents, we may never have a complete picture of what the child’s life was like beforehand so establish your ground rules for rewards and discipline upfront. Remain the steady force in the child’s life so that they will learn to balance the good with the bad.

5. Not every placement is the “right” placement for you. You have to be comfortable in knowing what you can handle and what you can’t handle. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out; just remain confident in the fact that you provided what you could to the best of your ability.

6. Fostering challenges marriages. You MUST maintain a healthy relationship because there will now be 10 times more people in your lives — children, biological parents, biological siblings, caseworkers, healthcare professionals, etc. — all with differing personalities and opinions and who all need your time. And just as you would with biological children, stay united in providing care and discipline.

7. You don’t have to do it alone. There are organizations and associations to support you. Don’t ever feel that your situation is too unique; share your concerns with others and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We love being part of a system that helps children. When we talk to acquaintances about fostering, we don’t sugarcoat it and we don’t bash it — we just provide an honest discussion.

As I said before, fostering is a commitment and as with any commitment, it’s not all good and it’s not all bad but you’re in it for the long haul.

Note:

To learn more about fostering and hear more stories, visit www.fosteringflorida.com