Monthly Archives: May 2014

Changing Course

Guest post by Brandon Clayton. A Leon County teacher for 11 years, currently teaching at Bond Elementary School. Mr. Clayton was the 2013-2014 Leon County Glenn-Howell Distinguished Educator of the Year. He is also the vice president of the Tallahassee Area Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

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Eight years ago, one of my third grade students went into foster care. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him through this tough time. As an educator, I believe I can change the course of a child’s life through helping him/her identify strengths that can be used to achieve success. I am sensitive to the needs of all children especially those who are involved with the child welfare system.

Based on my experiences, here are some ways educators can help children in their classrooms who are in foster care:

 

BE PATIENT. Understand that the child has been through a lot, but this does not give them an excuse to get out of work or misbehave. I had a new student once who had severe issues going on in his home and he was having trouble with his school work, specifically reading. When it was his turn to read aloud in class, he refused, threw the book across the room and slammed his chair back. I immediately realized this outburst was not to cause trouble – this kid was very embarrassed and he needed my support. For the next few weeks I alternated working with him individually and pairing him with a student in my class who was a strong reader. I made it very clear to him that this was not an on-going arrangement – very soon he would be reading aloud by himself just like the other students. This process gave him the self confidence he needed and over a period of time, his reading skills greatly improved.

BE MINDFUL OF THE HOLIDAYS. Holidays can be a strong reminder for some kids that they are not with their biological families. While some children may want to be with their families during the holidays, for some children the holidays may be an emotional trigger bringing them back to a time of severe abuse or neglect. Be especially sensitive during these times.

brandon1 - 2BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Create moments that allow you to connect with the child. You have to develop relationships with the kids so they know they can trust you and open up to you. Pull them aside to talk during lunch time, before or after school, or in between classes. Let them know you are there for them. Often times, your time and just acknowledging that you know they are going through something is the comfort they need. Even if the child does open up to you they may not ever be at a point where they want to share their story with you, but just knowing you are there for them makes a big difference in their lives. Sometimes all they need is a hug.

brandon9 - 3The third grade student in my class eight years ago inspired me to become a foster parent. I knew I could make a difference outside of the classroom just like I was doing at school. I met my wife Natalie, a managing attorney for the Department of Children and Families Children’s Legal Services, because she was a fellow foster parent. Fostering Florida’s youth has continued into our marriage as we have learned that much can be accomplished for children by a single parent, but having a partner in this work is a true blessing!  We plan to continue expanding our family through fostering, as every child who comes into our home becomes ‘family’ despite where they end up going. Eventually we plan to adopt in order to give youth the forever family they need and deserve.

Here’s a video of the fostering story I shared when I won the 2014 Leon County Teacher of the Year:

The Difference

Guest post by Brandy Ingram, youth coordinator at Federation of Families.  This is part one of her blog post series. The FOF is an organization focused on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families.

All the youth in the leadership program I coordinate have powerful, emotional stories. They have gone through things no child should even know about.  After sharing my story and hearing their stories, the outcome was empowering for not only them, but for me as well.  One thing, I’ve shared with the youth, is that you are not your diagnosis, it is only a part of you and how you deal with it and live with it is what makes the difference between being a productive citizen and not.

Here is one child’s story:

Sarah*, 13 years old

I got taken away from my birth mom; she had me and my twin brother at 13 years old.  She had been in human trafficking since she was a little girl; in my country that was very common.  My mom is from Panama and my dad is Puerto Rican.  My dad was in gangs and that was the only family that he had.  I always wondered if my family knows that I still exist, that I’m still alive.

I was separated from my twin brother at age 5.  He was still at the orphanage when the people who adopted me took me away.  I screamed and I would not stop crying because he was basically the reason why I survived.  I wish that I could see him and my mommy and daddy. I ain’t gonna lie, every time I see a family I cry and every time I see twins I get upset and cry.  I always wish that I could have a good family.

When I was 6, I was brought to the U.S. by this adopted family.  By age 7, I was being abused by the family, my dad would hit my mom and my mom would hit me and then put makeup on me and tell me that I looked beautiful.  I have been raped, abused, I have abused heroin, which my adopted dad started me on by shooting it into my arms.

For five years, I did not say anything, but then my best friend called the police and helped to save my life.  DCF took me away.  I admit that I don’t miss them, but I do miss being with a family, because that is all I ever wanted.  I have a lot of trust issues, but I’m learning how to try and trust people, but every time I get close, I have to go.

When I got into foster care, I did heroin; I was addicted. I got into a couple of programs, but I started fighting and running away.  The longest I stayed away was a month.  When I went back to the group home, they ended up sending me to a commitment program.

I got out July 19, 2013.  I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and it’s really hard to deal with things.  I want to change and live a better life.  I know that there are going to be bumps in the road, but as long as I have God, I’m okay.  I’m trying to learn how to open up, instead of holding everything inside and it is very hard, but I will try.

*Name changed for privacy.

“Hello”

Guest post by Wendy Smith, foster parent and director of Foster Home Recruitment & Quality at ChildNet.

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The Smith family: Biological son Matthew, 20; adopted son Caleb, 3; husband Greg; the Smith’s foster daughter; Wendy; and biological son Christian, 17.

The most frequent comment I hear from people about why they won’t become a foster parent is, “I would become too attached and could never let them go.”  It’s sad to know that because someone could not say goodbye they refuse to ever say hello.

I remember the first time I said “hello” to our foster child, Christopher.  He was a frightened 5- year-old boy holding the hand of his case worker as he entered SafePlace.  I knelt down, looked him in the eyes and in a gentle voice I said, “Hello Christopher, you’ll be coming to live with me for awhile.  We’ll have a lot of fun together.” I didn’t know at the time that he would be spending the next two years with us.

Recently I had to say goodbye. It was hard. It broke my heart.

Yet I’ll never regret saying hello because for the last two years he learned that he is loved by us and many others.  He learned that he is smart, creative, adorable, safe and precious. He learned that a home can be a place filled with joy and laughter. He learned that big brothers are awesome and will give him an extra scoop of ice cream if mom’s not looking.  I’ll never regret saying hello because for the past two years, I was blessed with a little voice greeting me in the morning with, “Hi, Mom. I love you.”

A year after we said goodbye to Christopher, my husband and I took placement of two siblings – a newborn and 11-month-old. We still keep in touch with Christopher and his biological family and his aunt told me he said, “The Smith’s will be nice to those babies because they were nice to me.” Better commentary on my foster home than winning foster parent of the year!

Yes, your heart will ache when you let them go.  Your heart will be broken so that their heart can heal.  It’s worth it. He’s worth it. I’m glad we said hello.