Spaulding for Children has long been a national resource for professionals seeking the latest information and programs to help and support families and the interests of children. Last month, Spaulding received recognition on the global stage when CEO Cristina Peixoto spoke at the International Seminar on Social Assistance and Human Rights Policy, held Oct. 22-25 […]
Every parent knows the challenges of raising a child change as the young person develops into a teenager. While the specific areas of concern may change, each youngster still needs lots of hands-on attention. And a teen, especially one who has been in the foster system, may need a different level of attention entirely – and sometimes even new types of guidance.
Families are Desperately Needed to Foster Teens
There are 800 older foster youth in Michigan who “age out” every year, which means they turn age 18 and leave the child welfare system without achieving permanency with a family. In June of 2018 in Spaulding’s service center, (comprised of four counties) there were 80 youth between the ages of 10-17 that were in need of foster care placement.
Unique Challenges of Parenting a Foster Teen
Parenting a teen from the foster system comes with its challenges. Many teenagers have experienced traumatic events. They know little of continuity and likely have experienced rejection and isolation. Many have complex emotional needs.
Families that respond to the need for teen fostering initially may lack the confidence or skill set necessary to create a nurturing environment for them. Family members often step in when needed, regardless of their level of preparation. Others may be completely unprepared, but take a teen in, only to later regret that decision. In the process, they may create more rejection and disruption in the teen’s life.
To support all families and caregivers who are fostering teen-age children, Spaulding is partnering with four nationally recognized agencies to create the CORE Teen program. These agencies are the ChildTrauma Academy, the Center for Adoption Support and Education, the North American Council on Adoptable Children and the University of Washington.
Spaulding for Children, in partnership with the ChildTrauma Academy; the Center for Adoption Support and Education; the North American Council on Adoptable Children; and the University of Washington was awarded a 3 year Foster/Adoptive Parent Preparation, Training and Development Initiative cooperative agreement with the Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. The project will develop a state-of-the-art training program, equipping resource parents with skills necessary to meet the needs of older youth who have moderate to serious emotional and behavior health challenges.
Spaulding’s CORE Teen Program
After reaching out to families, youth and content experts, partners of the CORE Teen Program identified the parental characteristics and skills that best serve foster teens. Spaulding then worked to create a course of study to build awareness among foster parents and others of these specific characteristics and competencies.
The curriculum includes a Family Self-Assessment, 14 hours of classroom instruction, and “Right Time,” an online instruction guide that serves as a ready reference in real time situations. The curriculum is presently being tested at four different locations across the country.
Feedback from those being trained indicate that they find it extremely helpful.
“Loved how we learned how to thread the self-assessment information into conversations with families.”
“The process is amazing from start to finish. The trauma information is user friendly.”
“The self-assessment is spot-on with providing feedback and resources.”
“But, I know how to raise kids.”
While parents know and have seen a great amount of what can’t be taught in a classroom, parents of teens in foster care may want to “relearn” certain parenting behaviors. Some of the new principles may even feel counterintuitive, but teens in foster care often have different needs.
For example, the use of “grounding” as a punishment is very common for teens who’ve made a mistake in judgment or behavior. However, when a foster teen is grounded, it underscores isolation and may be counter-productive for changing behavior. Instead, parents may want to consider alternative activities they can do together with their teenager.
Another might be the use of “time-out.” Many teens who have been in foster care feel as if they have long been isolated from others. And while they may need a break from the offending activity, a better choice might be replacing that with “time-in” as a family. That way, a child learns that they are still part of the family, even when they have made a mistake.
Spaulding has found in developing CORE Teen that parents raising foster teens need additional parenting strategies. The new program helps parents put these new concepts into action, as well as provide resources for when the unexpected happens.
“We like to think of it as a tool box and we are adding new tools for a different job,” said Sue A. Cohick, CORE Project Director, Spaulding for Children. “Parents may need to adjust their expectations, or not place (their expectations) on the teen. The best thing you can do for them is to create an environment of support and acceptance. Your home can provide a level of stability these kids may not have known before. And that allows them to grow and develop.”
A legal guardian can make decisions on behalf of the child, but the child maintains a legal connection with his or her birth parents. Guardians can be permanent, temporary, or limited. Guardians often are family members. The legal relationship established by a juvenile court guardianship ends when the child turns 18 and is considered an adult.
Foster Care provides temporary care for a child who can’t live with his or her own family. A child may have entered foster care for a number of reasons, including neglect, abuse, or a family crisis. Foster families receive funding from the State to help in the child’s care.
Spaulding for Children recruits and licenses foster parents. Services provided include placement, case management, home based visitation, information and referrals, support groups for both children and parents, and youth mentoring.
Minority Professional Leadership Development (MPLD) program at AdoptUSKids is now accepting leadership program applications!
The Minority Professional Leadership Development (MPLD) program at AdoptUSKids is an eight-month fellowship designed for emerging leaders working in child welfare. It includes hands-on experience, exposure to national experts, and mentorship opportunities.
The program will begin with a three-day kick-off celebration in the Washington, D.C., area in January 2019. There is no fee to participate.
To learn more and to get an application, go to adoptuskids.org/mpld.
Applications are due by September 3, 2018.
- Set up a schedule for studying, sports and other extra circular activities – then, stick to it. It’s best to create a quiet study area for homework. The study space could be a certain chair at the dining room table where each night after meal time it gets cleared and becomes a study space. The important thing is the expectation is set that this is where and when we study. Soon it becomes more than a habit, it’s a special place for learning.
- Show your commitment to their school. If you don’t seem to care, why should they? Attend Parent Teacher conferences, Back to School Night, and concerts, plays and student performances. Not only will teachers notice who wants to help the student, the child sees school matters to you.
- Ask your student specific questions about their school life. Learn the names of their teacher and friends. Ask what they are like and how they are doing? These are the people who play very important roles in your child’s daily life.
- Protect bedtimes and limit screen times. A good night’s sleep is critical to your student’s health and ability to perform in school. Studies show that the ideal number of sleep hours are 10-11 hours per night for 7-12 year olds and 8-9 hours per night for students ages 12-18.
Keep abreast of yours student’s progress. It’s easy for them to fall behind. It is hard to catch up. Look at their assignments frequently (nightly, if possible) and grades (often online). Do not hesitate to reach out to school if you think your child needs extra attention, help with a class or test prep.
A Profile of Ms. Nyiemah Twyman, BA
A specialist in adoption and foster care at Spaulding for Children, Nyiemah Twyman personally knows what life is like for the children on her caseload. When she was younger, Ms. Twyman had been in foster care.
That life experience helped drive Ms. Twyman to do all she can to help children in need of a loving family and a permanent home at Spaulding. She also serves today as a counselor at Vista Maria, where she helps adolescent girls develop the characteristics needed to overcome difficult circumstances. In both positions, she helps youngsters develop critical skills they will need as adults.
“For the older children, especially – those who may have been waiting what seems a long time for a home – it helps to know there are people who have gone through a similar thing.”
In her professional work, Ms. Twyman helps children who may be temporary wards of the court and children who may be permanently separated from their parents due to abuse or neglect. Ms. Twyman serves as a case manager and advocate, helping find what each child on her caseload needs from getting enrolled in school, to tutoring services, to counseling and guidance, and to medical and dental care.
Children in foster care or awaiting adoption may not see or understand the big picture. However, empathy, compassion and kindness are human characteristics that are developed through contact with caring adults.
“I do know what to look for in children and families,” Ms. Twyman said. “That is, I want to make sure children are safe, know they are loved, and have what they need to thrive in the home.”
Her professional goals include helping children on her caseload to understand that their lives, too can be what they want. The secret is helping them understand how their lives in the present will help make their dreams for the future come true. By helping children develop characteristics, including self-confidence and the commitment to school work, they are doing what they need to build a happy and successful life as adults.
“Stay in school,” Ms. Twyman said. “Believe in yourself. And recognize that others really want to help you.”
Ms. Twyman’s initial goal in attending college was to become a neo-natal nurse. Soon, she discovered a passion for psychology and criminal justice. She discovered how she could serve all three through social work. So, after graduating from Olivet College in 2011, she embarked on a career as a counselor, providing guidance to young people in danger of embarking on – or continuing on – the wrong path in life.
“One girl said to me she was ‘not pretty, like other girls,’” Ms. Twyman said. “I asked her to look in the mirror and tell me, what do you see? She said her hair is different. I wanted her to find something she liked, so I reminded her that her hair is just one part of her being, and that is, she is a beautiful person. She started to understand how she could find the positive in the other aspects of her appearance.”
“She also learned that to become the person you want to be is not just what you see on the outside. One can be the prettiest girl in school, but still have a terrible attitude towards others, an inner anger that doesn’t match appearance.”
“So, I helped her understand that the person you really are comes from inside you. The secret is helping her discover how she – and every other child – is a special person and is meant to be loved and treasured. From there, she discovered that she can counteract another person’s shortcoming through kindness and by giving of one’s inner self.”
“The young girl took these ideas to heart. Now she helps others understand how to endure doubts and misunderstandings by sharing her example.
In her career at Spaulding for Children, Ms. Twyman has witnessed the great impact one caring person can make on the life of a child.
“For those who adopt a child, please be very instrumental in your children’s lives,” Ms. Twyman said. “Teach them what they need to know. Pay attention to what they are doing. Don’t fret the smaller things, those which are not going to hurt them. And when your child says something is occurring, believe them.”
“Second, if you are not in a position to adopt, please be a foster parent if you are interested. You have a story to tell, so you can help a child. And don’t be afraid of teen-agers. They really are just big babies, who may not have gotten the love, attention and positive direction we all need.”
Ms. Twyman remembers. Every day now, she works to help others in her care discover the lesson.
In honor of our 50th Anniversary, we want to remember what makes Spaulding unique: Spaulding’s commitment to those children that were often left uncared for – including children with disabilities.
In 1978 Spaulding hired experts in the field of developmental disabilities and concentrated on adoption for this population. Spaulding then worked with the State Department of Mental Health to implement permanency planning for children with developmental disabilities found abandoned in that system.
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