Wounded Children, Healing Homes

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Today we had the pleasure and privilege of attending a foster parent training of actual value. Our track record with foster parent training has not been all that stellar. I always feel like we've lost eight hours of our lives. Today, however, Jayne Schooler was our trainer. She has just published a book called Wounded Children, Healing Homes based on this particular training which she's been doing around the country for a few years already.

If anyone had told me what this experience would really be like, I probably wouldn't have believed them. If I did believe them, I probably wouldn't have continued on this path. More than likely, though, I would've assumed that they were exaggerating, that we were different, that we were better equipped, and that we were 'called' which would somehow make us exempt from the pressures of those who weren't doing this for any particular 'holy' reason.

Actually, all of those things are true:
We are different than most of the other foster parents we've met.
We are better equipped in a whole bunch of ways.
We are called.

It's still the hardest thing we've ever done. It's come pretty close to breaking us.  It might yet.

The very first exercise we did in the training was to think about our family before we started this journey. What we were like, what our expectations were, how would we describe ourselves. Then we thought about the children we were caring for - what they've been through and what their behaviors were. Finally, we were to write down what our family was like now.

So our charts (I've compiled Wendell's and mine here) looked something like this:
  • Before:  excited, purposeful, naive, unaware, managed, functioned in average ways, very involved in outside activities, idealistic, trusted the system
  • The behaviors we've now added to our home with this placement:  rages, aggression, food sneaking, hunger strikes, depression, anxiety, nightmares, non-compliance, extreme mood swings, terrors, controlling behaviors, obsessive-compulsive type behaviors
  • Types of abuse, neglect, trauma our children have experienced (I'm going to be as specific as I can while respecting privacy):  physical abuse, extreme neglect including not being fed, changed, or held, being left alone with no adult presence at all, multiple placements, and in our view, a re-traumatization by the exposure to visitation instigated by Children's Services.
  • Now, how would we describe our family:  tired, cynical regarding the system, more emotionally volatile, withdrawn from many activities, isolated.  We feel traumatized ourselves.  Conversely, we are also better.  More compassionate, able to see love in the midst of trauma, more willing to advocate and fight for what's right, better able to see the value of and respect our relationships.  We have a stronger marriage, more compassionate children, and we have all become better people.  These positive things are virtually impossible to feel right now, but they are things that I know in my heart and that I'm holding on to.  One day we're going to be on the other side of this, and these things will be the things that we hang on to more than the bad.

This little exercise set the stage for the rest of the training. We talked about the power of unmet expectations, what life is really like with a traumatized child, the trauma that occurs within the family that takes in a traumatized child, and what the caregiver's response should be. This is long already, so I'll try to deal with those things in a later post.

I really think this book and this training should be required for all foster parents. I think it should be required for all adoptive parents, as well. I think foster parents, while dealing with a lot of ongoing uncertainty and emotional stuff, actually have some advantages. We're required to receive a ton of pre-service training (more than the average domestic or overseas adoption from my understanding) and a ton of ongoing training (for us, it's 20 hours a year). We have other adults regularly checking in on us and observing how the kids are doing. With adoptive-only parenting, while many of the same issues will still be there, there may be no one who knows. There is no one requiring you to seek out further training. A lot of adoptive parents are completely on their own. That's a tough place to be. As hard as fostering is, I'm glad that there are resources to help us like this training workshop.

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