A non-profit adoptive family support center
Serving families, professionals and educators since 1998

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E-Newsletter - Apr 2009

In this issue

You can help C.A.S.E. Wise Up the World about Foster Care

How Loss of Culture, Ethnicity, Religion and Heritage Can Affect Children in Foster Care.

Adoptive Parenting: Finalizing College Choices

Ask Ellen

C.A.S.E. Connections: Meet Madeleine Krebs

You can help C.A.S.E. Wise Up the World about Foster Care -
These facts and statistics will help you start the conversation in May, which is National Foster Care Month 
Source: Fostercaremonth.org

Total Population:
513,000 children were in the U.S. foster care system on September 30, 2005. Most children are placed temporarily in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect.

Age:
Average Age: 10.0 years


6%

< 1 year

26%

1-5 years

20%

6-10 years

28%

11-15 years

18%

16-18 years

2%

>19 years

Gender:


Male

52%

Female

48%

Race and Ethnicity:
As a percentage, there are more children of color in the foster care system than in the general U.S. population. However, child abuse and neglect occur at about the same rate in all racial/ethnic groups.

 

Race/Ethnicity

In out-of-home care

In general population

 

Black (non-Hispanic)

32%

15%

 

White (non-Hispanic)

41%

61%

 

Hispanic

18%

17%

 

Am. Indian/Alaska Native (non-Hispanic)

2%

1%

 

Asian/Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic)

1%

3%

 

Unknown

2%

N/A

 

2 or More Races (non-Hispanic)

3%

4%

Length of Stay
For the children in foster care on September 30, 2005, the average amount of time they had been in the system was 28.6 months. Half of those leaving care that year had been away from home for a year or longer. 54% of the young people leaving the system were reunified with their birth parents or primary caregivers.

Foster Homes
In 2004, there was a total of 153,000 licensed/certified/approved kinship and non-relative foster homes nationwide. In 2005, 24% of youth living foster care were residing with their relatives.

Adoptions
In 2005, 60% of adopted children were adopted by their foster parent(s). The "foster parent" category excludes anyone identified as a relative of the child. 25% of children adopted in FY 2005 were adopted by a relative. A "relative" includes a step-parent or other relative of the child.

Siblings and Extended Families
Over 2 million American children live with grandparents or other relatives because their parents cannot care for them. When relatives provide foster care (known as kinship care), siblings can often stay together. Kinship care also improves stability by keeping displaced children closer to their extended families, their neighborhoods, and their schools.

Youth in Transition
Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people "age out" of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Several foster care alumni studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, these older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations:


Outcomes

National

Regional or Local

Earned a high school diploma

54%

50% - 63%

Obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher

2%

2%

Became a parent

84%

42%

Were unemployed

51%

30%

Had no health insurance

30%

29%

Had been homeless

25%

36%

Were receiving public assistance

30%

26%

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 How Loss of Culture, Ethnicity, Religion and Heritage Can Affect Children in Foster Care.
By Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C, Ellen Singer, LCSW-C & Vanessa Marshall LCSW-C

10 year old African-American Jamal was used to saying prayers every night before he went to bed. He often prayed that his step-father would disappear and the beatings his mother, sister and he suffered would stop. He got his “wish.” Sort of. The beatings stopped when he and his sister were placed into foster care and, a short time later, his stepfather disappeared. The loving Caucasian family who cared for Jamal was Presbyterian. Their church attendance was limited to Christmas time, and the bedtime ritual included a goodnight hug and the soft instructions, “Now, go to sleep.” And, although it was safe and secure, it was not what he had known before. There were no prayers. Gone, was Jamal’s Baptist Church, a place his mother took him every Sunday – and where he knew everyone.  

Like Jamal, foster children often come into care after suffering traumatic experiences, including neglect; emotional, physical, sexual abuse; exposure to mental illness, drug use, and violence. In addition to the loss of birth parents and birth family members, children and teens in foster care often experience a multitude of losses: siblings, friends, neighbors, school teachers and counselors, to name a few. Oftentimes, children in foster care experience multiple moves, exacerbating the loss and grief. What happens when all of these losses are compounded by losing contact with one’s culture, ethnicity and or religion?

While people typically associate the loss of culture with international adoption, it is no less significant for children and youth placed in the foster care system. In Caucasian, African American, Latin or multiracial foster families, the children in care may not be of the same race or ethnicity. Many of these children have had little to no contact with families who are not of the same race as their birth families. For this reason, the loss of familiarity is overwhelming, frightening, and rarely acknowledged. The monumental task of learning how to live in a “new family” is especially difficult when the family bears little to no resemblance to their birth families.

According to C.A.S.E. Clinical Coordinator Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C, these cultural/ ethnic/religious differences can create significant challenges for older children coming into care. Cultural differences and expectations involve all facets of our lives: food, nuances in relationships, the ways in which dependence and independence are viewed and valued, how male and female roles are carried out, etc. All of these seemingly small nuances have the potential to cause a great deal of family conflict.

Jorge was a Latino boy in an African-American home. His parents sent him to the United States to live with his maternal aunt and uncle. (Increasing numbers of parents from other countries send their children to live with relatives.) When allegations of abuse were substantiated, Jorge came to live with his pre-adopt foster parents, the Andersons. In his Latino family, Jorge was not expected to do household chores, like washing dishes. That was girl stuff.  However, in this foster home, all children – boys and girls - were expected to clean up after dinner. When Jorge adamantly balked at this task, the Andersons interpreted it as defiance. They wondered if this placement was going to work. They were completely puzzled. During a therapy session, Jorge asked, “Why don’t they ask me to take out the trash, or walk the dog?”  He was even able to verbalize his feeling insulted by being asked to do “girlie things.” 

13-year-old Rosalie’s birth mother was Caucasian. Her birth father was from the Dominican Republic. Violence and chaos brought Rosalie into the pre-adopt care of a wonderful woman who was also from the Dominican Republic. She also continued to have visits with her maternal aunt, who lived on a farm. In therapy, it was clear that Rosalie was beginning to struggle with issues related to her own identity. She remarked on the vast differences between the two worlds. Her wealthy aunt bestowed privileges and material things that her foster mother could only dream of giving her.  She felt guilty and disloyal for enjoying her time on the farm.

Mary, 12, African-American, came into care when she was 7 years old after she was removed from her birth mother who suffered from drug use and mental illness. When her mother’s rights were terminated, Mary was placed in a permanent pre-adopt home with an Ethiopian family. The struggles started immediately around food.  Mary refused to eat the ethnic dishes the family prepared. Her foster parents, adamant that she must make this adjustment, found her disapproval of their food to be disrespectful. In a culture that places a great deal of value on respect for elders, Mary’s behavior was especially offensive to the maternal grandmother who lived with the family.  

Chores and food preferences may seem like simple issues to tackle, but, according to CASE therapist, Vanessa Marshall, “these cultural differences can become the place where expressions of  the pain, anger, sadness, trauma, distrust, and loss that children in care have suffered manifest.”

Working with loving, dedicated foster and pre-adopt parents requires sensitizing and educating them about the impact that cultural differences can take on a family. The key is encouraging parents and children to acknowledge and discuss these differences.

“One way a caregiver or foster parent can express curiosity and openness to their child’s own customs and culture,” says Krebs, is to ask them, “How did your mom do this?’ or ‘Is the way we handle household responsibilities the same as it was done in your home? “ If not, probe further – and ask them to explain the differences and the reasons behind the differences. Perhaps there are positive changes, to which the adults can adapt. ‘What did your mom like to cook?’   ‘What holidays did you celebrate – and how?”
  In Mary’s case, an incredibly therapeutic compromise resulted. Mary explained that her mother and she would cook burgers and fries together. Slowly, Mary began to help her foster grandma in the kitchen as she cooked. They agreed that Mary did not have to try Ethiopian foods. As you might guess, as her relationship with her foster grandmother developed, Mary began to sample things. She even found that some foods were not so “yucky,” after all.  Cooking became the way for Mary to connect to her new family.

Foster parents work so hard to help the adjustment process of the children in their care.  Understanding the impact of the cultural/ethnic/religious differences between their families and their foster children’s birth families is critical in achieving that goal. To learn more National Foster Care Month, how to become a foster parent or about how you can support children, youth and foster care alumni, these websites will get you started: www.fostercaremonth.org, www.adoptuskids.org and www.fcaa.org.

We also recommend that foster parents, relative caretakers, child welfare professionals and educators learn more about W.I.S.E. Up! for Children in Foster Care – C.A.S.E.’s highly acclaimed empowerment program that helps foster and adopted children manage their complex feelings and handle the questions, comments and curiosities of others.

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Adoptive Parenting: Finalizing College Choices
by Debbie Riley, MS

Going away to college is a rite of passage for some teens. But for others, leaving home is difficult. Some adoptees feel a rekindled sense of loss or rejection about having to leave their families. Others struggle with emotional or learning issues that impact their self-esteem or academic performance.

Consider the alternatives.
Whatever the degree of challenge, teens need to know that they don't have to go away to collage, even if their friends are doing so. (Some teens don't have the desire or capability to go to college.) While this notion may be hard for a teen to accept, it can be even harder for his or her parents, who may have built up expectations. For others, the decision-making process is more complex.

Lisa, a bright girl, was adopted as an infant. At age six, she was diagnosed with ADHD, and, at age nine, with learning disabilities. Her parents enrolled her in a small, private high school that offered extra academic support. Lisa was able to attain good grades. She earned decent SAT scores and was accepted by several colleges. Her parents felt she would do best in a small school that offered tutoring services, but Lisa wanted to be with friends and enrolled in a large,  Public university. Although tutoring was available at that school, Lisa was too shy to ask for it. By the end of her first semester, Lisa was overwhelmed and she dropped out of school.

After a chance to regroup, she decided to transfer to a smaller school that was closer to home and offered academic support. She graduated in June 2007, with a teaching degree.

Community college is another option for teens that are unsure of what direction they want their education to take. These schools are less expensive than four-year colleges and they often employ professors with practical experience in their fields.

Michael, a 17-year-old, struggled through high school and showed little interest in his future. But Michael’s parents believed in his potential. While they supported his decision to get a full-time job after graduation, they encouraged him to try some classes at a community college.

Michael found that he enjoyed taking courses at his own pace while working. Over time, he gained confidence. While it took Michael longer than most of his peers to complete college, he eventually transferred to a four-year school and found his niche in computer programming.

Five Tips to Help You Talk with your Teen About Interests and College Options.

  1. Remain supportive and non-judgmental. This will keep communication open and increase the chance that he’ll turn to you for advice.
  2. Encourage your teen to do research. Investigate all of the possible careers or vocations that seem interesting and speak to guidance counselors, college and career advisors or people who work in the fields of interest.
  3. Do some research. If your teen has special learning needs, find out which colleges can address them.
  4. Encourage your teen (and yourself) to embrace the notion that few “mistakes” are irrevocable. People can and do change directions all the time and very few people know exactly what they want to when they graduate from high school
  5. Consider counseling. Older teens may be more open to counseling than they would have been in earlier years. Therapists, academic coaches and other advisors can help your teen decide what to do after high school and can offer support during her transitional years.

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Ask Ellen: Responding to Hurtful Statements                           
by Ellen Singer, LCSW-C  
 
     
Ellen headshot  
Dear Ellen,

Dear Ellen,
My 16-year-old daughter is biracial – Caucasian/African-American. We adopted her as an infant. I live in a diverse community in Washington, D.C.  During the holidays last December, I took her to visit my parents who live in a small town in Pennsylvania, where I grew up. On one outing together, all seven of us were in a family diner waiting to be seated.  A little later, another large family (party of eight) entered the lobby and was standing in line. Several minutes later, when the hostess sat the party of eight before us, I questioned it. The manager said that our table would be ready shortly, but since a table for eight was ready, they would be seated first.  To make a long story short, nothing made sense: and then it occurred to me – we were the only family with a non-white child. Was something racist was going on? It was hard to believe! My daughter overheard the discussion and could sense our confusion. I knew she was concerned that something was troubling me. I’m not sure what she was thinking, and neither of us said anything.  I don’t want to make something out of possibly my own imagination. But what if my suspicion was correct?  
 
Like many parents in transracial adoption, the pull to be “color blind” is strong. Parents love their children and want to believe that love transcends race – because love is not compromised by race – that race does not matter. Unfortunately for our children, once they leave the safe, cocoon of family and venture out into the world, racism is likely to rear its ugly head. Even when living in diverse communities, most people of color have experienced subtle and not-so-subtle racism. Ask transracially adopted adults who grew up in primarily Caucasian communities, and the stories of racism they have to share are filled with pain.  

As parents, we want so much to protect our children from painful experiences. Unfortunately, we cannot. It is incredibly disempowering to be in the situation that this mother describes.   However, rather than shielded protection, what children living in transracial families need most is acknowledgement that what they sense and what they think they are experiencing is real.  

Parents must openly address the fact that racism exists and then provide thoughtful, informed guidance and education to help their children develop the necessary coping skills to deal with it.  When racism occurs in the presence of parents, parents must acknowledge the experiences in order to help their children hone these skills.  

And, although this mom wasn’t able to definitively ascertain what was happening, I would encourage her – and all parents - to trust her instincts and say to her daughter, “I’m not sure what the deal is here, but I just have a bad feeling about this. I think the hostess is refusing to seat us because we are a transracial family.” At that point, her daughter could have shared her thoughts and feelings, such as, “Yes, Mom. I thought she looked at me kind’ve funny.”    

For more information on how to open up the conversation with your child, register for our spring workshop: “Talking to Young People About Race and Racism.”

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C.A.S.E. Connections: Meet Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-CM Krebs
Madeleine Krebs, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is our Clinical Coordinator with more than 34 years’ experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and their families in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She has worked extensively with foster and adopted children and their parents, as well as prospective parents.  Ms. Krebs was named Maryland’s “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in October of 2007 – we think she’s an angel every day.

Why I love working at C.A.S.E.
This is humbling work: to walk with families as they move into permanency. I love that I am surrounded by clinicians who are experts in adoption. We are committed, excited and eager to learn and to grow in this specialty. There are very few places in the country that  offer the extent of services that we offer – there are some that have similarities – but there is only one C.A.S.E. We offer the best in counseling services, but so much more: with books, publications, and programs like W.I.S.E. Up!®,  and S.A.F.E. at School® because we have the opportunity to really impact the community and other professionals around foster care and adoption.

The most powerful moment I’ve experienced at C.A.S.E.
There was this young boy, I’ll call him Matt, (not his real name) who was in either his second or third pre-adoptive home and there was a disruption (where the adoption does not go to finalization and the foster child then remains in foster care).The fact that it was happening really caught me off guard. He said, “You told me I was being adopted!” Then, standing right next to me and looking me right in the eye he said, “If it’s the wrong size, apologize.” And I did. I’m so happy to say that he is very happily adopted now.

What foster and adopted children have taught me
Forgiveness. Patience. What love is. More patience. Never to give up. Dreams may change, but there is always hope. They have taught me how strong they are – all of them – and that they are ALWAYS listening and watching us.

What I hope to impart on families I work with.
That C.A.S.E. is a wonderfully supportive place for foster and adoptive families. We understand the journey. We are friendly and safe – and we are there for everyone who is touched by adoption: foster and adopted children, teens, adult adoptees, parents, expectant/birth parents, adoptive parents, extended families – everyone.

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  Updated 16 April, 2009                 top See Our Privacy Statement | Contact Us  
 
16 April, 2009