Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care

Impact of Fostering on Kids Already in the Family

March 26, 2021 Creating a Family Season 15 Episode 13
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
Impact of Fostering on Kids Already in the Family
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
Impact of Fostering on Kids Already in the Family
Mar 26, 2021 Season 15 Episode 13
Creating a Family

Bringing foster children into your family may impact the kids already in your home—both in positive and potentially negative ways. We will provide suggestions on how to integrate new foster children into your home as seamlessly as possible. Our guest expert is Dr. Eshele Williams, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who brings her professional expertise with counseling foster families as well as her personal experience as being a biological child in a family that fostered many children in her childhood.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Positive benefits of fostering on children already in the family.
  • Possible challenging issues children in the family might face when foster children join the family.
  • Benefits of preparing children in the family for the realities of fostering.

This podcast is produced  by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:
·         Weekly podcasts
·         Weekly articles/blog posts
·        Resource pages on all aspects of family building 

Support the show (

Show Notes Transcript

Bringing foster children into your family may impact the kids already in your home—both in positive and potentially negative ways. We will provide suggestions on how to integrate new foster children into your home as seamlessly as possible. Our guest expert is Dr. Eshele Williams, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who brings her professional expertise with counseling foster families as well as her personal experience as being a biological child in a family that fostered many children in her childhood.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Positive benefits of fostering on children already in the family.
  • Possible challenging issues children in the family might face when foster children join the family.
  • Benefits of preparing children in the family for the realities of fostering.

This podcast is produced  by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:
·         Weekly podcasts
·         Weekly articles/blog posts
·        Resource pages on all aspects of family building 

Support the show (

Please pardon the errors.  This is an automatic transcription.

Welcome everyone to Creating a Family Talk about Adoption and Foster Care. I am Dawn Davenport, the host of this show as well as the director of creating a family, you can get more information and more resources that we provide at our website creating a Today, we're going to be talking about impact of fostering on kids already in the family. Some of you probably know, this is a topic I am really passionate about, because I think that we don't do a particularly good job on this. So I'm particularly happy to be talking again with Dr.  Eshele Williams. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist who brings her professional expertise with counseling foster families, as well as her personal expertise as being a biological child in a family who fostered many children in her childhood. So welcome, again, Dr. Michelle Williams, we are so happy to have you back.

Thank you so much for having me, I'm happy to be here. It's been quite a while since we talked the first time it has been. And I think we're doing a bit of a better job at preparing families, but that maybe not as well as we had hoped. So in the past birth and adopted children who are already in the foster family and their needs, I feel like have been overlooked. But we know now from both experience, as well as from research that one of the top reasons families stopped fostering is because of their concern over how it impacts their existing kids, whether they're existing kids through birth or adoption. But I think we should start with some of the potentially positive impacts on children. But before we do that, let me just have you give a brief history of your personal experience, how old you were the number of children who joined your family through fostering, and just briefly what your experience was as a child in that family.

So my love was really voluntold into foster care. My parents decided, right, we got volunteers, and we got people that are volunteer. Well, that was the voluntold.

I get that. Okay.

So my parents decided to become foster parents when I was about nine kinship family where we had relatives that will come and go when needed assistance. And when they started to formally adopt, I was nine years old. And it was a decision that they made without the consideration of the kids. And usually that's how families work, right? The adults make the decisions, and the kids don't necessarily either get brought along or they're not asked or they're, you know, just really told that they do. So I can remember being on a sleepover and I came home and there were two young ladies that were there. And throughout the course of the next maybe five years, five to seven years or so, there. They had other family members that were already in foster care. And then they're added to that. So eight, then a total of eight children from that one family were joined with ours. And as the eight children were joined, four of them came straight from the hospital as babies and my mom took care of them as well. So over the years, we got along pretty well. And then there started to be, you know, a little bit of dissension going on. And it was difficult for, for us to manage. So we were 12 kids all in one family. And then it just be as we were adult, right, and maybe not even adults, teenagers, then it became a little bit more difficult. So I actually moved in with my grandmother and lived in kinship for informal kinship for a really long time. Although my mom and I were still very close and saw each other every day. So I really started to think that there was a challenge with the experience. And as I got into college, I became disenchanted and really figured out that there was an there was an impact on me and on my other siblings. And nobody talked to us about.

So as no one talked to us about it. They also didn't talk to my mother about the impact that could be had on us, right on the children that were there because they didn't necessarily know. I think that foster care is designed for the children that are coming into care, not the children that are already there. And they could do a better job thinking about the children that are joined with families, whether they're joined with families through foster care, it whether they are joined with families through adoption, or whether they were they're biologically there already. So as we think about what it means to keep family stable, then it's taking a look at everybody and not just the parent and the child that joins the family but the children that are already there who are now unstable or in an unstable situation because you have joined a child

That has experienced trauma and loss right within that family. So our mental health system can do a better job, our pre service training could do a better job just to talk about that potential impact, because it's not all negative. Children flourish in families where they have siblings, and they learn much about empathy and caring, and sharing and compassion and things like that. But when we're not talking about the potential for maybe a negative impact to happen, then we leave ourselves open to that. I mean, the research says that children with that don't receive any support that are already in the thing, just as impacted as children in care. And part of the reason is, because there are no supports for them. There's no mental health support, and no supports for their parents on how to do a better job of this. You know, and I think that that's where that's where we as an organization could can step up to to be doing a better job of this. I'm glad you, you started with some of the positives, because as we as we were talking, it's easy to focus on some of the negative impacts. But I'm glad you as you point out, there are some positives, just the general positive of having siblings, I think there's also a positive for children who are already in the family, to get that feeling of giving back a sense that they are doing something as a family being a soft landing place, helping to reunify, I think that's also a potential positive for things, any other positives that you see, in your work with families, for children, who are already in the family, when the family becomes a foster family, they have the potential to, to learn and grow with their family. And as you think about the learning and growing, we don't know what it feels like, at some point to give back, we don't understand what other children go through, or they experience as a result of not being with parents. So they can actually learn what happens in what is going on in the world. As a result, right. children want to become activists children want to be they want to go out and they want to have a cause they want to fight for something and someone and why not other children, they want to be able to be able to, to walk alongside of another individual, their children that write books about this, there are children that you know, they do, they do paintings and all of these amazing works. And it's all as a result of learning about the impact or the plight of a on other children. It's the same as if we taught it to a child about a foreign country. And there were children there that were suffering. But we have children here in our country that are suffering, and they join families with other children that want to be of support to them. And that's a good way of diversity as well. And it's showing our kids that there is a diverse experience in our country, and that we can all personally do something. You know, I also think that children who come into our homes are often very resilient, and they they've experienced hard things, but they're they are resilient. And that shows the kids already in the home a wonderful example potentially of resilience and, and honestly greater flexibility, because let's be honest, foster families need to be flexible. So all of those are some potential positives. But now I want us to move to talk about some of the potential negative issues that children in the family might face when their parents become foster parents. So what would be some of the potential negatives, I really like to form them as challenges, right? If we say that they're challenges, and these are things that we think about how we can overcome them, all kinds of challenges in our life. So as we think about children that don't understand or they're not brought along in the process of fostering, they don't have the education. And they're not a part of the process of fostering at all they're looked at as being separate and not having a voice. And when something happens, they may not be able to use that voice. Because they haven't been a part of the process all along the way. If we don't teach our children how to communicate with us, when they're having positive things go on, and then when they're having challenges, they may not talk to us at all. So there are children that sit silent, that are unhappy

in the fostering family or the relationship. They don't tell parents.

There's all there's always that slip sibling rivalry piece where sharing becomes a challenge. And it's all the things we know from Child Development, right? You bring your child into the family and near they go mind my mind because you're not used to sharing so some of those things can also be difficult. But there's also the learning about the negative experiences that the other children have faced. So

This is what I like to call the pillow talk of children. And when the child is dealing with the family, and they don't have anyone else to tell, the experiences that they've had, they will tell the other sibling, they'll tell the person that they're sharing a room with. And that person may not understand trauma, they may not understand the loss, they may not understand why, you know, big people sometimes hurt little people. And if that is the case, and they're being told of those experiences, and they don't have anyone to talk to about them, they can be really thinking about the secondary trauma that happened as a result of hearing this information, and not having anything to do with it.

So there are challenges that can happen in school, if the children go to the same school together. And they don't know how to talk about who this child is. Because we got to face it, sometimes children are not nice. And they're asking, well, who is this child, and they have to figure out a way how to explain that. That's my foster brother and my foster sister. And they may not know how to do that successfully, they may be picked on as a result of not knowing what to do or what to say. So we have to think about

children as they grow up. And as they start to mature, and do they are they going to still get along, as they start to mature into maybe teenage years. Because even we know siblings in families don't always get along.

And that, irrespective of how the child joins the family, you know, along with having to explain who this child is. Another thing that we will hear is that they may be embarrassed by their new foster brother or sisters behavior. And and that they make it they feel to them that that makes them stand out in ways that they don't want. Have you seen that as well?

Yes, they are challenging behaviors that come up. And even whether it be embarrassed by the behavior, or that they're afraid if you have a child that is joining your family, and there are some violent behaviors that go on, I can remember working with a program called adoption promotion and support services as a family that there was a young lady in the family and she had a mental health diagnosis. And part of that diagnosis is she would act out and she would lash out. So she'd throw things and you have different behaviors in that regard. And it just really wasn't safe for that other sibling to be there at some point. So when she would have an episode, they would send, they would send the sibling into the bedroom and say, let's let me let her calm down or get her calm down. And then you can come back and join. So imagine the fear that sometimes comes with being separated not know with not knowing what's going on, and then having to be brought back. So there may be a bit of a safety concern as well. So if we don't know, the challenges, we don't know how to respond and keep kids safe. I'm glad you brought up the issue of protection because it can be from the children who have experienced trauma or abuse in their past will have sometimes or can't have sometimes challenging behaviors. And some of that is can involve violence. Now sometimes it's violence where everyone is around that child could be protected. But we do have to train our children and educate our children are they in the home for what to do if it happens when an adult is not there, and who needs to be told and what they need to do? I think all of that is important things that we need to do as parents in advance when we bring a child into our family.

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Let's talk a little about the concern that a lot of parents have. depending on the age of the child and the genders of the children the mix of genders of the children in the family is the possibility of children acting out sexually. We know that that does happen. Are there things that families can do in advance to minimize that possibility for both the children joining the family as well as the children who are already in the field.

And then we want to have as much information as we possibly can about the challenges that the child has that is joining the family. And we also want to prepare our kids, we want to have the candid, courageous, caring conversation about our bodies. And we want to label body parts correctly, we want to do those things. And then we want to make sure that we're saying we don't know the experiences, talk about what's off limits, and why there is no touching of other people's bodies, and personal space, and boundaries. So we're going to have conversations early and often. And we are going to make sure that we are around enough to really understand what's happening with the children. So we might have to be a little bit more vigilant in the beginning. And as we are a little bit more vigilant, then we start to take a step back, instead of taking a step back first, and then coming in when there's a challenge. We want to make sure that we're vigilant in the beginning, that we're having these challenging, courageous conversations, and that we're sitting and having it with both children. Because people are worried about what happens when the the family does something. But what happens when it's the reverse. And we understand that children, children play, and they're curious, and things like that. So we have to really understand those curiosities. And as we understand it, we have to prepare for it.

And it's not only up to us, it's up to the child, it's up to the agency and to the social workers to help us prepare. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. It's a conversation, that from a social worker standpoint, bringing it up, and having this conversation is so important. And I think some social workers are afraid to have this conversation for fear that they're going to dissuade a potential foster family. And we all know that we need more good foster families. So that by avoiding this conversation, that they will not dissuaded one foster family from beginning. But it seems to me that avoiding this conversation is setting up this family for failure. And and ultimately, that is bad for the family. It's bad for the kids already in the family. And it's bad for the child joining the family, all of that is a it's a it's a lose lose proposition. So raising these issues, because many of these issues we can work around, we can if we're prepared for them in advance, we are far less likely to disrupt the placement, quite frankly, we're far less likely to not go the long road that it might take. One of the other challenges is when foster children leave the goal of foster care is to help a family heal and to reunify this child with their family. And that means that a child comes into the family and, and the family loves it, the siblings love that child, the siblings love that child. And then that fam, that child may have to leave. So that's hard. And that's a loss. Any thoughts on that.

So just as we prepare children to have these challenging conversations about our bodies and things, we also have to prepare for the losses. And this is why it's so important, from the beginning to have this conversation about what is fostering, what does it mean to be a foster family? And what is the goal of foster this foster family for the child that joined? And if the goal is reunification for that child, then everybody has to know. Because when it's time for the child to leave, then there is that impact. So if we're talking about loss, what happens when we sin, you know, Johnny back to Mom and Dad, are we going to keep a connection, because they want to know, and we've just said this is your brother, this is your sister. And as we're joining families together like that, then you say, Well, what happened to my brother? And then how to end if you had 10 brothers 10 sisters, then how do you grieve the fact that the child is no longer there. And if you and if parents don't do it with the children, they'll figure out a way to do it themselves. So it is so important to assist your child and being a loss manager. So everything that we know about how we deal with loss as adults, we and hopefully we're doing it well, because some of us not so much, right? So if we know how to grieve a loss, does that mean that you have a transitional object? Does it mean that you you know, have pictures or do you create stories together? Is there a photo album of the of your family so you can say I remember when we had Johnny here I remember when we had a Lexus here are 10 here, and what did we What did we do as a family? Look at these fun times talk about what it means to celebrate having the child there versus what it feels like to not have them there. We want to celebrate all of the wins. And then we grieve those losses but we don't have to grieve them so much if we still have things to hold on to.

I like that term a loss man.

Manager and to prepare our children in advance for both the role which ultimately means the loss, but to how do we manage our losses, and our children could become stronger as a result? Absolutely. And as we think about people coming into our life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, and for that reason is because they weren't able to stay with their family at that moment. The season might be however long they're with us the lifetime is the lifetime of the memories that we get to keep and hold on to. And this is what we're teaching. Let me ask a question about what as we talk about this loss, the children who are already in our family will often have come to us through adoption, sometimes, of course, by birth, but also through adoption. So is handling this loss from your perspective different or how we help our adopted children handle this loss, different from how we might help our biological children handle this loss? Are there special considerations that need to be had for children who've joined our family through adoption?

I think we talked about adoption, but there may also be children in the family that are still in foster care status. So if they are children are ready, we have to think about the trauma and loss that they've experienced. And they're in sometimes the reactivation of trauma and loss by the child joining the family. So if that child that's there, through foster care, or through adoption is now stable, when we join another child with the family, they might have some experiences that say, you know, I'm afraid that I'm good, I'm now going to have to leave, or I don't want them to mess up what we my stability. And what we have to do is we explain that. So those are the things that we take into consideration is all the previous experiences of this child is in foster care status, or the adopted child, and what might get activated as a result of joining another child with the family. And what might get activated as a result of the child having to leave, they might have had to leave other families before. And that is what they're going to remember, the trauma of that is what they are going to internalize. So we have to anticipate that and provide them some additional support. Or maybe all the children go to therapy, or we start as a family in therapy, when we know that there's going to be a child that separated or very soon after the child leaves. But we just have to be vigilant as parents and get to know our children, because there may be some children that are not as impacted as others. And that you're really sensitive that you might have to watch out for versus that child. It's like oh, yeah, you know, I'm kind of used to this. But we were making sure as parents, we're vigilant and we're watching.

And to go in with the expectation that there is going to be a loss and that all the children in the family are going to experience it so that it is something that is brought up and is talked about. So it's that our children are not experiencing this and learning and coping with it by themselves. This is why it's so important to take them along the way. And no more Are we the children that are seen and not heard. We they have to have children that are heard, because if not, then they carry all of the good feeling bad feelings, hard feeling sad feelings, they carry them through with them throughout their life. So we want to make sure that we're conversations, that we're allowing children to express themselves, because if we don't, then that negative impact gets carried throughout. Hmm.

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Another thing we hear from families from parents is that they are worried that the children in the family will pick up bad behaviors and I'm using air quotes around the words bad are that the children in the family will be exposed to negative behaviors such as acting out lying, manipulation, more adult language or life experiences or things such as that? Is that a realistic concern? And if so, what can parents do about that? I think it's realistic when we have children that have had experiences over and beyond what our children have had. One of the things that we know about some families, right, they shelter the kids, and they don't allow them to listen to certain music and experience certain things. And as other children have experienced trauma and loss, they will come in and talk about those things. And what we have to do is that early and often socialization talking to the children about what is acceptable.

And we have to make sure that we're talking to the children that join the family about what it is that we have expectations and the rules so that we can socialize both of them.

Children really well, it's not saying stop doing that behavior. But if that's the behavior that you don't like, then we're talking about what can you do instead, and having the expectation that there are some things that the children are going to do that you might not, you know, be very fond of. But as you're parenting and raising the child, and you're doing it very closely with the children, then you're able to look at the challenging behaviors and to shape those behaviors. So we're shaping behaviors of all children. And we know that at some point, things are gonna happen. So we just have to be vigilant as parents.

Well, I think when you when you bring the children in the family along, and they understand that they're these behaviors are a result of different life experiences, and that for our family, we don't use that language for an example, I think you're going to be see less of the children picking up on the behavior that you're don't want, because you're bringing them along, in the process of setting an example for the child joining the family.

I agree.

And we're going to shape behavior. So it's his discipline, right. And discipline is the way of teaching. And if we go in with the way that we want to teach them, we will always well hopefully get the result that we want. And your children in the family are part of the teaching unit.

Absolutely. So oftentimes, we encourage families to understand the impact of trauma on their child's behavior on the child coming into the family's behavior.

And that requires a different form of discipline. If we know that a behavior that we are wanting to diminish is being caused by trauma, we approach it from a different standpoints. And perhaps the family has approached similar behaviors in children already in the family. So and that sometimes feels like not not too frequently feels like to the kids already in the family that there's an inequity here, you're favoring that kid with me, I'd be sent to my room, or I wouldn't have my cell phone for a week. But when Johnny does it Oh, yeah. When Johnny does it, that's not what happens to him. So how do you handle? Or how do you suggest that social workers advise parents and that parents listening to this will handle the what would appear perhaps by peer to their children as inequities and expectations and discipline between foster kids and kids already in the family? I think it starts in pre service training for the family. And if our children are a part of that pre service training, then they're going to learn about discipline, they're going to learn about the expectations of foster care, they're also going to learn about what the rules are, and how we are able to discipline they're going to learn about corporal punishment, and what that is. And they're going to learn that we don't use corporal punishment, really for any child. And if that is used on them, what we're going to do is stress to parents that they are no longer using any any form of corporal punishment with any of the family. So that where it there is some equity there. Because if you were at some point spanking and doing different things like that, we are going to stop doing that. So the children are going to learn a different way as well. But there is going to be a point where we let certain things go with certain children, because they have not been socialized to maybe the way that we do things in our family. And we have to explain that to our child, we have to allow them to become trauma informed as well. Because what we know is that hitting a child that has experienced trauma only increases the negative behavior. So we're going to explain that. And if the child is good, we have to figure out as parents, how do we make the rules as equal as we possibly can, and then have the conversation when we see that our kid really thinks that it is not fair. We have to have that conversation about why most of the time we don't double back to have the conversation about why a certain thing happened. And sometimes it's just sheer, we just don't have time. When we're handling something in the moment. We're busy. We're just trying to you know, diminish the behavior and get it to stop in that moment. But we have to remember to double back. We have to double back on quite a few things. It's not only the inequity and discipline, but it is the challenges when the children don't get along and other places as well.

As perhaps as part of the bringing the kids in the family along on the fostering journey. It would be helpful at the beginning to set up and say to our children who are already in the family. There may be times when you feel this. If so come to me I may not see it. I may not be aware of it. Let me know if you are feeling frustrated or if you are feeling that we are not treating you fairly giving them permission to come back.

And then of course, remembering when they come back to not be defensive, and to make time for them at that point to listen to their concerns and try to come up with a way of taking it seriously and coming up with a compromise. Has that worked for families that you have worked with? Absolutely. And I think one of the major things is to apologize to apologize to the child for making them feel that way. And if it is truly unfair, if it's not equitable, to say, I know that this is not, you know, it doesn't feel fair to you. I apologize, you know, and then we get to move on from there. Because then an apology goes a long way, especially from a big person to a little person, because usually it's the little person saying, I'm sorry, I'm here. I didn't do it. Right. But if the parents come back and say, You know what, I'm sorry that that happened that way.

Yeah. And you're right, it isn't fair. But this is why we're doing it this way. And what can we do to make it seem less fair, less unfair to you? That type of conversation, it's not that the parent has necessarily changed their approach, but listening and really hearing, but mainly giving our kids permission, and the expectation that they will come back to us will encourage them to come back. You mentioned something before that I wanted to bring up as it's a challenge for foster families often is that there is simply less parental time. And that is the reality of bringing any child who bring a newborn baby into the family. Or if you bring certainly if you bring an older child into the family, there is simply less of you and more of them. And that can feel and often does feel like a loss to the children already in the family. How would you suggest the being proactive with that in advance, because it is going to be the reality.

I would say in advance, we keep on bringing up this conversation and really being able to have the conversation, they're not going to understand it. Because all of us are selfish in our own right, especially children, they go, I want I want I want, and they want more time, even though even when it's them individually, right? I have one son, and he wants more of me. And at some point working and all of that stuff, I have less and less to give. But we want to make sure that we are setting that time aside. And one of the things about parents is how do we make sure that we can look at our family clock and look at our schedule to say Where can I fit in some one on one time with every child in the family. So each child is made to feel special. And maybe it's doing their favorite thing so that it feels even more exponentially special to them, because we got to do something that they really enjoyed. As we begin that setup, we're going to say, you know, before a child joins our family, this is the time that I have carved out for us. And we are going to try to be consistent with that, throughout the time that children join our families. And if it can't, if you can't be, then you have to say it in advance. You know what, we're not going to be able to spend that one on one time, we're going to have to do it as a family so that the child can acclimate themselves to take I don't get to spend time with mommy, you know, alone, this, you know, in this day or that day, but we are going to spend time as a family, and then you go back and give the child the time that they're craving. And maybe it's a wake up a little earlier in the morning, that you know, the children may get to stay up a little later at night, and maybe one child per week or, you know, a one child per day really just depends on what the child is craving, and how much time and attention they need. And it's very important to ask the children, what would you like to do? How would you see this working out? When we know there's only one child now? And there's going to be two children later? How do you see this working out for us, and they might have ideas that we never came up with? Mm hmm. I also think it's helpful. If at all possible. For the first X number of months you pick whether it's 246 that you accept help from other people are asked for help. If they are going to set up a meal train. And if somebody would offer to set up a meal train, accept it, let go of some of your expectations for cleanliness around the house. Although when I say that, I think I think I'm at the point where I can't really let go of more. But nonetheless, we there's always things that that we can do to try to find a little more time to be able to spend with kids. And sometimes if we think there has to be our life from here on out that can feel hard. But if time limited and say okay, for the first X number of months, I'm going to reach out for help. I'm going to accept help, I'm going to have lower standards, because my priority is going to be to try to ease these kids into the into the family. That would be that would be helpful.

This show would not happen quite frankly, without our partners and our partners are agencies who believe in what we do. They believe that providing education and support for families is in the best interest of kids and it's the best interest of families

In general, one such partner is children's connection. They are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, as well as embryo donation and adoption throughout the US. They also do home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas. Another partner is hopscotch adoptions. They are a Hague accredited international adoption agency, placing kids from Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana, Guiana, Morocco, Pakistan, Serbia and Ukraine. They specialize in the placement of children with Down syndrome is our special needs, in addition to kinship adoptions, and they offer home study services and post adoption services to residents of North Carolina and New York.

All right, what is you have mentioned involving children in the pre service training, I wanted to talk with you more about that, very often. In fact, I would say most often, the children already in the family are not really a part of the pre service training, not at least from the child welfare standpoint, they may be some that the parents are doing with the kids. But from the social worker standpoint, and caseworker standpoint, they really aren't a part of the of the training, is how would you involve children already in the family in our trainings? Well, there may be a group or one particular training because you know, you've got to go, you have to participate in a number of hours of training. And maybe what happens is, there's a module that talks about the child, the children's feelings, the impact on the children, and they are invited to that session. So it would be something that is absolutely prescribed just for them. And it may be an hour because we understand children's attention spans can't go longer, you know, then maybe a couple of hours. And we don't want to, you know, give them too much information. But we want to elicit thoughts and feelings, mommy and daddy or you're going to become a foster family. And I wonder what you think about that?

What would you like a child to know about you? What would you like to know about the child? Do you understand what foster care is, and really giving them some of the reasons why children come into care. So children that are joining families that are separated from their biological family, and they need the foster care, then they're also not taught about the social services system.

So most of the children are in the dark, and they don't understand the process that they're either being brought into it or that they're when the child joins the family. So at some point, we have to sit them down and talk about what is this thing foster care? Do? are we reading books to them? Is there you know, is there a video that they can watch? Is there a workbook that they can that they have there? Is there a coloring book, I know that foster parent college comm has a coloring book that the children can read in color. And you know, there's a small story that goes along with that, with the pride model of practice from the Child Welfare League of America, I wrote what's called sharing pages for different ages. And it is in age categories that says What do you What's your favorite color? What's your favorite animal? What's your favorite food so that the children, the parents are asking their children these things? and saying, what do you want to know? What do you want the person to know about you that's going to join our family. And then what do you want to know about them. So if there is a matching process, then using those pages, and then the child is going to join the family can write about themselves, and then the child is already in the family can write, and then they would exchange that prior to being joined and being met. And that would be a part of the matching process. So just small things that helped to bring them along. So they feel like they're involved. Because they are going to also have to help raise this child. And not with the discipline in these things. But they're, they're being told, you know, we want we want the child to be your friend. So make sure that you treat them really well. And they become an extension of their parents through foster care. So they have to also be a part of that process of educating, supporting, training and developing, they don't know how to be siblings.

Well, and we use the word foster family for a reason, because it is every member of that family that is part of the team that is fostering.

Absolutely. And how would it would it set up for now as parents and children, so you have a resource parent, or either the foster parent and then the foster child? We often say family foster care, but we haven't really given it much meaning. So that family foster care perspective is this family as a system, and each part of that system being a valuable part of the foster care team. So the children are also a very essential part of the team. So when the social worker, let's

Assume that the, the pre service training has not been set up to bring children in the family into the training. But almost always, in fact, always, the social workers are doing home study visits, and they're going to the house. At that point, the social worker has the opportunity to talk with the children already in the family. How can that social worker make best use of that time? And we realize it is somewhat limited? But how can they make best use of that time when they actually are sitting down with the kids in the family?

Think it has to be maybe dual or trifold. So there's an education component? Do you know what foster care is? And if not, then let me tell you

have you have had? Have you had the conversation with mom and dad about this. So mom and dad have to do some of the heavy lifting here. And then it's allowing the child to have a voice? If you ask the question about do you want to be a foster family? And the answer that you get back is no.

Don't make the decision anyway. And before you do make the decision, have more of a conversation more of an in depth conversation with the child about why you got to know

you more than just tell children about you have to ask them and elicit their thoughts and feelings. And in that conversation, we will get the valuable information that we need. Is it no because they think that they're going to have to share their toys too much? And they don't want to do that. And the or is it No, because there's a fundamental reason of, you know, them, maybe not being at an age appropriate or ready to become a foster family. And we have to be able to discern which one that is, if they're not developmentally ready, because they need more support from mom and dad, then we have to think about the child's development, right, the ages and stages that they are in and take that into consideration for them. And maybe we help allow them to mature a little bit so that they can receive another child in the family. These we know we have sensitive babies. And they say and you know, when your baby says I don't want to do this, Mommy, and then they cry and do all of those different things. You have to listen to that.

And if that's the experience, when you talk about foster care, you have to pay attention.

Yeah, if you raise an important conundrum for parents, oftentimes, and that is how much voice to give the kids already in the family, although I don't think that that's not the way it is usually said. But it's a it's a struggle, because if it's theirs, this happens at different stages. One, and as you raised is before you even begin fostering, how much voice do we give kids already in the family to whether or not we become a foster family. And one of them and as you well said, listening to them and taking their concerns trying to understand what their concerns truly are. And are there ways around this. But sadly, it is true or frustrating leave if you want to in your in your child is either not ready or never will be ready. It may mean putting off becoming a foster parent until that child has has has left the home or are has it grown and matured in a way or maybe just grown in a way that no longer their concerns are no longer valid. But what about if the child who the child already in the home wants to specify the ages or the gender of the child coming in? So what about that is the because one of the concerns is how much power should we give children in the family because the parents make decisions children shouldn't have the responsibility to have made these decisions. On the other hand, we want to listen to them. So how do we how do we negotiate that line between listening and and then allowing them to be the perception is that they're making the decision? And then let's use the example of specifying age and gender.

Well, I think we have to listen enough to give voice and choice. Right? So it's voice, how much control does it does a child have? And you might say,

out, and we will concern and then mom and dad or mom and mom, dad and Dad, you know, the parent will go back and make the end have the final decision. So if the child already entered the final decision rest with mom or dad, and they are being considered, they're less likely to feel left out of the process in terms of age, and that might be one that might be the deal breaker. And if you if you're saying if the if the child is the baby in the family and they say I don't I want to be the baby. I don't want a younger sibling, then is it is it possible that you allow that to be the case? Because sibling order birth order diff those things matter to children. And if we're saying I want and if mom and dad

To say, I want a baby because we want a newborn. And your child is saying, Can I please be the baby in the family? Because I like that title? Then how do you listen to that? And can you compromise? Because I think that's reasonable. And we're going to listen for the things that are reasonable. And we're going to try to make decisions collectively.

And another thing that that reasonable choice at some reasonable request that some children may have is that they don't want the new child joining the family who attends the same school, that for whatever reason, that's not something they do they want to avoid the discussion of who is this new kid, they want to avoid? The, you've got to watch out for this kid? You know, whatever, they that's not what they that they're looking for? Is that a reasonable thing for parents to listen to? We have to listen to it all. And at some point, it's making the choice. Do you have the time, the ability, the resources, to have two children, I go to separate schools? If the schools are across town from one another, and you have to work, is it reasonable for you, as a parent, to have the children go to separate schools? Or is it more feasible to have children that are closer in age to go to the same school. So I think it's really a parental decision at that point. Because if you are a single parent, and you don't have time to go across town, then maybe that's not reasonable. So we get to look at our family clock. And our family clock says, I wake up at this point in the morning, and I have all of these things to one child to the school to school here and another one here and make it to work on time. If you can make that happen, then that's great. But if you can't make it happen, then you have to sit down and have that conversation and you make the choice to not to not incorporate that into your decision making, or into the plan to foster. But you as a parent have to think about do you have the time, effort and energy to do what's being asked of you? In a really, really, really reasonably though

and, and also listening to why don't you want this child to go to the same school, you may hear, I don't want this kid to be in my classes I did, I think that would be I'm with him at home, I don't want to be with him in my classes. So you may be able to work with the school to say we don't want the children in the same class together. It could be that I don't want to be expected to have to take up for them and to always be their protector are that type of thing. And you could say Okay, so we're not going to put the expectation that that you are we won't be putting that pressure on you. We want you to let us know if you see things or hear things that are happening. But we won't put that pressure on you. There are things that As parents, we may be able to do that, as you say give voice and choice, even if we're not able to grant them their everything that they're wanting

a much harder situation for many families is if a child already in the home, wants the foster child removed? How have you seen that happen? And from a parent and from a social worker standpoint, how do you handle it?

Thank you remember speaking at a conference, and one of the parents said exactly that my children gave her children gave her an ultimatum. And they said we don't want to be a foster family anymore. And we're gonna go live with dad unless you make the choice not to foster. And she said ultimately, it was heartbreaking for her because it's something that she felt very passionate about doing. But she ended up having to listen to her children, because they were being impacted. They were ready to have her time and attention solely. And they make the decision not to foster they, at some point, we're ready to foster again. And she also at that point made the decision not to but both of her children, her son and her daughter became social workers and now their foster parents. It is

it's a thing where, for me with my mother, there was a time when when I just said I want your time and attention. And that was not granted to me. Although I had my grandmother to give me that individual time and attention. But there may be there may be come a time when you have to step away, because it is impacting your children. And that relationship is the one that you have to lift up.

Our children need to feel that we choose the ultimately we choose them. That's such a powerful thing for a child to know. You're absolutely right. So as we think about making the decision to continue to foster, our children's voice has to be heard in that because if they've experienced losses or transitions where children come and go, maybe they

Just a bit of time to, you know, just to get back to, I want to say normal and not necessarily normal, but to get to a level place, because the losses have been so great for them. And they are not equipped, like parents or adults are to handle those losses, maybe it's just time to settle down, and then read and decide if you want to go back or not. And if that's an appropriate time to go back to phosphate, and it's the word loss feels not comfortable to you think of it as a disruption, if the if a child in the family just needs to have stability just needs at some point not to have their life as disrupted as as fostering often is that the that's a worthy of honoring at that stage, which doesn't mean that you can't go back to it.

Absolutely. So I think as we think about what stability is, what homeostasis is for the family, if there's always someone coming and going, is that the stability that you want to set for your family? Or is it Do you want to settle in making sure that everybody has it, everybody has their needs met.

And then you think about lending yourself to someone else.

There's nothing like a parent being overwhelmed, and then the child as well. And then we have our family system that really is overwhelmed.

And an overwhelmed parent equals a dysfunctional family, it just does. There's just no way that if a parent is not functioning at their best that you can have a family functioning at their best. But this raises a ethical issue for the child welfare social worker caseworker perspective. And that is we know we need more foster families, we especially need more caring and good foster families. So how do we ethically balance that the sharing of the the positives that can happen to the children in the in the family, as well as the potential challenges of fostering with children in the family, without the fear of scaring off potential parents foster parents think we have a prescribed way of dealing with the challenges. And as I have this conversation all the time, it's my life. It's what I have experienced myself, and I don't have the conversation to scare people in conversation to make people aware. If I can raise awareness, and help you create a plan for the what ifs and wins, right? What if this happened, when this happens? What am I going to do if I can help you create a plan, because you're aware that the challenges are to come, then you'll be better equipped to handle them. So it's never a situation where I say don't Foster, I say foster with the plan, foster with a plan, have the needed support, so that when something does happen, then you can call on your support system to help stabilize you in the moments where you're not stable. So we know that children experienced trauma loss, we know that they're going to join our family, we don't know how the trauma loss is going to show up. But if I tell you that it's going to happen, and when it does, I will be here as a caseworker, I will be here as a social worker, I'll be here as a therapist to help you, then you have the needed support to address the challenges. And when they arise. And I'm also going to teach you about the cycle of disruption, I'm going to tell you that it's going to you're going to feel a sense of calm in the beginning. And then there's going to be a challenge. And then you're going to have to figure out how not to go out and tell other people about the challenges that you're having. And how not to hear them say I told you shouldn't have done this.

Because people will say that or not, you know, they Foster, it's not for them. When you have a challenge. And you share that they're going to say, you know what, I knew this was going to be really difficult for your family. I don't understand why you did it anyway. But if you when you have that challenge, you take it to the social worker, and they're helping you address it, then you have a better ability to re stabilize your family and stay together versus disrupting.

So I say foster with a plan and foster with full awareness that there are going to be challenges and impacts on every member of your family, on the parental relationship, on the school friendships in the children especially. So when they come up, how are you going to address it? And I'm teaching, service training and in service training and every single time that I go out as a social worker, I'm asking what are the challenges that you're having today so I help you address them so that the children can stay and that everybody is happy home. I

think it's also important for social workers to

Realize that by not addressing the issue, it doesn't prevent it from happening, that that being silent on it at the beginning may well bring people in, but they're foster families in but they're being brought in without the full awareness and the opportunity to prepare for it. So just because you're silent, doesn't mean that they're not going to face the problem, but it means is that they're going to face the problem without a plan on handling it.

Absolutely. And we don't want families to do this alone. There's a saying it takes a village to raise a child, we say it all the time. And part of that village and team is the social workers services in that department. As well as maybe the foster family agency and the children. It takes all of us to do the work of fostering

and to do a well.

Well, thank you so much, Dr. Michelle Williams, for being with us today to talk about how fostering can impact children already the family and what we as parents and social workers can do about it. Let me remind everybody that the views expressed in this show are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the position of creating a family, our partners, our underwriters. Plus, keep in mind that the information given in this interview is general advice to understand how it applies to your specific situation. You need to work with your adoption or foster care professional. Thanks for joining us today and I will see you next week.

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