Self Care: Placing An Oxygen Mask On Yourself Prior To Assisting Others

Traveling with friends and family to events is something I like to do for two reasons. One is the fact that I like to share experiences with others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to travel. If I can help them create new memories and expand their minds I always try to. Two, I simply prefer to have company when I travel for speaking engagements or HipHop performances.

But there’s one specific time I recall that I’m sure my travel companions may have wished they had missed out on my excursions.

Primarily filled with judges and lawyers, this 1000 person audience threw me for a loop and off my game. What happened was both humbling and embarrassing. It also opened my eyes to some internal emotional work that I had yet to address. I wish it wouldn’t have unfolded on stage, but everything happens for a reason and this was no exception.

I stayed up until 5AM the night before the big conference preparing my notes and pacing in my hotel room, undoubtably irritating both my sister and friend/videographer who were sharing the two room suite that had been provided to us. I was noticeably more nervous than usual. Rightfully so, it was an entirely new audience. This nervousness led up to a level of self-exposure that was not planned nor pretty.

Keep in mind that keynote speaking is my full time career. These organizations don’t hire me just because of my fancy website or produced videos, they hire me because I have personal experience in the system and spent 15 years working as a Registered Nurse and child welfare advocate prior to launching my platform and publishing my book. Hopefully this tells you that this mishap was not due to inexperience, but rather a lack of awareness in the self-care department. It was not something that was obvious.

A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)
A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)

I have spent nearly a decade engulfed in self-development and improving my approach to self-care so it was not for lack of trying. It was simply something that went under the radar. I think that we all have little things that sift through the cracks of our diligent efforts time and time again. Which is why we need to regularly and consistently be reminded of the importance of self-care.

No matter how many times you have flown, the flight attendants always remind you to take care of yourself first. If the cabin loses oxygen then make sure you have your oxygen mask on prior to assisting others even children. You’re no good to anyone if you die before getting to them. And that is what happens when we keep letting little things slip through the cracks.

We die a little inside and aren’t able to be the great people we were meant to be for our friends, family, and clients. How many social workers do you know that need a social worker? Probably a lot. Remembering this can save your life and your relationships.

Therefore, at the risk of exposing my own insecurities to yet another large audience, I offer this story to inspire your own self-reflection in hopes of allowing you to be better prepared to face the unknowns in your life and work. Allow yourself to care for your own hidden emotional barriers before making a fool out of yourself in front of friends, co-workers, and most-importantly family members and clients.

During my presentations, I often speak about my relationship with my mother and the impact it had on me as a child as she was absent and often emotionally abusive. Shortly before this presentation, I learned more about the truth behind my mother’s behaviors during my childhood. I learned that she had been labeled with multiple mental health diagnoses and placed on several psychotropic medications that impaired her ability to function, much less parent.

It gave me a sense of relief. So much of my life, I had hatred pent up in my heart for her inability to provide love, compassion, trust, and understanding. But, this new knowledge gave me a new direction for that anger. It allowed me to blame others or simply blame the system.

During this presentation, I spoke about those new findings. Self-exposure is generally very moving, right? I thought so too, but I found that to be the case only if done strategically and with purpose.

There was no purpose for my ranting about the corruption of the system. I was simply ranting.

Afterwards, a lady who looked my mom’s age and as if she may have had a rough life herself gave me a note. She told me to open it when I get back to my hotel room, and I did. It read: “I’m glad your aunty was there for you when I wasn’t able to be. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be who you needed me to be. I love you very much. -signed, Mom”

I didn’t know it, but those were the words I had been longing to hear my entire life. And this woman knew it. Something tells me she was in my mothers shoes most of her life and possibly was once in my shoes as well.

Sitting in that hotel room, I broke down in tears immediately upon reading those words. She got it. She found a gaping wound and she picked up on it from my ranting on stage when I should have been providing actionable steps for the audience.

50 percent of the reviews from this event were negative. I obviously didn’t follow through with what the audience needed. I am embarrassed to say that, but hopefully this is a reminder that it is okay to need help. It is okay to take time away. Self care is essential, and it is okay for the counselors to seek counsel. Actually, it is necessary so that you don’t cause 50 percent of the people in your life to feel negative about your interactions with them.

We are here to help others, but we must help ourselves first.

ReMoved: A Poignant Short Film on Foster Care

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“It’s natural for you to think about how fostering will affect your life.  About how hard it will be or how it will impact your family. But try to imagine what it’s like for that kid in foster care. And how much harder it is for them. Because you’re an adult after all, but they’re just kids,” explained Chris Poynter, a foster parent trainer and child advocate in Southern California.

After showing a short slideshow of sentences that kids in foster care wish adults knew about what it’s like to be in care, prospective foster parents Nathanael and Christina Matanick were so inspired that they decided to make their next short film about the experience of foster care from a child’s point of view.

Their film proceeded to win at the speed film festival they created it for (the 168 Film Festival), and then went on to win numerous awards at various other film festivals worldwide (Enfoque International Film Festival, St. Tropez International Film Festival, Sikeston Film Festival). Most notably and of most affirmation for the Matanicks, the film spread virally online in March 2014 and quickly became embraced by social workers, foster parents, child welfare agencies, court appointed special advocates, and current foster youth and alum.

The film follows the emotional journey of Zoe, a 9-year-old girl who is taken from her abusive birth home and placed in the tumultuous foster care system. Separated from her brother, Zoe bounces from foster home to foster home, experiencing additional trauma within the system, and finally lands in a good foster home but experiences flashbacks and behavioral issues stemming from triggers in her environment. Through it all, she lugs her black trash bag from place to place, which contains the few items that belong to her.

The uniqueness of the 13-minute film lies in its perspective from the child’s point of view. The entire film is driven by Zoe’s voice-over, articulating the thoughts and emotions of her experience.

Says Janet Magee, founder of Blue Sunday, an initiative to raise awareness and prevent child abuse, “[ReMoved is] the most authentic video I’ve ever seen! They have it down to the trash bag she used as a suitcase – my personal pet peeve.  It’s the wake up call of the century for a nation where child abuse is epidemic.  It’s a 12 minute investment thank can change your life and hopefully a child’s.”

Child abuse is rampant in the United States—and exists everywhere worldwide as well. Current figures have the number of children in the United States foster care system as around 400,000. Rather than escaping from neglect and abuse they encountered in their birth homes, many of these children entering foster care experience additional trauma through repeated moves, unloving caregivers, separation from siblings, et cetera.

Says Nathanael Matanick, creator and director of ReMoved, “Film has a way of bypassing the intellectual arguments and getting straight to the emotion of an issue.” ReMoved does just that, usually bringing viewers to tears as they resonate and understand Zoe’s story and determine in their hearts to do what they can to make a difference for the children in their own communities.  ReMoved and its sequel, Remember My Story, can be licensed through the film’s webpage: www.removedfilm.com

Realities of What a Traumatised Teen Might Have on Their Resume

Recently on a cloudy August morning, I was simultaneously texting a young person to see if they were okay after collecting their exam results the day before, whilst also putting together a resume for another youngster who had been struggling due to being excluded from school a few years ago.

I found myself getting quite upset on their behalf as they are both bright, remarkable young people who have survived abuse and trauma many of us cannot imagine. Yet, the same survival instincts and coping strategies their brain and body had to learn in order to survive has been what ultimately made accessing their education a very real challenge.

As it turned out, the exam results were not good according to ‘national standards’ and the resume proved tricky given the permanent school exclusion and the lack of understanding from the young person about what had led up to it. So, whilst putting the resume together with her, I got the urge to write a ‘real’ resume, so we can all understand and value these young people’s achievements and their life and work experience.

Key Skills

Keeping myself and my brother and sisters safe

Comforting a distressed and depressed parent

Keeping things secret to protect my parents

Knowing when to run or keep very still

Knowing how to hide evidence of living with alcoholic parent

Being able to read signs that trouble is coming

Caring about and for someone who scares me daily

Working hard to keep opinions and feelings to myself

Work Experience

Regularly clearing up broken glass and spilt food

Keeping a scary parent happy and a scared parent safe

Repeatedly getting self and siblings to school every day despite being awake most of the night

Helping drunk parent to bed

Ringing emergency services and securing assistance

Regular storytelling to keep things hidden

Qualifications in:

Self-preservation

Self-care

Protecting others

Detection of mood changes

Cleaning and clearing

High levels of discretion

Ducking and diving

No one would want a resume like this, but it is very sadly the reality for too many young people in the care and child protection system. Yet, they still have hopes and dreams despite their traumatic early years.

As professionals and society, we need to understand their journey fully, see them and advocate for them in the context of their achievements, courage and resourcefulness. We must help them identify their qualities, skills and tenacity, and how it will serve them on their onward journey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnFcLspckus

Foster Care Youth Trapped in the School to Prison Pipeline

Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors.

foster careEducation reform is one of the foremost civil rights issue of our day, and at the heart of the dilemma is a set of very simple questions. Why do we not utilize evidence base practices that will have far-reaching benefits in establishing a foundation for better life outcomes? Why do we not create solutions that create benefit the poor?  The answers to these questions are chilling, downright cowardly, and unpatriotic. The American society is afraid of change.

A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder. – Stir Journal

For moral, social and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that an array of  supports be put in place to help support foster alumni develop a strong family structure which is paramount to sustaining future successful outcomes. A primary marker for the healthy development of  young families is a solid home life which can anchor children right from the start while benefiting society overall. A basic premise of sociology is the interconnectedness of  society to the community and community to  family. Healthy families mean strong communities, and strong communities increase the functioning of society as a whole.

Education is more than a pedagogic issue, it is a basic human right as well as society’s collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a quality education. Currently, the issues  related to education and its impact on the most vulnerable are a matter of national security. As evidence, the United States prison system is a direct reflection of the failures of our education system. The future of our society lies within the margins of the discarded, the poor, and the orphaned in this country.

There is no greater work more urgent, more exhausting, and more spiritually rewarding than helping to create opportunities to engage, inspire and ignite foster care alumni. Many of whom have had a lifetime legacy of being impoverished, ignored, as well as unwanted. Together, the economically fragile and advocates, can create a new reality of hope and global opportunities of economic and social mobility.

While our nation, and specifically Massachusetts, has made considerable progress in child welfare, social service delivery systems, and  education, we  must not  lose sight of the challenges ahead.  We must be purposeful in ensuring foster care alumni receive needed supports while in  placement as well as opportunities for advancement post placement in order to elevate their social  mobility and educational opportunities.

Peace And Love Movement Brings Awareness to Foster Care Normalcy Law

In 2013, Florida lawmakers chose to implement the Normalcy Act; a law that requires their state government to allow foster parents to have the right to make decisions about allowing foster children to do simple things such as attend school outings and participate in sports.

In this article, the Florida Department of Children and Families called this the “Let Kids Be Kids” Law.

Most people who I’ve talked to even some child welfare professionals are unaware that such restrictions ever existed. I get to travel the country on a regular basis speaking to judges, lawyers, social workers, foster parents, CASA workers, and foster youth so I have talked to a large amount of these populations.

In actuality, these restrictions causing a foster child to jump through hoops just for permission to attend a school outing still exist in most places.  Sometimes they even have to go all the way back to a judge through social workers and case workers prior to getting a permission slip signed.  This Salt Lake City, UT article shares about a teen girl who had to battle just to be able to join her teammates at a state cheer competition earlier in 2014.

When I was in care, I ended up with a biological aunt who allowed me to forge my mother’s signature to avoid this process. Although some people may not think that is right, I am ever so grateful for that common sense move that she made to simplify my complicated childhood.

But not everyone has such an advocate on their side who is willing (or legally able) to do what is truly in the best interest of a child without serious reprimand.  Therefore, this issue shows up with almost every group of foster youth that I speak to.

After speaking to them to inspire hope for their future, they usually want to take photos with me, but if they are under the age of 18 they can’t because it takes too long to get signed permission for a “media release”.

After a while, I got sick of seeing disappointed faces when a program director would tell kids they can’t take a photo with me.  So, one time in South Dakota, while touring with the Unified Judicial System, I found a way to work around the system.

I asked the entire group of kids to stand facing the wall and I stood in front of them facing the camera.  All of them proceeded to hold up “peace” and “love signs, giving birth to the #PeaceAndLove Movement.

Here is the original group of foster youth who started this movement:

Peace And Love Rapid City, SD Foster Youth | Normalcy Law | Foster Care Speaker Travis Lloyd
Peace And Love Rapid City, SD Foster Youth | Normalcy Law | Foster Care Speaker Travis Lloyd

I now do this Peace And Love activity with almost every audience I speak to.  You can see several of the audiences that have already faced the wall and joined the movement in 4 other states by clicking this link (scroll to the bottom of the page to see all of the photos)  In these photos you will find college students, fortune 500 corporate executives from businesses like Luxotica and Ray Ban, as well as foster parents, judges, and lawyers.

This #PeaceAndLove Movement needs awareness.  The next time you’re with a group, large or small, ask them to turn around and hold their Peace And Love signs up with both hands, as high as they can.  And then take a photo of yourself standing in front of them then add the hash tag #PeaceAndLove.

Don’t forget to check out the other awesome photos and share them with your networks.

Foster Care – Doing It Right Is Part of the Deal!

“Over the next 10 months, Jake and his brother were moved 11 times, sometimes in short succession.” This quote is from a report issues by the Saskatchewan Advocate, Bob Pringle. The report details the events that occurred to Jake prior to his death. In taking a child into care, we enter into a bargain with them that care will be better. As the report notes, Jake was a vulnerable child.

Our investigation found that Jake was vulnerable in many ways due to his young age, the challenges presented by his parents, his inability to talk along with suspected delays in other areas, and his 11 placements during his 19 months in care. (p.5)

Bob Pringle
Bob Pringle

This is a serious challenge for a child. Coming from dysfunction, systemically Jake was placed in a form of systemic dysfunction but with strangers. Pringle also notes that the role of child protection when a child is in care is to act as a parent so they should do that – which can be tough when the parent is a system that cannot offer stability in placement and relationships. Children can pay a price for that.

Child protection did not prioritize Jake’s developmental health in the management of his case, as they should have when acting as his parent. As a result, many opportunities to address his suspected developmental delays were missed. (p.5)

It is not that others were unconcerned, as the report notes that several other professionals had raised their worries for Jake. As the report title suggests, Jake got lost in the system.

I pondered the issues of foster care as well when I saw the story of Detective Jack Mook. He is a Pittsburgh police officer who found two boys living in foster care in what is described as horridly deficient conditions. His story is reported by the Huffington Post. However, this is a story of a system that appears to have lost sight of two boys who ought not to have been living in the home. It appears not to have been a fit place for them. Fortunately, this story has a happier chapter now being written.

Fostering got a further bad rap as a Calgary foster parent was convicted of sexual assaults of several children in his care over a period of years. The Calgary Herald reports that the abuse seems to have gone on for about 9 years.

Yet, fostering is tough work typically done by highly dedicated people who seek to offer temporary or longer term care to children who cannot be with their families. Research recently published by Thompson, McPherson & Marsland remind us that there is a cost, particularly for family who have their own biological children in the home. Relationship change as a result of the foster children. These researchers note that biological children place importance in their position within the family (e.g. oldest, youngest). This forms part of how they relate to their parents. This positional security can be disrupted with foster children also present. Foster children also bring competition for parental resources – a competition that biological children must enter.

Foster parents and their children need support. As the story of Jake illustrates, children coming into foster care arrive often with significant challenges that can place a great deal of demands on the whole of the family system. The biological relationships still need nurturing while creating room for the foster children to be part of the family.

As children come into care we offer them a bargain that this will be better. We have a real obligation to honour the bargain. But we also have an obligation to effectively support foster parents and their biological children.

Thompson H, McPherson S, Marsland L (2014) “Am I damaging my own family?”: relational changes between foster carers and their birth children, Child Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry. OnlineFirst doi:10.1177/1359104514554310

Overcoming Emotional Trauma: Life Beyond Survival Mode

Motivational speaker Travis Lloyd’s Overcoming Emotional Trauma: Life Beyond Survival Mode is a fresh fusion of autobiography and practical advice for professionals and those who are experiencing or have experienced trauma.

Dealing with trauma is never an easy task, but Travis takes a topic that is normally excruciating to think or write about and makes it approachable. Oftentimes funny, always down-to-earth, and full of great insight, this book will be a comfort to those who are going through a tough time.

Download Overcoming Emotional Trauma
Download Overcoming Emotional Trauma

Overcoming Emotional Trauma follows a balanced format of each chapter beginning with Travis talking about his life and in the latter half of the chapter devoting itself to more general advice based on the issues raised in the earlier part of the chapter.

For example, when Travis focuses on how he was acting in “survival mode,” the end of that chapter suggests ways you can begin to get out of survival mode yourself.

The “Roadmap to Success” chapter later in the book, where Travis compares the timeline of his own life to Ryan, another individual who grew up in the foster care system, is where light bulbs will light up in your head if they haven’t already.

Seeing the vastly different experiences of two people at the same age with very similar childhoods emphasizes the point that everyone responds to trauma differently and that you always have the choice to change your life for the better.

Dr. Gregory Keck’s chapter about the “two screens” of perception in traumatized individuals is also particularly interesting, and it’s a surprisingly light read given the heavy subject matter. Travis shares his experiences with abuse, drugs, and high-risk behaviors, and he never seems self-pitying while always emphasizing the power of personal choice in making life changes.

Rather than listening to a dispassionate expert give you dry information on how to repair your damaged psyche, Travis makes you feel like you aren’t so alone in whatever it is you’re going through by sharing his own struggles. It is one thing to be told what to do to overcome trauma, it is quite another to feel like there is someone out there who “gets it,” who truly understands what you’re going through. Travis takes experiences that could seem maudlin and trite, but instead infuses them with a sense of humor and compassion.

As a motivational speaker, author, health care professional, and hip hop artist, Travis uses his multiple talents to reach youth in different mediums. Travis’ goal with this book is to help empower its readers to get out of survival mode and start to make changes in their own life.

Whether you are looking to overcome your own personal trauma or you are a professional looking to better serve yourself and your clients/patients, Overcoming Emotional Trauma has useful advice and is a just plain enjoyable read. For more about Travis Lloyd, visit his website http://travislloyd.net/.

Is Politics Failing Social Work or is Social Work Failing at Politics?

Mahatma-Gandhi-Politic-Quotes

Current news events seem to be rife with stories relevant to social work while continuing to highlight our lack of presence in those conversations. Suicide, police shootings, more school shootings, corporal punishment, and domestic violence are issues that stick out on a very long list . Various articles on this website have challenged us to think about social worker’s role in these mainstream stories.

The ultimate gauntlet was thrown by Dr. Steven Perry and his speech on C-SPAN that we are “too silent” on issues of access and social justice.  We are in the trenches on the frontline, and we need to increase public awareness on the efforts of social workers in order to affect public policy making decisions.

Prior to listening to Dr. Perry’s speech, I honestly thought the answer to this question was that politics has been failing social workers, but Dr. Perry calls us out on how we can do more and should be doing a lot more. As social workers, we are interested in making a change, but it is how we go about it that is coming into question. What the above speech and article do (excellently) is get us to think about where and how we want to be involved. Social Workers need to be involved more in politics.

Where I struggle with politics is the much talked about notion of “Policy to Practice”. As people in the helping profession, we all have a notion of what helping others entails. We have the power to help heal individuals, families, schools, and communities yet our voice is not always heard by policy makers. Similar to Dr. Perry, I wondered why our expertise and knowledge continues to not inform policy. What gets in the way?

Social work is becoming more and more about the bottom line. We get messages to use programs that are “evidence based”, “increase productivity”, and “reduce cost”. Interventions that accomplishes all three of these things may get the funding or not. However, despite meeting this criterion, these programs don’t always appear to “make the cut.”  Here are some examples to illustrate this further.

First, lumping together both foster care and juvenile justice together to discuss prevention programs and increasing outcomes. There appears to be a lot of concern about the money we are spending on foster care, out of home placement, and juvenile justice centers. As someone who coordinates care with young people who are at risk for out of home placement, there is a lack of intensive preventive services. There are huge waiting lists for the small amount of slots available. We know prevention services work, however my observation is that these programs are actually getting cut. Are politicians aware of this?

Another example of failed policies and lack of evidence based interventions being funded can be seen in how homelessness is being addressed. According to a press release by The U.S. Housing and Urban development in 2010,

“When an individual or a family becomes homeless for the first time, the cost of providing them housing and services can vary widely, from $581 a month for an individual’s stay in an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa to as much as $3,530 for a family’s monthly stay in emergency shelter in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today released three studies on the cost of ‘first-time’ homelessness; life after transitional housing for homeless families; and strategies for improving access to mainstream benefits programs”

Services to prevent homelessness seem few and far between. For a homeless family, $3,000 per month can go a long way to finding someone permanent, stable housing. Social Workers are on the frontline, and we see what works as well as what our clients need. We apparently need to demonstrate to policy makers that what we do has “return on investment.”  Investing $3,000 a month to teach families to be more self-sufficient, knock down barriers to unemployment, and access to substance abuse and/or mental health treatment will save more money so individuals and families don’t need to become homeless in order to get services.

Are we ensuring policy makers know that we are fighting for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed on a daily basis to help improve their quality of life and to reduce dependency on government services? This is the challenge that we need to take head on, and Dr. Perry reminds us of how powerful social workers can be at the policy making level. To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding.

To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only a temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding. Social Work has power and let’s take up the challenge to find new ways to use it. Dr. Perry has called us out and please find your way to answer the call.

Answering a Child’s Questions About Out of Home Placement

Recently, a colleague of mine came to me for advice on addressing a very tough question from a child: Why don’t I live with mommy anymore? With roughly 400,000 children in out of home placements in the United States, this is a question that gets asked by hundreds of thousands of children every year. If you’re a foster parent, you’ve probably answered this question many times. However, if you’re a relative taking custody of a child, this question may not be one you’ve prepared for. Instead of anxiously awaiting the child’s question, I recommend being proactive and facilitating a meaningful discussion with the child about the move.

The first step is to figure out what the child already knows (and feels) about the situation. This can be done by creating an opportunity for the child to talk openly about the situation with you. Ask the child why they think they came to live with you. Let the child’s response be your guide, it will reveal a lot about their current perceptions of the move. If the child responds that they “don’t know” or “don’t want to talk about it”, do not push for a response.

Instead, let the child know that you’re there when they are ready to talk or ask questions. You may say something like “This move must be so confusing for you. I understand that you might not want to talk about it right now, but I want you to know that I am here for you when you would like to talk.” Children who have been removed from their parents can be cautious about trusting others, so allowing the child the space to talk about the situation on their own terms creates an opportunity for them to build trust with you.

However, if the child is ready to talk when you ask them, pay attention to what they say about the situation. Are they angry at mom/day? Are they scared or confused? Are they feeling guilty? Really hearing what the child is telling you will likely reveal the answers to these questions, without them explicitly having to tell you. Recognize and validate whatever feelings the child may be having. This shows the child that you care and are genuinely interested in them. If younger children are having a hard time verbalizing their feelings, try having them draw a picture of what they are feeling.

Talking about the reality of the situation is an important part of the conversation. I’m a firm believer in what I call “age-appropriate honesty”. This means telling the child the truth in a way that is both understandable and tolerable for the child. When the child asks the inevitable questions: why did I have to leave mom/dad, when will I be able to go home, when will I see mom/dad again – provide an answer that is both genuine and appropriate for the child’s age. “Mommy loves you very much and wants to be the best mommy she can be to you. But sometimes, parents need a little help to be the best parents they can be. While mommy is doing this, you’re going to stay with me.” If there will be visitation, tell the child how often they will visit the parent(s) and where these visits will be.

The most important part of this conversation is to make sure the child knows they are not part of the problem. Because the move can be so confusing and emotional for children, they may feel like the move is their fault or they are being punished for something they did. Most children won’t verbalize these feelings to you, but it doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t there. Be proactive and remind the child of this if you notice any self-blaming.

And remember, the child’s case worker and/or social worker can help you through these important conversations. You don’t have to go through it alone.

For more tips on answering questions of children in out-of-home placements, click here.

References

Kids Matter, Inc. “Talking to children about foster care.” Available at:

3 Tips For Overcoming A Fear Of Abandonment

abandonment

Many people struggle with a fear of abandonment. Losing an emotional attachment can be very traumatizing to anyone. If you have ever  lost a romantic relationship, loved one or friendship you may have a heightened awareness of when there is a potential to lose another relationship.

One girl called this “paranoia”. She sent me an email stating, “I have a fear, paranoia, and obsession about friends abandoning me. When something happens in our friendship I just wait for friends to find fault in me and walk away. It affects me daily any suggestions?”

Often times, these types of fears stem from some sort of previous traumatic experience in which you experienced pain as a result of a loss.  Maybe a close friend or family member, possibly a parent. Issues like divorce or someone moving away that was a strong emotional support for you.  I would recommend working with a professional therapist who specializes in addressing these types of issues.  For now, here’s a few things you can get started with:

  • The best thing you can do is start to train yourself to be aware of the exact moments when you start to feel that anxiety set in that stems from your fear of abandonment.
  • Once you are able to become aware of when you are feeling those feelings then you can identify why.  The why is called the trigger.  Triggers are specific experiences that cause us to experience the same negative feelings as when we experienced different negative events in the past.  For example, if you were once verbally abused and frequently yelled at by an alcoholic father and later he ran off with your older sister’s friend, never to return then you experienced a traumatic event.

    The loss of a parent or caregiver may be your initial experience of abandonment. Later in life, your subconscious mind might associate any argument that results in yelling, with feelings of abandonment.  In turn, you would associate those feelings with a friend who is involved in an argument or yelling at you.  The reality might be that when your  friend was yelling at you, it might be a simple argument and that person cares about you enough to talk it out.  After talking, everything will most likely go back to normal.  But, your subconscious mind is screaming help I’m going to be abandoned again! “You are in control of your life and you can choose which direction to take it.  Every day is another opportunity to make the right choice…”
  • Once you can identify the trigger(s) you can start to train yourself to understand that it is a trigger that is making you feel that way and that it is not likely your friend’s true intention to abandon you.

It takes time, effort and a dedication to being willing to experience negative feelings in order to be aware of them.  If you find it overwhelming to do this by yourself, try asking your friends what they mean when they say or do certain things that cause you to feel anxious.  You don’t have to tell them that it makes you feel anxious, but you can if you feel they might be supportive.  Hearing them say that they will be there for you might ease the process.  Just be careful not to allow yourself to make them feel responsible for making you feel okay.

I will be addressing many issues related to helping you overcome adversities and traumatic past experiences in my upcoming book Overcoming Emotional Trauma: Life Beyond Survival Mode where I offer inspiration and wisdom from the perspective of having been a “kid in the system” and a professional working in the system. Sign up to receive an update when it releases at www.OvercomingEmotionalTrauma.com.

 What’s Got You Down? Do You Have a Question? Tweet @TravisLloyd With #AskTRAV To Get Your Answers!

ICE’s New Policy on Protecting Parental Rights

In cases involving undocumented parents and U.S. citizen-children, the child welfare system often has little power to ensure family preservation. Despite family preservation being one of child welfare’s primary goals when parents are detained and/or deported by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Agency (ICE), protective child welfare policy has a tendency to backfire causing havoc on thousands of mix-status families.

dpr_parents_kidsUnlike other forms of child protective removal, undocumented parents need not present any previous risk to their child’s safety; removal can be entirely warranted by the parents’ forced detainment and deportation. According to a national study by Race Forward, once a citizen-children of an undocumented parent enters the child welfare system, the parents are at higher risk for termination of parental rights because detainment and deportation significantly impairs their ability to participate in child welfare planning and custody hearings. The citizen-children of undocumented parents are also more likely to be placed in foster care with strangers or in institutions compared to other children as potential kinship-care candidates are less likely to be U.S. citizens.

In 2011, the United States was home to over 5,821,000 citizen-children with undocumented parents. Over the same time that the general rate of deportation has doubled, the rate of deporting parents with US citizen children has quadrupled. In 2011, about 22 percent of deportations were parents with citizen children compared to 8 percent between 1998 and 2008. According to Race Forward’s ,“conservative estimates” there are currently at least 5,100 children living in foster care because their parents have either been detained or deported. This number is estimated to rise to at least 15,000 in the next five years given the increasing rate of deportation in the U.S.

This unique intersection of child welfare and immigration policy represents a fundamental failure to realize the goals of both the child welfare system and the immigration enforcement system and is an affront to the American value of family.

dpr_parents_deportedOn August 23 2013, ICE released a new set of policy directives entitled, “Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Activities.” This directive is the first national attempt to address the growing social problem of separated mixed-status families and its implications have the potential to be very beneficial. However, unless social workers and child welfare professionals are made aware of these new requirements (and hold ICE accountable to them), this directive may only have a small impact.

Below is a a brief overview of the policy directive and other critical policies affecting parents in the immigration system and child welfare system. Following this breakdown is another quick overview of the issues that remain unaddressed and will continue to plague mixed status families who at risk for losing their children due to their entanglement with the immigration and child welfare system.

Key Current Policies

  • The primary ICE personnel for assisting in child welfare cases are called “Field POCs (Points of Contact) for Parental Rights.” Filed POCs must respond to and investigate complaints about parental-interest matters and complaints may be submitted by any concerned party. Each local Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office must have at-least one Field POC for Parental Rights and information about contacting these individuals in available online and should be posted in all detention facilities
  • When a detainee is identified as a parent, this information must be reported to the ICE database known as ENFORCE. ICE is not responsible for relaying this information to child welfare administrations.
  • Prosecutorial discretion in immigration hearings is permitted in cases involving parents with citizen children. This includes the ability to release parents into the community under supervision while they await trial, the ability to expedite a case, or throw the case out on humanitarian grounds.
  • Field Directors must attempt to place parents close to their children or family court jurisdiction and must attempt to limit transfers away from these locations
  • Detention facilities must allow parents to attend child welfare proceedings either in person or by video/phone conferencing
  • If court-ordered, children are allowed to visit their parents in detention facilities
  • Parents with citizen-children must be given advanced warning of their scheduled deportation and must be provided assistance in making arrangements for their children
  • ICE can approve a parent’s re-entry into the US for the sole purpose of attending their child’s custody hearing. This is determined on a case-by-case basis and parents must pay for all travel arrangements
  • Undocumented citizens are allowed to be kinship care parents in certain jurisdictions

What Policy Does Not Address

  • Most child welfare agencies have no formal policy for communicating with detention centers and ICE in general and handle cases with detained/deported parents on an ad-hock basis
  • Upon apprehension, ICE officials rely on local law enforcement policy which often does not allow parents to make arrangements for their children at the time of their arrest and requires protective services to be called
  • Potential foster care candidate who are undocumented citizens often do not come forward out of fear of deportation despite eligibility in certain jurisdictions
  • Very few services are available for people while in detainment and almost none of the services often required to regain custody of a child, outside child visitation, are available
  • Despite authority to use prosecutorial discretion, this privilege is seldom granted for parents
  • Foreign consulates can be very helpful in keeping mixed status families together, yet no formal policy addresses engagement and communication between consulates and child welfare

ICE’s new policy directive is a long-awaited step in the right direction for mixed-status families. Yet, Emily Butera of the Women’s Refugee Center’s explains in her blog, child welfare advocates support the directive with “cautious optimism.”

The directive will provide relief for thousands of mother and fathers who face separation due to their entanglement with immigration and child welfare systems. This policy enables parents to fight for their rights while in detention centers and after deportation by allowing them the opportunity to comply with child welfare case planning. It increases accountability and service coordination by designating field personnel and directors to oversee the facilitation of parental rights. At its core, this policy reduces the due process violations experienced by detained and deported parents and better reflects American’s values about family unity and wellbeing.

Despite these gains, the ICE policy directive has not resolved a number of key challenges undocumented parents face in the immigration and child welfare system. Most importantly, parents with citizen children will be at a similar risk for detainment and deportation as they were before the policy. In addition, their children will also be at the same risk for entering the child welfare system, as ICE officials will still deny parents the opportunity to make informal childcare arrangement. This unaddressed challenge will continue to unnecessarily place children at risk for foster care entry and termination of parental rights.

In closing, while it may seem easy to demonize the US Customs and Immigration System, it is important to recognize they ICE is the only federal administration to formally address the challenges faced by mixed status families in the immigration and child welfare system. So far, no policy action has been taken by the Administration for Children and Families. It will not be possible to effectively respond to this issue unless both systems are at the table and communicating with each other.

Key Studies & Reports

ICE Parental Interests Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions about the Parental Rights Directive

Race Forward’s “Shattered Families” Report (2011)

 The Southwest Institute for Research on Women’s “Disappearing Parents” Study (2011)

The Women’s Refugee Commission’s “Torn Apart by Immigration Enforcement” Report (2010)

 Sentencing Project and First Focus’s “Family Unity in the Face of Immigration Enforcement” Article (2013)

 The Immigration Policy Center’s 2012 “Falling Through the Cracks” memorandum (2012)

 

Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care Epidemic

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Possibly one of the few things more challenging than being a teenage parent is being a teenage parent in foster care.  While the adverse effects of teen pregnancy have been well studied, researchers and social service providers are only recently coming to terms with the growing epidemic of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.

According to a 2009 Chapin Hall Study  adolescents in foster care are at a significantly higher risk for pregnancy than the general adolescent population:

  • At ages 17 and 18, one third or 33% of young women in foster care were pregnant or parenting  
  • By age 19, more than half or 51 % of young women currently or formerly in foster care were pregnant or parenting, and nearly half of those young women had more than one child
  • 60% of 21-year-old former foster males report impregnating a female partner as compared to 28 % of the general population

To be clear, foster youth are children who have been removed from their families and are in the legal custody of the state. Another way to think of this is, the government is their parents. If that is the reality, than foster youth are basically “our children” and we are doing a pretty shabby job at being their parents.

What is possibly even more troubling than a 50% pregnancy rate is the experiences of these young parents while in foster care:

  • 1 in 5 pregnant teens in foster care received NO prenatal care
  • 22% of teen foster care mothers were investigated for child maltreatment
    (this is way above the 12% of teenage parent in general)
  • 11% of teen foster care mothers had their children removed from their custody 
  • 44% of foster care mothers graduated from high school; 27% for parenting foster fathers
  • Having a child while in foster care was the largest predictor of homelessness after exiting care

Teen pregnancy and parenting is only one of the indicators of poor foster care outcomes. Very few programs and policies address the needs of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care or work to prevent initial or repeat pregnancy.  Other critical foster care outcomes include a significant  increase in the risk of homelessness, incarceration, poor educational attainment, and poverty for foster youth ages 14-18 . But there is something uniquely disturbing about the fact that the children of foster youth are at-risk for entering foster care while their parents are still in foster care.

Though I am in no way suggesting that the U.S. do away with child protective services or foster care, circumstances such as these do beg the question, “Is the government any better at being a parent than the very caregivers these children are removed from?” This is a scary question to ask, but one that social workers must constantly be appraising.  The answer is not “no” but it is not a resounding “yes” either.

By definition, children in foster care come into care from troubled circumstances, putting them at greater risk for a number of poor outcomes. But we must make a guarantee to these children that the new environments we provide for them will make them better off than the environments we took them from. We must transition child welfare into a place where safety and permanency are not our only goals.  Well-being and a better future are essential.

As a child welfare systems change analyst, I applaud the tireless work of child welfare workers and administrations and recognize it is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs to do. There are so many forces beyond our control and endless administrative hurdles to overcome. But we must still do better. We have to do better or what is the point of the entire system?

References & Resources: 

Boonstra, H.D. (2011). Teen pregnancy among young women in foster care: A primer. Guttermacher Policy Review, 14 (11) pp.8-19.

Center for the Study of Social Policy: Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care

Children’s Bureau, Administration of Children, Youth, and Families. The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2012 as of July 2013.

Children’s Defense Fund. (2010). Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act Summary.

Thanksgiving: All Grown Up and Nowhere To Go

Dorm room

Once a young person turns 18 and leaves the foster care system, they should be ready to do what other young adults do–go to college or get a job, right? The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program assists youth by providing assistance in achieving self-sufficiency after leaving foster care. Through supports such as the Educational and Training Vouchers Program (ETV), former foster youth can receive financial assistance with college expenses.

Research has shown that the foster care population generally has poor outcomes as they transition to adulthood. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth found that former foster youth experienced significant challenges including high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment. As recently as a decade ago, college was not an option for most young adults leaving the foster care program. Fortunately, there are now supports and assistance available so that more former foster youth are able to attend college, providing them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workforce.

No doubt, many former foster youth now have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. They have opportunities that few of their predecessors had just 10 to 15 years ago. The reality is, new challenges have emerged.

Many former foster youth must live in dormitories and other college-sponsored housing. Often they do not have the resources required for off-campus housing such as a security deposit to rent an apartment, furniture, and other household items. Most of us had parents or guardians that could help with these items. Former foster youth rarely have this luxury. Living in dormitories may provide an excellent transition for vulnerable young adults. However, there is often a ‘catch’ to this….most colleges and universities close down their housing (and food service) during extended breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This leaves former foster youth with the challenge of finding housing and meals during the holidays.  Options such as spending the holidays with family may not be possible for young adults who were separated from their families as children due to abuse or neglect. Generally, options such as staying at a hotel and dining out are beyond the financial means of former foster youth. If they are lucky, a young person may have friends with whom they can spend holidays. However, this may not always be possible, especially if the young person has a part-time job.

In case you were thinking there is little you can do to address this problem, the following are some suggestions for getting involved.

1) Offer to host a former foster youth in your community for the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter has a former classmate who was in foster care. Or maybe you know of a young person through your community/social circles. Just because they haven’t asked for help, doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help.

2) Suggest that members of your church or other civic organization work together to develop a network of supports/resources for youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition to helping tackle the housing issue, this might include a drive to collect household items such as sheets, blankets, towels or school supplies for college-bound foster youth.

3) Donate gift cards to places like Boston Market, Applebee’s, or Perkins so that college students can enjoy a meal (something other than fries and a burger…) over the holidays. You can contact your local child welfare agency or non-profit foster care agencies to assist with making the connection to young people in need of support. Or if you know of a young person who could use a helping hand, you can give it to them directly (or anonymously by mail).

4) Talk with local colleges/universities about setting up a faculty ‘host a student’ program. Through such a program, faculty can host a former foster youth for the holidays. The advantage is that the faculty member may already know the young person and they likely live in the same community as the college/university. This may also provide an excellent mentoring opportunity that can have a positive, long-term effect for the student.

5) Talk with the local high school about setting up a ‘host family’ program. Former teachers or coaches could host students during holiday breaks.

6) Talk with your local colleges/universities about setting up a holiday housing program in dormitories for former foster youth. Often there are also foreign students who also need housing. (Many larger universities offer some sort of accommodations.)

7) Check with your local YMCA, YWCA, or similar programs to see if they have temporary housing available. If so, offer to ‘pay it forward’ for a young person in need of housing over the holidays by providing rent (if there is a charge).

8) If you don’t have the space in your home to host a young person (or if you opted to assist as suggested in #7), invite students to participate in your holiday meal.

9) Support local foster parents who provide assistance to the young adults previously in their care. Offer to assist with buying school or work clothes. Donate grocery gift cards to offset the cost of food.

10) Provide transportation to college students who may have the opportunity to spend the holidays with former foster parents, friends, or family who do not live in the same community. This may be in the form of a bus or train ticket, airfare, or driving the student to their destination. This may also apply when a young person attends a college/university in a community other than the one they lived in prior to age 18. What may seem like a short distance to travel can present insurmountable obstacles for a young person setting off for college with no car and limited resources.

These are just a few suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas to the list!

Building a Better Foster Care System

Ever wonder why people are not clamoring to build a better abacus?  Most people wouldn’t know how to use an abacus if they found one.  Some might not even recognize an abacus if they saw one, and some may not even know what an abacus is because they are obsolete.  An abacus is a counting frame or calculating tool which have been long replaced by paper and pencils, calculators, and computers.  Similar to the abacus, there have been several attempts to improve foster care over the years.  Communities, states, federal organizations, ‘think-tanks’, and ‘thought leaders’ have all grappled with improving, re-inventing, re-positioning, and re-envisioning the approach to protecting vulnerable children.

AbacusThe antiquated abacus has gone through similar processes and iterations. They have been enhanced by adding more beads capable of performing more complex calculations with larger numbers; the materials used improved to promote ease of use and reduce the cost of producing; ‘Cadillac’ versions have been produced using rare woods to cater to the elite abacus user.  The beads on a new and improved abacus probably glide more smoothly, the wood less likely to splinter or break.  However, despite all the improvements over time, the abacus is now little more than an object to be studied in history classes, a collectors’ item, or a conversation piece in libraries and living rooms.

Several years ago, a new group was formed, obtained financial backing, and held a series of national meetings aimed at creating a better child welfare system.  They invited a group of people they believed to be critical ‘players’ in the field, either because of their leadership or because they worked in organizations perceived to fill a vital role in the established ‘system’.  There were presentations, round-tables, panels, and other facilitated discussions conducted to create a better child welfare system.  Before and since then, this approach has been replicated at multiple levels, with some of the same faces at the table, some different.  People have been hired, papers have been written, websites have been built, and a variety of on-line communities established to facilitate communication.  At the end of the day, what is ‘produced’ generally looks very much like the foster care system in place before the conversations started.

Does the foster care system await the same fate as the abacus?  I believe so.  In fact, I hope so.  It is well-known that foster care can be traumatic to children and families.  Child abuse and neglect can be extremely damaging to the development of children.  Some research suggests that foster care can be as damaging as the family situations it is meant to ‘treat’ or ‘cure’. Research by Economist Joseph Doyle at MIT Sloan School of Management certainly suggests that foster care is not a beneficial treatment option. (Study: Troubled Homes Better Than Foster Care) Maybe it is time to re-evaluate foster care as a treatment option. Maybe it is time to seek true innovation, find a new cure.

Can child welfare professionals accomplish this feat? I doubt it. There may be great minds working in child welfare, but it takes collaboration, cooperation, cross-system problem-solving, and true innovation to address the complex problems faced by vulnerable children and families. Perhaps it’s time to ‘crowdsource’ child welfare and find new solutions, new strategies, and new treatments.

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

A news story regarding abuse animal recently resulted in thousands of dollars in donations. The community was appropriately outraged when pictures and details of the abuse were aired by local television stations. The community responded with donations and tips that led to the identification and arrest of the abuser. It was striking that the community immediately mobilized to provide care for the dog, supporting the local rescue organization, and law enforcement in their efforts. The response was immediate and generous.

For me, the more striking aspect of this story was something unrelated. A story on Page 6 of the local newspaper reported the same day that three children had been removed and placed in foster care. A two-year-old had tested positive for exposure to three different illegal drugs.  Their babysitter called authorities when they observed that the toddler was not acting normally. The story went on to state the children lived in deplorable conditions and two children were hospitalized, but there were no donations. If there was an arrest, it was not reported. Instead of support for the organization charged with providing emergency care for the children, there was criticism that the abuse was not identified earlier.

boy with dogThe contrast in the two stories was readily apparent. The community rallied to support the animal rescue organization, law enforcement, and the veterinary clinic providing medical care for the dog. There were donations of money and supplies, assistance to law enforcement, and offers of care for the dog. The animal rescue organization issued a statement saying they did not need a home for the dog 24 hours after the story was reported; they had more than enough donations and offers of assistance.

Meanwhile, the child welfare agency was criticized, the medical provider not identified, and the role of law enforcement was not acknowledged. I doubt the story of child abuse prompted many calls offering a home for the children. Generally only stories of abandoned or abused infants generates calls from potential new foster parents or inquiries about adoption.

Why was there such a difference in response? I believe that, in part, confidentiality played a role. The names and locations of the children were not included in the news story. Details of the care required for the dog were shared while the care of the children remained confidential. The names of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the dog were widely publicized, including their ‘mug shots’. The rescue organizations and other community support agencies were identified. Conversely, the names of alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the children were withheld. Rarely are details of child abuse shared with the public. When there are news stories, they tend to be only the horrific cases where a child has died, has been starved, or is severely abused, and the focus generally is on ‘system failures’. For the record, I would not advocate for publicizing ‘mug shots’ of abusers in most child abuse cases. I firmly believe in a strength-based approach to treating and ultimately ending child abuse.

I understand the interest in shielding vulnerable children from media coverage, and my intent is not to compare children to animals. It is worth noting, however, that child protection emerged as a field as a result of animal protection laws. I am not one of ‘those people’ who bemoan the support received by animal rights organizations.

However, maybe child welfare could learn something from animal protection efforts. Maybe the public reporting of child abuse should be accompanied by a request for support, a list of opportunities to help. Maybe child welfare should be more transparent about the important work they do every day so that the next time a child is abused finger-pointing is replaced by offers of support. I look forward to the day that shelter care facilities for abused children are obsolete because of the abundance of foster homes available. And perhaps one day child welfare will be able to turn away offers of support. Better yet, maybe one day communities will be so engaged in protecting children that abuse reports are a rarity and replaced with a ‘norm’ of citizens reaching out to ensure children are cared for and nurtured. Perhaps one day….

Children From Adversity: Interview with Travis Lloyd

Travislloydfb

Children from adversity is a term often used to describe children who have experienced childhood traumas, abuse, and/or stressful conditions which could dwarf their emotional and physical growth. When we think of children from adversity, we tend to imagine children heading down the wrong path towards prison, and we often hear the horror stories of the foster care system going wrong.

What about the successes, and those who defy the odds of escaping their circumstances? Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Travis Lloyd, an artist, and motivational speaker, who had to navigate his way through many foster homes and group homes in order to get where he is today.

The experience and knowledge of a child from adversity is a valuable resource helping professionals should be utilizing more often as a source of expertise. Are we adequately measuring, identifying, and using as resources children from adversity who have escaped their childhood circumstances in order to determine what’s working and what’s not?

Children from adversity who are able to flourish despite their environment often display resiliency and survival skills many researchers still can not predict. Fortunately, Travis is using the skill sets he has developed in order to help others. I ran across Travis on Twitter when I viewed a YouTube video someone tweeted me, and I had to share his story with you.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background, and what lead to your current role as a motivational speaker.

Travis: I have a story of Achieving Success Against All Odds, which is the mantra that I’ve built my speaking platform on.  This stems from beating the odds of the negative statistics related to foster care.  As far as my young mind could tell, I had a fairly normal life as a child. All of that changed when my parents divorced around the age of 9.  My parents had a rough divorce, as far too many people can relate to.  My father ended up in county jail due to the physical altercations and my mother wasn’t quite able to hold things together so she ended up hospitalized for her emotional instability.  My sister is six years older than me and struggled to cope as a teen.  She ended up running the streets and doing drugs so she went to drug treatment.

I ended up in two foster homes for a couple of months before my mother, sister and I relocated to Iowa, where my mother’s family is from.  Middle school was a struggle between a constantly unstable home life and bouncing in and out of a few group homes.  My aunt and uncle made a difference in my life by taking me out of that environment and giving me a permanent home to live in when I was about 14.  I stabled out in high school, but still struggled with some identity issues when I went away to college.  I started as a business major, but switched to nursing to have a guaranteed good income upon graduating.  I started a career as an ER nurse at the same time as taking custody of my 9 year old nephew.  I wasn’t satisfied working long hours in a high stress environment so I sought other ways to spend my time.  I ended up volunteering for a foster care empowerment program where after only 3 weeks I became the regional program facilitator.  Soon after that, I realized there was a need for people to speak and inspire foster youth and launched my first website.

SWH: When you are sharing your story, what is the reoccurring narrative or feedback you receive from your audiences?

Travis: People often share comments like “your message was very inspiring and encouraged me to stay true to my dreams. I really feel like you touched the hearts of every single person in the room.” I always get a few people who said that they started crying.  Most of these people are the ones who can relate to the childhood struggles or have a close friend or family member who has been through similar things.  They love seeing that “its possible” to overcome and succeed.

SWH: What do you believe are some of the biggest barriers and challenges facing our youth?

Travis: A lack of inspiration for dreaming and a lack of encouragement from the adults in their lives.  There’s a difference between being supportive through providing basic needs versus providing all of the unconditional love and compassion that encourages someone to never see a glass ceiling.  The majority of our youth haven’t had the basics of how to be successfully demonstrated to them.  It’s hard to do something that you’ve never seen before.  And if you don’t have a dream, or feel like your dreams are unrealistic, then what’s the point in staying on the grind?

SWH: How do you feel hip-hop helps you to reach youth who have difficulty opening up to adults?

Travis: I see how drastic of a difference there is with the varied approaches to youth on a regular basis.  I actually still work part time as a mental health crisis worker.  I do psychiatric evaluations for people who are suicidal, homicidal, psychotic, or otherwise in emotional distress.  Sometimes I run into teens who won’t talk to the police officers or any of their friends or family.  When I am able to take off my “professional” hat and talk in their language they almost always start to open up to me.  Sometimes I’ll even spit something a-cappella or encourage them to share something creative of their own.  It is pretty simple.  People open up to people they can relate to. Being able to relate to people from different ages, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds is key.

SWH: What future aspiration do you have, and where do you hope this path leads you?

I plan to expand the reach of the message “Achieving Success Against All Odds” into books, audiobooks, hophop CD’s, and training videos.  I recently released my first ever music video for the song “Take Me Away” and plan to produce several more music videos with inspirational messages related to topics that are relevant to youth, social service, child welfare, and mental health advocacy.  As this brand grows, I will expand my company Changing Lives Entertainment to hold hip hop events that make a difference and have a speaker’s bureau for speakers in various markets with similar goals.  Sometime down the road, I will go back to grad school and potentially pursue a doctoral program.  I also have a dream of being the next Dr. Phil.

You can learn more about Travis Lloyd by visiting www.travislloyd.net or visit him on Twitter at @travislloyd

“Crack Babies” and Poverty: Finding the Right Target

The inspiration for this article is the result of a recently published article: “‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result.” Having worked in child welfare long enough to remember and experience first hand the so-called ‘crack babies’, this caught my attention immediately.

The article is a summary of a study that followed children exposed to cocaine in utero, the ‘crack babies’ as they came to be known, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  I held some of these babies, placed them in foster care, and accompanied them on visits to doctors.

My colleagues and I discussed their future, cautioned foster parents about what to expect, and advised the courts on their progress. I took the calls from distraught foster parents at wits’ end who were struggling to care for infants who would stiffen like a board and whose cries were louder, longer, and much more ‘ear piercing’ than a ‘normal’ baby cry. Thankfully most of these foster parents were completely committed to caring for the children and were calling mainly to vent because confidentiality prevented them from sharing their frustrations with others outside of the child welfare system.

crack cocaineWe told the foster parents what the doctors were telling us, “we don’t know what to expect”. We feared the worst, a lifetime of intellectual delays and medical challenges, and hoped for the best, that they would outgrow the trauma of exposure to cocaine during their early development. Over time, we saw infants grow into toddlers and young children who had some challenges but for the most part, seemed to overcome the early exposure.

The study referenced above sought out evidence, more than the anecdotal evidence such as that my colleagues and I had collected, regarding the future of ‘crack babies’. They found some unanticipated results. Perhaps most significant is summed up in this quote, Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine”. Yes, they are suggesting that poverty is more damaging to children than cocaine.

While this is just one study with a moderate sample size (over 200 children were followed), there are compelling reasons to pay attention. This was a longitudinal study spanning 25 years, what many consider the ‘gold standard’ for identifying cause and effect in social science research. The researchers were thorough in examining the many factors that might influence findings.

The most important message here is the influence of poverty on children. This suggests that we should be doing everything possible to address the issue of poverty especially as it impacts children and families.

Tell Your Story or Someone Else Will: Child Welfare’s PR Problem

Ones’ opinion regarding the field of child welfare is largely influenced by what they have read or viewed in the media. Less often, it is influenced by their interactions or experiences with ‘the system’.  In either case, it is generally the testimony of the more vocal dissatisfied observer that draws attention. In child welfare, case workers are often perceived as child-snatchers or uncaring public employees whose inexcusable failures result in child injuries or deaths. Foster parents are often accused of ‘being in it for the money’. Administrators may be characterized as over-paid paper shufflers who rarely do any ‘real’ work, and advocates are perceived as whiners who want more money to fund this dysfunctional system. This is not far off from the general impression one gets from reading news reports about child welfare.

This was the advice of a marketing professional during a chat on Twitter: tell your story or someone else will. So who is telling the child welfare story and what story are they telling? Using the key words ‘child welfare’ and ‘foster care’, a search of Google News yielded the following stories:storybook

Former Foster Kids Protest RI Funding Cuts

Cases Highlight What Many Consider a Broken Child Welfare System

Arizona CPS’ struggles mount as abuse, neglect reports rise

Minnesota’s child-protection system is inconsistent and underfunded

Oregon’s $40 million child welfare computer upgrade has glitches, some serious

Now, Russians protest against Norway’s child services

Death of Dominic James led to changes in foster-care system

These are just a few of the thousands of suggested pages. They were all in the top 15 matches.  What I did not find were stories about successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. I’m sure that if I had worked my way through pages of links using my search words, I would have found some. I know they exist. I follow several incredible foster and adoptive parents on Twitter who are living proof that they exist. And I have been fortunate to have worked with hundreds of dedicated foster and adoptive parents as well as committed, hard-working case workers, administrators, and advocates over the years. So why do their stories not show up on the first pages of an Google search?

I believe it is because child welfare, as a field, has been content to let other people tell their story. There are many reasons for doing so, including what is probably at the top of the list: confidentiality.  Yes, there are laws and restrictions regarding making public information about children and families involved in the child welfare system. However, there are ways to address this issue. Obtaining releases of information, de-identifying information, redacting or ‘sanitizing’ reports, or changing minor details to protect the confidentiality of individuals or families are possible solutions. These are all approaches that have been used when the press covers a story that includes sensitive information. They are used by the health profession in conducting medical research and in dozens of other fields dealing with sensitive issues. So why is it that the field of child welfare does not employ these strategies more often?

I suspect that the second reason or excuse is time and/or resources. People who work in this field generally are overworked, underpaid, and their programs under-resourced.  This usually is not a line-item in child welfare budgets. Maybe it should be. Maybe there should be a concerted effort to improve the image of the field in the media. Other fields have figured this out when addressing anything from environmental issues to employee satisfaction. If one thinks about various professions, it is easy to find good and not-so-good examples.

The railroad industry has successfully improved public perception through advertisements highlighting their essential role in the economy and energy-efficient transportation of valuable resources. At the other end of the spectrum, we all are familiar with the expression ‘going postal’ which describes a public perception that working for the postal service somehow is associated with unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviors. However, many people believe this statement holds some validity, and it pains me to even repeat these sentiments.

The child welfare stories we should be sharing are successful reunifications, adoptions, guardianships. We should be sharing outcomes for children forming attachments when it was thought impossible. What about sharing the success of newly created families with siblings, loyal friends and protectors, or youth finding the guidance needed to prepare for adulthood through college or a career? Should we not help share the stories of adult children who overcome child abuse and neglect with the support and love from their foster parents? Until we make it a priority to tell these stories, the press about Child Welfare will continue to be dominated by stories told by someone else using their lens.

Financial Lives of Young People in Foster Care

YPII is one of 15 sites across the country participating in Opportunity PassportTM, a package of resources designed by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative that teaches young people who have been in foster care how to manage their finances, and matches their savings toward approved asset purchases such as a car to get to work, a computer for school, or housing.

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national foundation that supports young people transitioning from foster care into adulthood, commissioned a recent report that examines the impact of this matched assets and financial education program on young people aging out of foster care. Carol Behrer will discuss the report’s findings, her experience on the ground in Iowa, and the importance of programs that target asset accumulation among vulnerable young people in the child welfare system.

Enduring Assets: Findings from a Study on the Financial Lives of Young People Transitioning from Foster Care

By Clark Peters, PhD JD AM; Margaret Sherraden, PhD AM; and Ann Marie Kuchinski, MA

This report, published in September 2012, examines the impact of the Opportunity PassportTM‘s asset matching and financial education resources in the lives of young people aging out of foster care. The report found that these supports have a tangible impact on the ability of young people to lead financially stable lives long after they have left the foster care system. This summary presents major findings of the full report. For more information, download our news release.

The Jim Casey Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Initiative is the force behind the research on this invaluable topic. The Foundation designated Carol Behrer the Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa (YPII) to participate in our Twitter Chat.

[vimeo width=”640″ height=”380″]http://vimeo.com/43135529[/vimeo]

Here are a few of the tweets during the Live Chat. 

View Complete Chat Here

A live twitter chat was held on October 15, 2012 at 8 PM EST for a #SWUnited Twitter Chat which will discuss the Financial Lives of Young People in the Foster Care System. The Jim Casey Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Initiative is the force behind the research on this invaluable topic. The Foundation has designated Carol Behrer the Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa (YPII) to participate in our Twitter Chat.

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