May is National Foster Care Month: Part 2

This week’s column offers information to help foster kids, which also pertains to all kids, whether to practice themselves or to build empathy for their foster kid friends. The 4 Protective Factors below are based on a Kauai longitudinal study by Emily Werner, and were featured on the “It Takes an Ohana” website, www.ittakesanohana.org. While it’s directed toward the foster parent, I suggest that youth become proactive and develop it themselves. There are organizations of foster children who can get together and encourage each other.

Relationships with caring and supportive people

Every foster youth needs at least one supportive adult who provides steadfast encouragement and guidance. This caring adult presence plays a crucial role in determining the foster youth’s success. This person may be a family member, older sibling, teacher, coach or other caring adult.

The 4 protective factors

One of the most important things adults can do to help foster children and youth develop into caring, competent, and confident adults is to incorporate these four vital protective factors into their lives.

A sense of hope and purpose

These often come from religion/spiritual association, faith and culture. Identifying with a particular group or culture can instill a sense of pride. Believing that God (or whatever spiritual deity they have been exposed to) loves them, is a reminder that with the presence of hope and faith, they are never alone and can persevere through anything. Supportive adults (ministers, resource caregivers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, judges, social workers, etc.) who say positive things such as “you are great,” “we love you,” and “God loves you” are powerful messages for a child who may not hear them anywhere else.

Work and responsibilities

Foster Children and Youth given the opportunity to develop a strong work ethic, even in the face of adversity, have important tools to fall back on when things get tough. Youth given household responsibilities and/or are able to work outside of the home are more resilient because later in life they are able to persevere, even when things are difficult.

Opportunities to participate in meaningful activities

Help instill a sense of self in Foster Children and Youth by encouraging them to be active in dance, music, art, student government, clubs on campus, sports teams, etc. These are all meaningful ways to develop a sense of identity. Learning new skills will lead to greater self-confidence, which will in turn help children and youth make good life choices.

Foster Children are protected by a bill of rights under Hawaii Law. It is as follows:

“Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 587A-3 (a) The department or an authorized agency, as resource family or permanent custodian, shall abide by the following guiding principles and ensure that a child in foster care:

(1) Lives in a safe and healthy home, free from physical, psychological, sexual, and other abuse;

(2) Has adequate:

(A) Food that is nutritious and healthy;

(B) Clothing;

(C) Medical care, dental and orthodontic services, and corrective vision care; and

(D) Mental health services;

(3) Has supervised or unsupervised in-person, telephone, or other forms of contact with the child’s parents and siblings while the child is in foster care, unless prohibited by court order;

(4) Has in-person contact with the child’s assigned child protective services worker, guardian ad litem, and if applicable, the child’s probation officer;

(5) Meets with the presiding judge in the child’s case;

(6) Is enrolled in a comprehensive health insurance plan and, within 45 days of out-of-home placement, is provided with a comprehensive health assessment and treatment as recommended;

(7) May freely exercise the child’s own religious beliefs, including the refusal to attend any religious activities and services;

(8) Has a personal bank account and assistance in managing the child’s personal income consistent with the child’s age and development, unless safety or other concerns require otherwise;

(9) Has the right to attend school and participate in appropriate extracurricular activities and, if the child is moved during a school year, has the right to complete the school year at the same school, if practicable; and

(10) Beginning at age 12, is provided with age-appropriate life skills training and a transition plan for appropriately moving out of the foster care system, as well as written information concerning independent living programs, foster youth organizations, transitional planning services, and independent living case management programs that are available to all children in foster care who are 12 years of age or older and their re-source families.”

Oh Kauai there is a H.I.H.O.P.E.S. (Hawaii Helping Our People Envision Success) organization. They are made up of current and former foster youth between the ages of 14-26, and have boards on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island also. Their big three goals are to educate, advocate and collaborate. They provide the youth voice for the Hawaii Youth Opportunity Initiative and serve as the Youth Advisory Council for the Department of Human Services Child Welfare Services. They make a difference for all foster kids, advocating for changes in the foster care system, and creating increased opportunities for the young adults transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Some kids get paid.

Foster care with a foster parent still ends at age 18, but students can enroll themselves in a continuing care program, with supervision, and be able to receive health insurance, some tuition if grades are kept up, and some living expenses.

Fostering Families Today (www.fosteringfamiliestoday.com) is a website with all kinds of information for parents and children. They also have featured articles. One article written by Jamie Schwandt, Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) who was himself a foster child suggested that even though the goal is always to get back to your biological family, sometimes it isn’t the best for the child for three reasons: First and foremost, there was an obvious reason the child was removed from his or her home, and that dangerous situation may not have changed.

Second, because of the foster care system, the child now has a significant amount of resources and advantages at his or her disposal. Lastly, the child has a chance to thrive and develop in a foster family, a chance that simply may not be available if the child returned to the biological family.

His story was one of substance abuse, domestic violence and neglect. He actually as a child stopped his mother from committing suicide multiple times. He’s conducted research on his own and states, “This idea of moving away from focusing on reunification (with the biological family) may be unorthodox or even controversial, but the primary goal of the foster care system should be to create a self-sufficient adult, not to return a child to a home of questionable safety. Creating self-sufficient adults means these foster children have a chance to break the familial cycle of failure and reach their full potential.”

The operative words here are “self-sufficient adult.” We want that for all of our children. Other operative words for our foster youth would be “Keep a good attitude.” In a study done on Kauai, it was found that a mentor, and a good attitude were the most helpful things in determining success after a bad start in life. There’s that “one person” again. It’s just so important!

Is there something that you do well? Do you have a little free time on your hands? An investment in a life is an investment in yours. Wouldn’t it be fun to take a child to the movies, or to the beach? Contact foster care organizations Hale Opio Kauai (808) 245-2873 or Behavioral Health (808) 246-9102 on the island or Child and Family Services at (808) 245-5914. Every School year Child and Family Services “angel volunteers” go out and buy backpacks and all the school supplies for kids whose families can’t afford them.

Maybe you can teach some kids how to garden. There used to be grant money for that! I’m sure you’ll find a way, if you choose. Blessings to all, and to all a good future!

•••

Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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