Category Archives: Foster care

How attachment patterns impact brain development

While working with children in the foster care system, it is important to have an understanding of their behavior.  A lot of the behaviors that young people present are telling of the home life they had prior to being placed in care.

Since the 1960’s, there has been a lot of research on the theory of attachment, and how attachment patterns impact brain development.  For example, if a child has a caregiver that is consistent in meeting their needs, the child is more likely to be able to regulate their emotions and be generally stress-free and safe. This is called a “secure attachment.” However, if a child experiences abuse or neglect from a caregiver, the child is then more likely to be stressed out and fearful, because their needs are not being met.  This can be an “avoidant attachment” or “resistant/ambivalent attachment,” and in some cases, a “disorganized attachment.”

As many people can relate, not just children, whenever people become stressed out, to the point of being afraid, a number of physiological symptoms occur.  The person may sweat a lot, heart rate increases, and the need to act, whether fight, flight, or freeze, is activated, particularly in high stress situations.  This is a helpful biological survival tool for people who have normal brain development, however, for children who are always in that heightened state of arousal, those constant responses can be quite damaging to the brain.

The excessive rise of cortisol levels can impact the development of the frontal lobe.  The constant inability of the caregiver to provide the child with safety and ways to get their needs met can impact the Amygdala, or the part of the brain that converts long and short term memories.  Because the brain is a social organ, nurturing through healthy and responsive care giving will help regulate the brain and help the child form a secure attachment. Here are five ways to develop a bond with your adopted or biological child:

  1. Play and do activities together – children love to play and it develops their abilities and social skills. Engage in activities that you are interested in as well as activities they are interested in.
  2. Create routines – routines and structure give youth a sense of control and help them develop their sense of trust.
  3. Be flexible – make sure to be flexible to keep life interesting for kids and to empower them to use their voice and let you know what they are interested in doing.
  4. Be consistent and dependable – it is critically important that a young person knows they can rely on you and that you provide a safe and stable environment.
  5. Read – read to little kids and share one of your favorite books with an older kid to discuss later.

What sets Hearts and Homes Therapeutic Foster Care Program apart, what makes us different?

Our Parents! We truly believe that Hearts and Homes for Youth has some of the best foster parents you can find. Many of our parents are veterans, individuals who are in it for the long haul, and are not willing to give up with things get tough! Their individual years of service range from three years to thirty years! Foster parents open their homes, adjust their lives, and put their needs second to the needs of their children. There is not enough we can do to thank them! Each year we host a Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner to convey this message to our parents. This year we had a lot of fun! Our foster parents enjoyed the entertainment, their meal with steak and lobster options, and special tributes to each parent! The dinner was hosted in private dining room, allowing our parents to let loose and enjoy themselves with us and each other. They danced, laughed, and were able to have a child free adult only evening! We were able to capture some memories at the photo booth, check them out!

A Way to Help Homeless LGBT Youth

By Maureen Rodgers

As homelessness continues to top the list of one of the nation’s biggest and most expensive  problems, many  seem  to  forget that for as many homeless adults that are on the streets, there are the faces of youth also looking for a place to call home. The thought of a homeless youth seems to confuse some people; “If they’re homeless, at least they are with their family,” or “There must be someplace they can go, some family member will take them in. Who would sit by and let a kid live on the streets? ”

The harsh reality is that many youth that are homeless are not choosing a life on the streets, but have been forced to leave their homes due to their families’ not being accepting of their lifestyle. One group that this rings true for is lgbt youth.

According to a study that appeared in Families in Society, one out of every five homeless youth (20 percent) is lgbt-identified. LGBT youth also suffer victimization on the streets at a rate much higher than non-lgbt-identified groups.

When youth up to age 21 can no longer remain in their homes due to their birth families’ being unable or unwilling to care for them, they are sometimes (depending on the circumstances) able to receive help from the state, by entering into the custody of the Department of Social Services (DSS) or Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), through placement in group homes, independent living programs and foster care. Youth who do not receive services from these agencies are often left to fend for themselves and vie for the few resources available to homeless youth.

One such program, the Transitional Living Program, a four bed semi-independent living apartment operated by Hearts & Homes for Youth and located in Prince George’s County, Maryland services homeless youth ages 16-21 from any jurisdiction in Maryland. The program is self-admitting, meaning that any homeless youth that do not have other resources in no way match the need; programs such as this one are in dire need of financial partners so services can be expanded.

“LGBT youth in care are searching for the trusting relationship with a caregiver that will allow them to fully express who  they are without the fear of rejection or ridicule.”

Homeless youth who do receive help from the state often face another difficult plight. Many of those adolescents identify as lgbt and just like any other youth in care, are looking for a safe and loving environment. But even more, lgbt youth in care are also searching for the trusting relationship with a caregiver that will allow them to fully express who they are without the fear of rejection or ridicule. This type of relationship is something that many youth in care did not receive from their birth families and the reason why some of the youth end up in care.

Determining an appropriate placement for a youth in care who identifies as lgbt is not always an easy task, nor one that is often done with the individual needs of the youth in the forefront. To be blunt, the amount of placements  that  are  available  to  youth  in care  are  sometimes  scarce,  so  attempting to secure a placement that meets all of the youth’s needs can be difficult.

Placement in a group home or independent living program can be difficult due to the fact that the youth will be placed in an environment with other youth from a variety of different backgrounds, and may not be accepting of the youth’s sexual orientation. If a youth is transgender, placement is even more difficult because a youth is placed according to their assigned gender and not the gender they identify with.

Another option for placement is foster care, which can sometimes work better for lgbt youth because there is a little bit more variety and flexibility in the types of homes and foster parents available. But the search for good foster parents is not always an easy one, especially in today’s economy.

My search for foster parents takes me many places: I advertise in local newspapers, visit neighborhood fairs and festivals, attend community meetings and post fliers. But my greatest source of referrals is people that are willing to take a greater interest in our nation’s greatest resource–our youth–and talk about the issue to everyone they know.

The kind older neighbors next door, the gay couple that you attend church with, or the single mother in your aerobics class are our foster parents; so is the quiet gentleman you ride the bus with, the retired nurse that you see from time to time when you visit your parents, and the mechanic to whom you bring your car. Our foster parents come from all walks of life and different experiences, but they all share one thing in common, they answered a call to service and changed the lives of one or more young people forever.

What I look for in foster parents are people who can handle the challenges of what can sometimes be a difficult situation, and grow from those challenges. To me, the difficult situation of a child in foster care and an lgbt adult are connected. Both groups are often stigmatized and misunderstood, and the opportunity to bring both groups together by a gay couple or single gay person becoming a foster parent to a child in need is an opportunity for both sides to provide the other party with something they may have been missing. For the foster parent, a child that they may have been wanting and have possibly been told time and time again was unattainable.

And for the foster child, there would be love and support in a safe environment where they can finally be themselves.

Maureen  Rodgers, MA is  the Assistant Program Manager  of the Damamli Young Mother and Family Ties Therapeutic Foster Care programs at Hearts and Homes for Youth.

This article was originally published in Baltimore OUTloud.

Words from a former foster youth

500_f_82751996_rcnh63sditfnt1pnp5cf5thxlhbrew5vThe following was shared with us by a young woman who was previously in our foster care program. She highlights the impact her foster mother and Hearts & Homes for Youth had on her healing and growth. 

I grew up living with my parents until age 9. At that time, my older sister stepped in and placed me in foster care due to the way my parents were living and their inability to take care of me. My sister wanted me to be in a better place. When I entered foster care, I was placed in a Baltimore City home where I was bullied, humiliated by the foster parents, and made to feel less than human. Luckily, I was removed from that foster home and was placed with Hearts and Homes for Youth at the age of 12.

I’m so grateful to have had Hearts & Homes come into my life because without them I wouldn’t have met some of the people I had. The biggest impact in my life was my foster mom, because she allowed me to be myself. She opened up not only her heart but her home as well. While I was there, I started healing from my past. She helped me cope with my parents’ death and allowed me to stay with her after I aged out of foster care when I turned 21. She is the reason I learned to become the woman I am and I couldn’t imagine life without her. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom.

Hearts & Homes worked with me through my ups and downs. They never treated me like part of the system; they always treated me as though I mattered and was not just a number. They helped me reach my goals and let me know that I can be anything and do anything I set my mind to.

I think foster parents should know that all we really need is attention and love, just like if we were your own child.

Every single person I’ve met at Hearts & Homes for Youth has taught me something, even through simple words of encouragement. They taught me that life is full of challenges and opportunities, and even as an adult you still need help.

I now work as a retail sales associate at a beauty supply store and I am also an author of my own books that will be published in the coming months. I got married and joined a church that my husband and I enjoy going too, and I have no regrets about my past. I learned forgiveness on my journey, perseverance, and more importantly, to never be afraid to ask questions. I’m not perfect but I enjoy the life God has given me. I know now how short life can be. I’m grateful for everything.

Foster parents can make an incredible difference in a young person’s life. Click here if you are you ready to accept the challenge and be the change.

A Loving Foster Family

heartThe Lovings have been foster parents for 28 years; 16 years with Prince George’s County Dept. of Social Services and 12 years with Hearts & Homes for Youth. They have had over 100 foster youth placed in their home over the years and remain as dedicated to fostering in year 28 as they were in year one.

The Lovings have seen the climate of foster care change over the years and observed the youth in care having a much higher level of need, but the Lovings look at this challenge as an opportunity for them to grow.

In speaking with Mrs. Lovings about their experience fostering, she said:

“People go in to this thinking about the changes that they are going to make in a child’s life but often get discouraged when that change isn’t happening before their eyes. These kids have been through a lot and even though you might not see them change while they are with you, you are helping that child’s future.

“People need to stop thinking this is only something you are doing to help the youth, the kids we have had, have made as much of an impact in our lives as we hope we have made in theirs.”

Hearts & Homes for Youth is grateful for foster parents like the Lovings who open their hearts and homes to youth who need a stable, supportive, and caring, homelike environment where they can start building brighter futures.

Our foster parents are a team of emotionally strong individuals who will advocate for a young person in need. They are patient and comfortable with a changing environment, and willing to accommodate to meet the needs of the young people in their care. Are you ready to accept the challenge?

Contact Me!

For more information about fostering or to have a Hearts & Homes representative contact you, enter your contact information below.

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Accept the Challenge. Be the Change.

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A forever home for Antoine

3Kids are placed in foster care for a variety of reasons, some simpler than others. Antoine is one of the simpler cases. At age 14, Antoine was placed in foster care after his mother was incarcerated. Antoine was placed in the home of our foster parent Ms. Williams, where he has been now for over seven years! Ms. Williams is always in his corner and has vowed to be there for him always. He fondly refers to her as mom, and she calls him her son.

Through his relationship with Ms. Williams, Antoine has learned how to trust people and has developed an understanding of healthy relationships. Her support has also helped Antoine develop his self-confidence and sense of worth. Antoine is a great kid, currently studying at a community college and working part-time at a clothing store in Georgetown. He enjoys boxing and tried out for the U.S. Olympic team.

Last month, Antoine aged out of the foster care system. For many foster youth, turning twenty-one is not the happy and exciting time their peers experience filled with new things and much desired independence. For many foster youth, turning twenty-one brings up fears, uncertainties and doubts about their future. However, Antoine has built an unbreakable bond with Ms. Williams, and she has given him a forever home.

You can change a life. To learn more about being a foster parent, contact Maureen Rodgers at mrodgers@heartsandhomes.org

A Family of Seven Years and Counting

photo-1450088323702-8bce64113310Nine-year old foster youth Adam has been in the same home since he was two. Seven years ago, Adam was referred to Hearts & Homes for Youth with his two sisters. The three siblings were removed from a home where they had experienced severe neglect and abuse.

Thanks to you, Hearts & Homes for Youth was able to place the siblings together in a two-parent foster home and they quickly became a family. Hearts & Homes for Youth provided training, advocacy and support for the foster parents, and the parents continue to do everything in their power to support the children and help them heal.

All three siblings are still under the same roof and Adam continues to receive Hearts & Homes’ supportive services. Adam has fetal alcohol syndrome and experienced traumatic brain injury as a baby, which has resulted in behavioral issues and intense emotional needs. Hearts & Homes Therapeutic Foster Care Program provides support to Adam and his family to help him grow, develop, and learn how to manage his needs.

2FB8C48AD1Adam is in a private specialized school that provides services to meet his educational, behavioral, and emotional needs. He is finishing up third grade at a year-round program where he will continue classes over the summer, and will then transition to fourth grade. Adam is very smart and very talented. When he is not in school, Adam enjoys playing the cello. He loves going to Sunday School and he loves taking care of animals. He and his family live on a farm where they raise goats, chickens and pig. Adam especially loves taking care of the goats and the pig.

Adam is a kind, funny, and smart kid with a great memory. It’s because of amazing individuals like his parents, who welcome foster youth into their homes, that Hearts & Homes for Youth is able to help wonderful kids like Adam!

Andrew’s great work ethic

photo-1417577792096-106a2c4e353dAndrew is 20 years old and has been living with his foster mother since 2008. In that time, Andrew has grown to be a responsible and mature young man. He has been attending Prince George’s Community College and is hoping to transfer to University of Maryland College Park to study Sports Medicine.
 
Andrew became interested in sports when his foster parent started him in boxing lessons several years ago. This has grown into a passion for him and he has even been able to box internationally! Andrew now balances two part time jobs, one at a gym teaching Boot Camp classes (5:30 am!!!!) and the other at a clothing store in Georgetown. In addition, he trains in the ring multiple time a week and attends classes twice a week. Andrew’s dedication and work ethic is very impressive!

Finding a forever family

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Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.
– Unknown

One of the dreams of many foster youth is simple, to be connected with others who will care about them; not just right now but a forever family who is also there down the line when they make the scary transition into adulthood at the young age of 21. When many youth emancipate from foster care once they turn 21, they are forced to make decisions and choices without the safety net of a family standing behind them that many of us had at the same age, and the consequences if they head in the wrong direction are much greater. Think about when you were 21 and had a question about some of the scary things about being an adult such as how much your electric bill should be, guidance on how to shop for your first apartment or a shoulder to cry on when you got into your first car accident. Most of us had an adult in our corner to support us when things got rough.

For one of our youth, she has found a forever family in her former foster mother. Lashina entered our Family Ties Therapeutic Foster Care Program as a teen and entered the foster home of Ms. Joyner the summer before she aged out of foster care. Although she was only in her home for a short time, the bond between Lashina and Ms. Joyner was immediate and when she left Ms. Joyner’s home at the age of 21, Lashina knew that if things got rough, she would have Ms. Joyner to turn to. In Ms. Joyner, Lashina had found a forever family. After staying with friends for a few months, Lashina found herself in a bad situation with nowhere to turn and called Ms. Joyner for advice. Ms. Joyner’s advice to Lashina was to come home, so she did. Today, Lashina continues to reside with Ms. Joyner as she gets back on her feet and figures out what she plans to do with her future. For Lashina and Ms. Joyner, the bond they formed did not end when Lashina turned 21; they are now and forever will be a family.

Are you thinking about being a foster parent?
Click here to learn more!

Sharing cases of love

20150304_110058_resizedComfort Cases is a charity organization founded by adoptive father of four Rob Chasteen-Scheer. Rob, himself a former foster youth, decided to be a foster parent and was startled when two foster children came to his home with all of their belongings fit in two trash bags.

Rob recalled, “The night of Amaya and Makai’s arrival, we took the siblings shopping and Amaya picked out a pink Cinderella nightgown. She was thrilled to choose it on her own.  Later that night, we watched her from the doorway, looking at herself from every angle in the mirror. Amaya had a smile that was brighter than the sun; she was in her brand new pajamas that were only hers.”

Rob and his husband welcomed two more foster youth into their home, and they too arrived with nothing more than a trash bag full of used clothing. From this, Rob was inspired to found Comfort Cases, to provide youth entering foster care with something comforting, of their own.

Rob says, “With the staggering number of children that enter the foster care system, we as a community can make a difference while they are on their journey.”

Comfort Cases cites that thousands of children in the Washington Metropolitan Region enter the foster-care system each year. Most carry little more than the clothes on their backs.

Today Comfort Cases came to Hearts & Homes with 95 comfort cases to pass on to our kids. Comfort Cases has been a generous supporter of Hearts & Homes for quite some time, supplying us with comfort cases containing a pajama set, stuffed animal, toiletries, a blanket, art supplies, and a journal for the foster youth in our care.

Comfort Cases is on a mission to make sure that no child arrives at a foster home with nothing of their own. There are a staggering number of children in the foster care system and we can make a difference in their lives. Click here if you would like to support Comfort Cases with a monetary or in-kind donation.