5 Qs to Ask at the Start of a New Placement

Last week, I posted a new video on YouTube in which I shared five questions I would not have thought to ask at the start of a new placement, but, over time, I have learned to ask. Those questions are:

  1. Has this child (or these children) been in care before?
  2. When is the child’s birthday?
  3. Are their parents involved and engaged in services?
  4. Could you give the parent my phone number?
  5. Where does the child go to school, and are McKinney-Vento services in place?

I encourage you to watch the video for the full scoop on why I ask these questions—the first story will break your heart (but don’t worry—it has a happy ending!)

But I wanted to take it a step further in this blog post, because a seasoned foster parent who watched my video offered some additional suggestions for questions to ask. I’m grateful for her input, and wanted to share it here!

A viewer named Emily shared,

We also ask about how they are with animals because we have animals in our home. We ask about how many visits they have and what the transportation expectation is. We have said no to a placement because the kids had 2 visits with mom and 2 visits with dad each week; it’s great for kids to see their parents, but we couldn’t transport to 4 visits a week.

Emily makes two fantastic points.

First, if you are a home with dogs, and the child you are being asked to take is afraid of dogs, it would only add to their trauma to bring them into your home. You are not the right placement for them.

Second, Emily is so right—we all have a limited capacity, and while we support reunification efforts, including parental visits, four visits a week is a big ask—especially if you as a foster parent are expected to provide transportation. It’s sad when it comes down to that, but it is important to be realistic and honest about what you have the capacity for and make decisions about placements accordingly.

I’m curious to know what you would add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Recognizing Restraint Collapse

Today on YouTube, I am sharing about a concept that every parent will deal with at some point in time, whether they know it or not. It’s called “restraint collapse,” and it is the source of many struggles for foster youth and foster parents alike.

Counselor and parenting educator Andrea Loewen Nair first coined the concept of “after-school restraint collapse.” Nair writes,

It takes a great deal of energy, mental motivation, emotional containment, and physical restraint to keep ourselves at our best while at work, daycare, or school for other people. We push ourselves to not be snarly, crabby people where doing so might have seriously negative consequences like losing our jobs, getting sent to the principal’s office, or missing sandbox time. How many times during the day do you wish you could just tell someone off or walk away and cry in the bathroom? But we don’t – we do what we need to in order to “be good” or keep the peace. After we’ve don’t that all day, we get to the point where we just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.

“7 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Their After-School Restraint Collapse,” Andrea Loewen Nair

While Nair offers this concept in relation to the after-school meltdowns many parents deal with, I think the phrase “restraint collapse” and the way she describes what is going on is a perfect way to understand what is happening in many children in foster care. They have to hold it together in a new home with a new family. They often have to hold it together in a new school setting (most of the school-aged foster youth in my home had to change schools mid-school-year). They have to hold it together during family visitation, sitting in a small visitation center or public space for hours at a time so they can see their parents and other family members. Eventually, as Nair says, they get to the point where they just don’t have the energy to keep this restraint, and it feels like a big bubble that needs to burst.

A common phrase in the foster care world is “the end of the honeymoon period.” In fact, I used it in this post before revising my perspective for this post. When a child is first placed in a foster home, things look fine for a bit. The child is on his or her best behavior, as are the foster parents. But after a time—perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, even a bit longer—everyone settles in, starts to feel a bit comfortable, and stops trying so hard not to rock the boat. Kids begin to test boundaries or just let their big feelings out, parents grow irritable and impatient, and pretty soon, a volcano erupts.

A better term for this phenomena is “restraint collapse,” or perhaps, “new placement restraint collapse.” While “the end of the honeymoon period” is very foster-parent centric (it sure doesn’t feel like a honeymoon to the child!), “restraint collapse” is much more accurate and validates what is actually happening to the child: they have tried as hard as they can for as long as they can, but they cannot hold it together any longer.

Of course, a new placement is not the only time that a child will experience restraint collapse. In fact, that is the point of my latest video. Restraint collapse, while common for many children from stable backgrounds and secure attachments, is all the more common for children who have experienced a history of trauma, disrupted attachment, and transition.

In my experience, recognizing restraint collapse for what it is goes a long way in helping parents respond with compassion, rather than frustration, when the wheels come off. It also helps us spot our own vulnerabilities and deal with our triggers before we reach our own collapse.

While it is impossible to completely predict and circumvent circumstances that lead to restraint collapse, awareness is half the battle. Once we are aware, we can take steps to predict and plan for those challenging moments. In addition to the video below, I also produced “5 Tips for Anticipating & Responding to Restraint Collapse.” This video is available on Patreon.

Top Photo by Marco Albuquerque on Unsplash

Bottom Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Cultivating Openness and Hospitality in Your Adoptive Family

After a long (pandemic) break from creating content for foster parents, I am back to it, and one of my goals is to respond to the many questions that have come in over the last year from viewers on YouTube. Recently, someone commented, “If you haven’t already and don’t mind, I’d love to see a video about how you keep in contact with your kids’ first families.”

I have actually thought about doing a video on this topic for some time, and as I started thinking through how to respond, I realized that there are really two ways to answer this question: one for foster parents, and one for adoptive parents.

So I recorded two different videos, and today the second one is available.

I encourage you to watch the video for more info, but the nutshell is, I encourage adoptive parents to practice openness and hospitality with their children’s family of origin as much as possible. That can look several different ways, depending on everyone involved. Regardless of the extent of connection you maintain, it is vital to the emotional health and well-being of your child(ren) that you practice openess as much as possible. As I said in the video, we need to pull all of the skeletons out of the closet for our kids, so they don’t have to. Not talking about their back stories will not make them go away. Rather than have young people who have to guess and wonder and obsess over their identity and where they come from, we can offer them as much support as possible in openness and transparency.

I hope you find this resource helpful! And if you’re a member of an adoption triad (birth parent/adoptee/adoptive parent), I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve said here. Please share your comments below!