What Is An Ombudsman and Why Does It Matter?

According to this story from The Roanoke Times, Virginia has just voted to become one of the more than twenty states to hire a children’s ombudsman as part of their child welfare department. What is an ombudsman, and why does it matter?

The National Conference of State Legislatures describes the role of a children’s ombudsman like this:

“an independent, impartial public official with authority and responsibility to receive, investigate or informally address complaints about government actions, and, when appropriate, make findings and recommendations, and publish reports[iii]” 

National Conference of State Legislatures Web Site

An ombudman is a confidential mediator—a neutral go-between and advocate—who has the authority to influence systemic change. Within the system of child welfare, an ombudsman is someone (or an office of someones) parents, foster parents, case managers, social workers, teachers, principals, and even foster youth can go to for help resolving disputes or escalating concerns, with a strong emphasis on addressing systemic concerns.

It is not uncommon for foster families to have problems with their local social service offices, but have no place to go with those complaints. It is no secret that social services offices can be a bureaucratic nightmare, and while the system is filled with hard-working, well-intentioned individuals, the bottom line is that most of those individuals are working against incredible odds, with impossible case loads and constantly moving parts. Because of this, complaints can often be passed around or fall through the cracks without being addressed.

Moreover, while this has never been my experience, and I have worked with incredible case managers who took my concerns seriously and showed incredible support for the children in our care, I have spoken with other foster parents who have not had the same experiences I’ve had. These foster parents have feared retaliation if they complained about how their foster child’s case was being handled. The ombudsman office is meant to offer a place where foster parents can bring their complaints without fear of how it might affect their license or placements.

If you are a foster parent and have a concern about the way your foster child’s case is being managed, start by exploring whether your state has an ombudsman. If it does, get in touch. This web site lists all current state ombudsman offices along with their contact information (you have to scroll to the bottom).

And if your state does not have a children’s ombudsman, write to your state legislators and encourage them to create an office as part of their department of child welfare. It is vital that the systems put in place to manage the well being of vulnerable children have the necessary checks and balances and accountability in place to ensure that no child’s well-being falls through the cracks.

Featured Photo by Michael on Unsplash

Story Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

The Power of Showing Up

Two years ago was a real turning point for me as a parent. As I have already shared, it is important for foster parents to deal with their baggage and figure out what makes them tick so they can be supportive and emotionally stable for their children. Two years ago was when I got serious about my self care plan, and it was when I started developing positive parenting tools that really work.

Two years ago was also when I started thinking in terms of being a Fully Present Parent. In fact, I have thought for some time now that, if I were to write a book for foster parents, it would be about being a Fully Present Parent. Being “fully present” to my kids has directed pretty much everything I’ve endeavored to do these past two years, because I realized that one of the things my kids need most is me—my attention, my compassion, my support, my example, and, well, my presence.

Well as it turns out, I probably will not be writing my book after all, because the Dynamic Duo of Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, have already written it (and it’s way better than anything I would have come up with). The book is called The Power of Showing Up, and it is now part of my (growing) list of Must-Reads.

According to Siegel and Bryson, “Showing up means bringing your whole being—your attention and awareness—when you’re with your child.” Phone down, computer closed, fully present. “When we show up, we are mentally and emotionally present for our child in that moment.” The authors describe what showing up looks like as helping kids feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure (they call these the Four S’s). When we accomplish these things for our kids consistently (if not perfectly), we help them develop “secure attachment,” which is the goal of parenting.

After a fantastic opening chapter, which serves as an introduction and will sound very familiar to fans of these authors’ existing body of work (including The Whole Brain Child), the remainder of the book explores in depth what each of the Four S’s look like and, perhaps more importantly, why some parents are less inclined to be fully present parents. The authors address the importance of understanding our own past and identifying how some might want/need to parent differently than how they were parented. “History is not destiny,” they write. “Our past can be understood so that it doesn’t dictate our present and our future.”

One of the things I found surprisingly helpful in this book was the series of drawings depicting interactions between parents and children. Like holding up a mirror to my own parenting style, I saw myself in those scenarios and recognized my own tendencies toward disconnection, judgment, and commanding/demanding postures when I’m frustrated with my kids. Just in the past week, I have reflected on several interactions with my children that I recognized in the pages of this book. It is with a heavy heart that I see how I missed opportunities to “show up” for my kids—to help them feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure.

I can do better.

And with the help of this book, I think I will do better.

Another thing I really appreciate about this book’s approach is that the parents are still the parents. Whether one is a natural parent, an adoptive parent, or a foster parent, we must create and enforce rules. Showing up as a parent is not passive or permissive parenting. For example, “soothing” should never be confused with “coddling.” The authors reiterate that they “are big believers in setting clear, firm boundaries for children and even having high expectations for them, particularly when it comes to being respectful of themselves and others.”

Appealing to a growing body of scientific research in the area of child psychology and brain development, the authors make a strong case for the benefits of a secure attachment. These include higher self-esteem, better emotional regulation, greater academic success, better coping skills in times of stress, better relationships, and other competencies. As I often say, when it comes to parenting, “More is caught than taught,” and that includes modeling respect, empathy, compassion, and what it looks like to be fully present. If we want our kids to exercise good screen habits, for example, we have to model good screen habits. If we want our kids to show kindness toward others, we have to show kindness to them. If we want our kids to have healthy emotional regulation, it starts with us modeling healthy emotional regulation.

This book belongs on the shelf (or bedside table) in every foster home. We often face the reality that we are caring for children who come with a complicated history. They usually lack secure attachment, and because of that, they struggle with self-esteem, emotional regulation, social interactions, and trust. Many times, we don’t know where to start. We see the challenges they face (and the challenging behaviors we face!) and feel at a loss for where to begin to address their issues.

What our kids need, we are assured by these authors, is not perfect parents who do everything right. Instead, what they need are caregivers who show up (and keep showing up). “To give your kids the best chance for healthy and optimal development, all you have to do is help them feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure.” This takes time, of course, but if we stay the course and continue to show up for them, we will give our foster and adopted children the best possible chance at developing a secure attachment and enjoying the benefits thereof.

Image: Used by permission via Creative Commons Zero

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” [Disclaimer Credit: Michael Hyatt]

For Those Who Don’t Use Facebook or Are Thinking of Quitting Social Media

Last month, I posted a Facebook Live event I was hosting on my Facebook page. As part of that announcement, I shared about a book giveaway I was doing to do as part of the Facebook Live.

One person responded.

I have over two thousand followers on that page, so when I got such little engagement, I started to grow a bit suspect. I posted a simple question asking people if they happened to see that post.

They had not.

Follower after follower commented that they never saw it. For some reason that I will never understand (because my brain does not work that way), people who “Like” and “Follow” my Facebook page don’t see a lot of the content I’m posting. (I always get invited by Facebook to pay them to “boost” posts.)

Why should I pay Facebook to show people who supposedly follow my page things I post on my page?

It makes no sense.

Not only that, I am also hearing from more and more people who are “getting off Facebook” as they become more and more concerned about privacy (and for good reason). I don’t blame them one bit. I’m considering it myself.

So I’ve started a Monthly Digest.

It will be one email delivered to your in box once a month that contains some of the same content I’ve shared on social media (other people’s articles, my own blog posts, YouTube videos, and podcast episodes), as well as one tool or word of advice for people who are, or are thinking about becoming, foster parents.

I want to help people who care about foster care feel more informed and equipped and encouraged as they go about this hard-yet-meaningful journey.

To sign up, just go to this short form. Answer five quick questions and you’re in. I’ll start sending the Monthly Digest out in March.

This is a free resource I’m putting together especially for those of you who either don’t use Facebook, don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, or are simply missing some of the important things I’m sharing because Facebook’s algorithms aren’t showing them to you. I think you’ll find it informative and encouraging!