Thursday, September 27, 2007

Childhood Sexual Abuse

Postcard created by an alumna of foster care, as part of an ongoing postcard project by Foster Care Alumni of America.

Sexual Abuse in Foster Care
In the general public, physical abuse of children occurs twice as often as sexual abuse.

Within the foster care system, however, foster care youth and alumni report experiencing sexual abuse at a higher than physical abuse.

While there are no significant gender differences regarding physical abuse or neglect in foster care settings, studies have demonstrated that girls are at greater risk for sexual abuse within the foster care system.

Eighty-five women between the ages of 18-25 years old participated in a study supported by the Orphan Foundation of America:

- 65% of participants reported a history of sexual abuse.
- 35% reported experiencing that abuse during their time in foster care.

Not surprisingly, participicants who experienced sexual abuse both at home and in foster care settings demonstrated the highest rate of self-blame, feelings of betrayal and powerless, and stigmatization.

Fearing the Victim
Foster and adoptive parents are concerned about their ability to meet the needs of these young people. They worry about the risk to other children who live in their homes. They fear being subject to allegations themselves.

Girls with a history of sexual abuse are subject to twice as many placement changes as girls without a history of sexual abuse. They are more likely to be housed in group homes and residential placements.

How to Care for Victims of Sexual Abuse
1.) Close supervision: Children often imitate what they have experienced, and live out what they know. If a child's first introduction to touching was sexual touching, that child might inadvertently pass on the abuse to other children.

2.) Effective sexual education: Young people who have been exposed to too much, too soon, often had the physical experience without truly understanding what was going on. What they do know about sex has been horribly distorted.

3.) Modification of inappropriate behaviors: Victims of abuse need to learn how to set healthy boundaries for physcially relating to other people. Often, their response to touch leaps to polar extremes, between fear and fascination.

4.) Therapeutic attention to the child's deeper unmet needs: It is vital to have a thorough understanding of the young person's history, so that their current behaviors are seen in the context of past trauma and experiences.

Ideally, foster parents would be given the information they need in order to prepare their home. A study funded by the Department of Health showed that in order half the cases, the sexual abuse history of children was not shared with their foster caregavers.

Even in cases where this information was shared, the extent, severity and identity of the abuser was often omitted from the case files.

(2007) Breno, Anjey and Galupo, M. Paz. Sexual abuse histories of young women in the U.S. child welfare system: A focus on trauma-related beliefs and resilience, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2007, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p97-113.

(2003) Farmer, Elaine and Pollock, Sue. Managing sexually abused and/or abusing children in substitute care. Child & Family Social Work, May2003, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p101-112.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What's Lisa been up to lately?

I want to apologize to my readers for somewhat neglecting my blog...

Here are some of the things that I've been involved in lately, as part of my involvement with Foster Care Alumni of America:

1.) Preparing to present at the national It’s My Life Conference. The conference’s 700 attendees will include youth, alumni and social work professionals from across the nation. Registration is already full.

2.) Serving on the planning committee and preparing to present at a statewide independent living conference.

Our goals are to create an environment for foster care youth and alumni to exchange insights with child welfare professionals, to provide information for participants to use in their daily work/personal lives, and to promote current “Best Practices” in our state – including the effective use of Chafee and TANF IL funding.

3.) Preparing to moderate a foster care workshop and work with homeless youth to create a documentary to be shared at a statewide youth housing conference.

4.) Working with a university professor and many other valuable allies on a statewide independent living survey, targeting 10 counties in my state. What kinds of pre-/post-emancipation services are young people in the foster care system receiving? (Or not receiving?)

5.) Being invited to present in 2008 at an annual trainer event, wherein the 200-300 attendees will be the trainers of every social worker and every foster parent in my state.

6.) Laying the groundwork to establish a mentoring program in my city in 2008, wherein foster care youth are paired with alumni.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Five Blog Entries That Make Me Think

I was recently asked to post five blog entries that make me think...

To be honest, most of the stuff that elicits my thoughts and concerns winds up either on this blog, or on my Favorite Quotes or Fostering Intimacy blogs.

However, there have been five blog entries that sparked my interest lately, although they are from just two people!

Here they are:
Less of Paige: Children are not puppies
Less of Paige: Job Requirements for the Hardest Job on Earth
Back in Skinny Jeans: That I would be good
Back in Skinny Jeans: Perfect depression: Your soul is warning you
Back in Skinny Jeans: Trapped in fat and thin

Friday, September 07, 2007

Former foster kids and our obligations

Recently, a thoughtful and talented friend of mine, whom I greatly respect, asked me:

"Do you think those of us who have been in foster care should feel obligated to be a foster parent for a little bit?"

I started to reply, but my answer got so long that I decided to write a blog entry about it!

I believe that those of us who are in and from foster care should take the Maslow approach:

1.) First and foremost, we have to physically and emotionally survive loss, chaos and often unsafe living conditions. It breaks my heart to read newspaper articles about children who die in foster care or at the hands of abusive bio-parents.

2.) Second, after aging out of care, we have build a base of resources for ourselves. Food to eat. A place to sleep. A plan for the future, such as education and/or a job.

It's okay to try to help other people, and I certainly did at the time.

However, at this point it's sort of like being on a plane and putting the airmask on yourself first, before trying to help the person sitting next to you. If you run out of oxygen, you will perish, and you will not make it to help anybody else.

3.) Third, allow ourselves time to heal. This takes time. It cannot be rushed. And we can't take other people further along the path of healing than we have made it ourselves.

Again, it is okay to help other people during this process -- but it's also wise to build friendships with "not-needy" people. People who might seem sheltered, and at first difficult to relate to because they seem so unfamiliar.

Why befriend these unfamiliar people? If they care about us, they can be part of our circle of restorative relationships.

Speaking as a stepmom, it was hard to be a mother, when I had only distant memories of having a mother myself. One thing that helped was the fact that my friends from college had invited me to spend holidays with them, and those trips gave me a glimpse into another world.

Also, let's be honest, and I am speaking from personal experience here, if you have problems and all of your friends have problems, it's easy to start thinking that the whole world is this DARK and desolate place, with nothing but problems.

And that might feel true, but it's simply not an accurate picture of the world.

As Jack Nicholson sardonically put it in the movie As Good As It Gets: "It's not true. Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car."

In college, I tended to drift back and forth between friendships with the pretty story, boat-floating, noodle salad people, and my other friends whose boatless, noodle-salad-less lives were more familiar.

I think most all of us who have been in foster care have a deep desire to help others. That is a big part of the premise of what Foster Care Alumni of America is based upon... The entire national organization is rooted in phone calls and interviews with 1600 foster care alumni who all wanted to give back and help 'the next generation.'

But how we choose help is up to each one of us, individually:

- Some of us might (and do) choose to be foster parents.
- Others adopt.
- Others have children of their own, and choose not to continue the cycle of abuse that we experienced as children.
- Many of us volunteer our time and advocate for change.

Just as I believe that there's no "one size fits all" approach to families that break down, there's no "one map" to how we alumni should function as adults either.

The beauty and the glory of foster care alumni is that we each bring our talents, insights, creativity, gifts and passion to the table. We are each very unique - and I love that!

So.... that's my take. I must confess to not always taking my own advice. In college, there were times when I spent my grocery money on other people and then had to make do with condiments from the student center. Really goofy, silly things like that, because I really - really - really wanted to help everyone.

But this is how I feel about it, looking back from an adult perspective.

What do YOU think?

Monday, September 03, 2007

An Interesting Point of View

I've been meaning to link to this blog for quite some time:

Please respect the blogger's wishes as per his request to me:
Lisa, I don’t at all mind you linking this entry on your blog. I have visited your blog, and it is really very good. I hope that everyone who runs across this will do the same. I would also be happy to participate in comments on your site.

May I ask one favor? I know that as a former foster child your perspective is vastly different than the one I expressed in this entry. For about seven years I represented the child advocates in my area, and I also represent DSS from time to time, so I know how very different perspectives can be.

So my favor is this: this entry was written primarily as a theological meditation, although it reflects real life. While I certainly don’t mind a vigorous debate about my outlook on your blog, I would prefer that the focus here remain on the theological lessons.

As such, if your readers should come here and have disagreements with what I said, I ask only that they return to your blog to express those views, as opposed to having that debate here. Silly, I know, but if people could humor me I would be very grateful.