Early brain and childhood development 👶 are crucial. For many children entering foster care, development has been delayed due to emotional stress and trauma 🚨. For the foster parents caring for these children, that can pose some significant challenges. Foster parents play a major role (along with the case worker and biological family) in advocating for their children to receive early intervention or the appropriate combination of services and resources that will help them to be successful.
Advocating for your children may feel overwhelming when you don’t know where to start- or maybe you don’t even know what your child needs. Is their behavior typical? Do they really need more intervention? Is it all part of the trauma they’ve experienced?
You are not alone!
Crystal, a foster mama to many, is sharing her tips for success to find and secure the resources to properly care for children with a spectrum of needs on #FosterFridayLive. As a former Early Interventionist with Bright Start and Special Education teacher, Crystal has walked the path of advocating for children with special needs and now she is going to guide us!
Crystal began fostering in 2014 as a single foster mom. She had 12 placements- a lot with delays that required her to seek services. She thought she was done fostering when she got married. But together with her husband, she got relicensed and started fostering again.
It depends based on their age and life experiences. I have seen is a good number of the children that come into care have some type of developmental delay– social, emotional, physical or developmental. They aren’t meeting their milestones or they were exposed to drugs, they weren’t taken care of in utero. There are so many different possibilities with developmental delays. You can typically, in my experience, expect some type of developmental delays from the kids in foster care.
But that’s not always the case- you can have two children the same age from different placements and one may be really smart or even advanced and the other will just be significantly delayed, drastically different in comparison. So there really is a wide range based on their life experiences and probably some of why they came into care. Some people just find themselves in hard places. Not all children will be delayed, but some may be.
Some of the biggest stressors are finding services, finding time for all the services. Kiddos with significant delays may need multiple therapies, multiple appointments, and then on top of that you’ll still have all the DSS appointments and visits. So time management is key! A lot of people coming in and out of your home is a big stressor. And if you’re not familiar with certain types of delays then you’re definitely going to have some stressors.
Childcare is another thing to consider- finding childcare but also finding a childcare provider that will be able to consistently provide for your child’s unique needs and the challenges that may bring into their classroom.
It may also push your patience. I have patience because I taught middle school and I was an Early Interventionist. But I have five kiddos- we have three of our own and two foster kiddos currently. One of our daughters receives OT, speech, early intervention on top of her regular doctor’s appointments with the ENT and pediatrician; so for me, I just have to scheduled it out so I have time to breathe because I know she needs time to breathe. Otherwise, I get overwhelmed and start eating chocolate in the bathroom because it’s all too much. So you need to try to find the balance for yourself and for the child. Too much intervention can be more harmful than helpful because they’re going to shut down, just like you are.
It’s really easy to start feeling alone and overwhelmed by the weight of your foster kiddo’s trauma. When you are tired, remember you don’t have to go it alone. We all need encouragement and a shoulder to cry on some days.
Sometimes you realize the delays right away, sometimes it takes a couple weeks or a couple months to really see that there may be some issues you need to address. As soon as you feel like, because you’ll know, that there may be something that needs to be addressed or something isn’t right, talk to the pediatrician. That’s my first go to. Always talk to your pediatrician. In every county they offer different services. Your pediatrician will be your go-to person to say, “hey, I have these concerns. What can we do?” Also, you can do BabyNet for kids birth to three years old. Anyone can make a referral for BabyNet in South Carolina- foster parent, biological parent, case worker, pediatrician. So the foster parent can call BabyNet and say, “I have some concerns for my foster child’s development” and get the ball rolling. Once they turn three, you’ll look for some other resources. If they have a developmental delay that is significant or they are diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Autism, or a disorder, they can do DDSN, Department of Disabilities and Special Needs. Early Interventionists can help you look for that as well.
Start with the pediatrician! Finding a good pediatrician is so important. I have had the same pediatrician for five or six years. We followed her from another practice, but all my friends post on Foster Mom Groups about where to take their kids. Finding a great pediatrician can be tricky- especially for kids with trauma or certain needs that you want met. You can ask people. Just put it on Facebook. SHAREfostering SC is a great place for current, former, and prospective foster parents to share resources. Communities online or in person like the local Foster Parent Associations are wonderful. There is nothing like being connected to foster parents in your area who are going to know the tips and tricks for finding local resources.