A Series from a Social Worker's Perspective "Things To Consider When Working with Older Youth in Foster Care"

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A Series from a Social Worker's Perspective "Things To Consider When Working with Older Youth in Foster Care"

Let me first explain why I am so passionate about youth in foster care.  I went to undergraduate school at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and my last semester I started a required internship.  This provided me with my first experiences working with teenagers and then I volunteered to work a summer camp held for kids who have been adopted.  It was an eye opener for me because they allowed youth in foster care who were placed in homes with someone who had been adopted to attend as well.  That was my first introduction. When I graduated from grad school I worked for an agency that provided Therapeutic Foster Care(TFC) and assessment foster homes for kids and teens who were no longer in the custody of their biological parents and/or guardians and were in the custody of the Department of Human Resources.

 

My assignment was to provide in home services to the kids and their foster parents through case management and some counseling when needed.  It was a lot of transporting to doctors appointments, school and what not, which is a whole different conversation.  I enjoyed my kids, I just had a hard time adjusting to the bad attitudes, mistreatment and disrespect of some of the foster parents.  In the midst of all of this I volunteered for another camp specifically for youth in foster care who were between the ages of 14-20 years old and it changed my life!  They were telling stories about not seeing their social workers for months at a time, not being able to see their siblings, being in placements that were unfit and/or inappropriate, but at the same time I am talking to them and they are well spoken and respectful, just great kids overall.  I just couldn't figure out how anyone would be okay with mistreating them.  So I changed jobs and ended up at a residential facility working as a therapist, which just put me in the crossfires of mistreatment of power, adults with power trips and no respect for anyone, poorly trained staff and an overall miserable environment for staff and the teens.  The only thing that kept me there for as long as I was, I had a hard time leaving my "babies" there without someone to advocate for them. 

 

So now.....now I am dedicated to educating the public and most of all helping professionals about my experiences.  Very early on in my career I realized my education and the things I learned in my internships were simply a foundation.  The information I had to memorize for my licensing exam were simply a standardized way of weeding people out of the profession.  I had to utilize my interactions and relationships with my clients, teens in foster care to help guide me and what I learned most of all was that listening is the best tool in my social worker belt I have. 

 

So anyways, that is the background on why advocating for youth in foster care is so important to me.  I will do another blog about why I started this blog.  But here are three things I learned this weekend that will educate you about working with teens and help you gain a better understanding of what is most important.

 

1. We as helping professionals have a tendency to get caught up in the most personal experiences of our clients

It is so easy to do because teenagers are so doggone dramatic and they will talk about their drama for literally days.  Sometimes, however we just get so enmeshed in their personal lives that we forget we are the professionals.  I once had a professional unintentionally inform me I need to have a conversation with two young ladies about their relationship and how it was going to affect the leadership group.  I simply said no, because their personal life was irrelevant for me to be discussing with them in regards to what we were trying to accomplish as a group.  They were aware of the rules on dating from the beginning and that was enough and that was that.  Honestly that never even came up as an issue for them. Ever. We just have to remind ourselves what is our purpose in the lives of young people and not get distracted.

 

2  Adults are barriers.......okay only sometimes

So I have never wanted to work with adults, ya'll get on my nerves with your

"I have been doing this for 20 years" or

" Well the way I do it is" and

" I know what's best ALL THE TIME."

Boy if I could get 100 dollars for how many adults I have come across too busy trying to prove a point instead of humbling themselves to help a young person, maybe this generation wouldn't be so doggone lost!  In all seriousness though this weekend I watched the adults in the presence of our young people and they were snotty and self righteous, not understanding and sometime disrespectful.  I will give an example.  We give our young people the opportunity to speak their minds and share their stories with us before they leave and to do this we ask all of the adults to leave the room.  It provides them with a sense of security where they can share openly and not feel like they are going to be told on or reprimanded.  I watched about 5 adults wandering around during this time period and I couldn't help but think to myself, now if this were youth doing this they would be in so much trouble!  We owe youth some kind of respect, but I digress and will discuss this again in a later post.

 

3. Our youth are so unique and different  

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 You won't find me talking too much about the young people I currently work with because I want to respect their privacy, but working with them is similar to my clients in the past.  They go through so much on an everyday basis, things you couldn't even imagine having to cope with: being abandoned by their parents, physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, separation from their siblings, being berated and abused by those paid to care for them, feelings of hopelessness, diagnoses and medications, so so much everyday, but each one has their own story.  I was reminded this weekend and had to remind one of my coworkers, we cannot approach situations with our young people the same way.  How I interact with one of my kids, doesn't mean I will treat the other the same, I see each and every one of them as an individual.  There are currently over 1,800 youth in foster care in Alabama ages 14-20 years old that face the possibility of being out on the streets with no one in their corner.  I feel obligated to ensure they have what they need but I am not going to tell all of them they have to go to college or they have to get a 9-5 job.  We have business owners, entertainers, poets and artists, doctor, lawyers and teachers too.  They can do and be anything they want, but we have to individualize their process.  Will you be that person today?

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I Don't Talk About Her but I Sure do Miss Her

Grief is a funny thing.  Mostly because different people respond in different ways.  My grandma died in 2015, October to be exact.  I remember it very clear even though sometimes I block it out so much I forget what year and what day she died.  I just know it feels like she has been gone forever.  I remember being annoyed....annoyed with her because she had kept telling me NOT to come see her.  I had just met my husband, then my boyfriend and I KNEW she would love him and wanted her to meet him.

 

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But she kept telling me NO and I didn't know why.  She had been in and out of the hospital, my mom had just spent a full week down there (in Mississippi)spending time with her and I was like "How does she get to come and I can't??) Haha, so silly now.  I honestly don't even remember what the last conversation was that we had.  The only thing I can remember is just wanting to see her.  My mom was frustrated because my aunts were being difficult and unruly and she was so stressed out.  My sister and I had already planned a trip to the beach in October and we had the idea to invite her to come with us.  See a couple of months before we were supposed to go on a family trip to the beach for her birthday, but she had to be rushed to emergency surgery because she had an ulcer.  So already the year had been extra crazy and overwhelming so we just needed a break.

My aunts kept saying things were bad, but they weren't giving a whole lot of details and honestly it's more of a toll than they understand for one person to keep driving back and forth to Mississippi for false alarms (Just being honest, this is a whole nother story).  She gladly came with us and it was the most peaceful and fun time we've ever had, just a great girls trip.  But the calls kept coming.  My husband (boyfriend then) and I had already planned to go down to Mississippi when I got back from Florida so I told my mom, I would check in and give her an update because now my aunts were saying things were really bad.  So on my way back to Birmingham my husband calls me and says my car broke down.  Now, granted just two months before that HIS car broke down which meant we had NO CAR!  So when I got back to Birmingham we just got a rental and decided to just deal with the car situation later so we could go ahead and go to Mississippi.  On the way down God spoke to me and told me this would be the last time I saw my grandma.  I knew it.  And I knew He was preparing me for the worst because no one had to tell me.  My grandma and I always had a spiritual connection, which brings me to why I don't talk about her a whole lot now that she is gone.

 

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When we got to her house, my aunt answered the door, I walked in and I saw her in the bed.  My first reaction was anger (which I am still getting over a little bit) because my aunts didn't tell my mom that my grandma was in a comatose state and wasn't even talking.  It hurt me so bad because I was going to have to be the one to tell her.  I felt they needed to be adults and just be honest with my mom, but that is a whole 'nother story.  My husband stayed in the living room because I think he felt it as well and let me have my time.  The first thing I told my grandma is "I'm here, I came grandma, I am here, I love you!"  Nothing.  This is why I don't talk about her much because I knew and I could feel her presence and I knew she was happy, but I knew she was frustrated as hell because she couldn't talk back and I KNEW, I knew she was tired and wanted to release, but I knew she was waiting on me because she kept telling me not to come, but she knew I would.  The room was basically silent except for me saying "I love you"  I could only sit there for a little while because I just couldn't stand to see her in that state.  So I leaned forward and I kissed her and I said. "I love you, it's okay to let go okay, I love you so much."

 

I kissed her for the last time and I said goodbye to my aunt and my husband and I got in the car and went back to Birmingham.  On the way back my mom called me and told me my grandma had passed away.  I was good all the way up until we got back to the house in the bedroom and I broke down.  I cried one other time at the funeral for a whole lot of other reasons, but not because I was sad but there was just a whole lot going on.

 

I haven't talked a whole lot about this because I have peace.  I have peace knowing my grandma is no longer in pain, peace knowing she doesn't have to argue with not one person about who she is, peace knowing that God has a plan for everything.  I don't talk about it a whole lot because my response to my grandma's death is not "normal"  I am supposed to post long statuses on Facebook about how much I miss her and have a hard time loving my husband or being accessible to him because I feel like something is missing. I am supposed to be dedicating every important aspect of my life to her and dedicating my success to her memory, but I'm not.  Wanna know why?  Because of my grandma.  My grandma had been preparing us for her death for years.  She had been saying for years, don't do a whole big thing when I die, LIVE YOUR LIFE!  Don't be caught up on me!  Shoot she didn't want us to be caught up on her when she was alive, she just didn't have much of a choice.  My grief is JUST DIFFERENT.  I have learned this over time.  I cannot judge anyone else and their grief, but what I don't like is when someone tries to drag you over to their method of grieving.  I am not running around here telling people if they talk about those that passed away in their lives and do memorials that they are wrong.  Because I have witnessed someone do that before and that was the exact thing they did when someone died.  I believe you have to let people do and believe in what they want.  This is my way.  Not talking about my grandma doesn't mean I don't love or miss her.  I miss her everyday, think about her everyday.

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But I honor her by kicking butt on my job and in my business, by loving on my husband and working out things in  the most difficult situations.  I will honor her when my first child is born by saying a prayer of thanks to God and dedicating the child to Christ.  This is my way.  There is nothing wrong with it and there's nothing wrong with your way either!  Check out this blog post on Ebone K's 5 tips to Navigate the Grief Cycle. 

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Is 'Coping Skills' is an outdated term_ My Three Favorites

Okay so using coping skills is not outdated but the word itself has become very generic and overused.  My kids at the residential facility I used to work as a therapist at used to HATE that word lol, so I stopped using it a long time ago.  It is a little difficult to abandon the ways of Graduate school because one never wants to forget the foundation in which we were built upon and I cannot set aside the knowledge I received and utilized to help me become the social worker I am today!  So needless to say I am still to this day an advocate of having an outlet to some of your worst mental health moments whether you are a stressed out social worker or an individual diagnosed with schizophrenia, it is imperative one develops their go to actions when experiencing down moments.

So I recently discussed on my Instagram page @prodevwithek how I have some go-to ways of coping that I utilize the most and even shared two that are pretty special to me so I am going to include those and a bonus that may help you and/or your clients to decompress and rediscover their equilibrium.

Let me describe what I mean by equilibrium.  When I think about equilibrium, I think of the happy chemicals released in the brain that help us find a place of peace.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines equilibrium as: "Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins..... the quartet responsible for our happiness."  These happy chemicals can only be present in a state of equilibrium.  Depression, loneliness, suicidal ideations do not exist when these chemicals are present.

So the question is, Ebone, how does one release those chemicals?  Well, I can't answer that question for YOU and I certainly cannot answer that question for all you helping professionals out there who have a client, patient, student, etc asking the same question.  What I can do, however, is share my own favorite coping skills.


1. Sunlight

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I love the outdoors, especially fall time!  I haven't done it in a while but I started hiking at the urging of a friend a couple of years ago and I love it (That is, of course, if I don't get anxious from getting lost lol).  The sunlight really does give me energy.  Here's the proof from an article written by Catherine Shaffer, M.Sc. in News Medical Life Sciences:

“Some of those protective effects may be due to the role of sunlight in vitamin D synthesis, as the human body requires exposure to UV-B radiation to synthesize vitamin D. Without sun exposure, oral vitamin D supplements are required to maintain health.”

 

So here is the proof that Vitamin D does a body good and when your body is healthy and feeling good, your brain health is good too which equals happy chemicals AND good nutrition for your body!

2. Bubbles (aka Deep Breathing with a twist)

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This actually stems from my absolute love for blowing dandelions in the wind when I was a kid!  When I was a therapist at a residential facility I had a hard time getting my teens to focus on deep breathing.  Counting to 5, 10 or whatever was just way too hard for them to do when they are at a very heightened depressive and/or angry state.  I wish I could remember where I got the idea from so I can give the credit where credit is due, but I made frequent trips to dollar tree to spend therapy sessions outside blowing bubbles with clients, sometimes more for the calming of my anxiety more so than theirs.  And you can count if you want....just picture the bubbles as the happy chemicals being released in your brain!

3. Meditation/Prayer

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As a young very stressed teenager this looked more like me writing ferociously in my diary getting all of the bottled up feelings of my difficult live on paper.  Now a days I still write but I know myself a little more, I now realize I was creating more of a cocoon for my introverted nature and needing to recover from everyday life of being around people constantly at school and church.  Prayer has been my absolute refuge in my 30's, growing closer to God has been MY outlet, might not be for everyone, but it is most definitely for me.  It all works the same, getting thoughts out of your head is the best way to free up room in one's brain to release the happy chemicals.

So there you  have it! My 'coping skills'.
What about you?
What are your favorite ways to de-stress and find your equilibrium?

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