Category Archives: After foster care

Animal Assisted Therapy

Last week we were outside doing some yard work and letting my dogs run in the yard. We have a Chihuahua we recently rescued and a Stafford shire terrier named “Colo” that I got a few months after leaving me foster home. I noticed the amount of gray hair she has now and it made me realize she’s now 7 years old. It also made me realize how much she has been through with me and how she has helped me through it. From leaving my foster home and aging out of foster care into becoming a man, struggling to overcome emotional, financial, and social struggles. I’ve gone from being alone renting a house that was falling apart to buying my own home and now having a family. The only living thing that has been around and constant this entire time was her and I don’t know if I would have made it without her.

Animals can make an impact on a child’s therapy process. At Coyote Hill, the foster home I stayed at, we sometimes did animal therapy with horses. Though mainly dogs, horses, and dolphins are the most talked about when it comes to animal assisted therapy many animals can be used such as fish, hamsters or even farm animals. I never really understood at the time where the therapy came into play, but after doing some research and taking a step back to examine the therapy process more, I seen that not realizing where therapy comes in is probably why it works so well.

I think that anyone that has owned an animal has caught themselves talking to them or maybe even having a conversation. It feels safe because you’re not going to get any negative feedback, but you do get a reaction. The same way we have to build up trust so do animals. The thing that makes the relationship work so well is that animals are non judgmental and they remember their trust. My dog has seen me in my highs and lows, times that I will never talk about and dark places, but no matter what, when I get home she runs up, jumps up on me ( something I could never break) and lets me know how much she missed me the only 9 hours I was gone.

Using pet therapy can also reduce depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Petting a dog that you have been bonded with helps with relaxation, releasing stress, increasing morale, increased calmness, decrease anxiety, improve a persons outlook, reduce the need for medication, reduce fear and anxiety in people with a psychiatric conditions. Looking back I can see how my dog helped me with these things. I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety which has made a major impact on my life. Often times I find myself unable to sleep, paranoid, or anxious. When I had Colo next to me all of that decreased. I knew I had someone that I could trust that was keeping an extra eye on me and willing to protect me just like I will protect her. I built up bond and trust neither of which I thought I could muster up after abuse and foster care.

I try to keep things simple when I analyze something. To me a lot of my therapy has been retraining my mind out of bad habits. When your mind is constantly under fear and worry you unknowingly train your mind to be on constant alert, vigilant and you become untrusting. You can learn to build that back with some good therapy and maybe the help of animals. If you’re a former foster kid or have foster kids, are in the financial place to take care of a pet, and would like a companion, check out your local animal shelter. Many of our four legged friends need a forever family too!

Aging Out And Into Success

Each year about 20,000 kids age out of the foster care system. Many of these kids struggle to become successful productive members of society. A “Successful productive member of society” may mean something different to each person. The fact is when these kids were followed up on a little over a year later, 36% had been homeless at some point, 30% were unemployed, 42% had become parents and 26% receiving public assistance. That’s a really rough start to life for a lot of foster kids. There are several factors that come into play. Many of these kids have health problems or disorders, and 29% of these kids don’t have health insurance. Many can’t pay for medication that they’ve been prescribed to help them improve themselves or keep them on track. Not a whole lot of kids have support when they age out. They get down on themselves and stuck in rut with no one to push them. They don’t think they can do better. Sometimes just making it day to day can be the idea of being successful.

As a teenager if someone asked me what I was most scared of my response would be not being successful in life. Growing up I always had a fear of failure. I can remember this even before foster care. Looking back there are a couple different things I can contribute to that fear. First I have extreme anxiety. Even as a child I remember being afraid of being embarrassed. I always tried hard to not mess up so people wouldn’t make fun of me. My parents played on this fear often telling me that I would not be able to make it in the world without them. They would show me bills, how much things cost, and let me know that without them I would fail. Of course this was their way of controlling me but it stuck with me. I knew becoming a successful adult would be hard even before I realized I would someday be a foster kid aging out of the foster care system.

What can foster/ former foster kids do? The first thing foster kids aging out need to understand is they need to be motivated and want to be successful. There are several different things that can slow us down and this may sound harsh but I learned really quickly that as an adult, “life” doesn’t care about what happened to you as a child. The light company doesn’t take excuses for payment. As former foster kids we need to want to be successful and not just settle with the cards we are dealt. A wise person once told me that God will only meet us halfway. You need to work to better yourself to become a successful productive member of society. Drug and alcohol use, unprotected sex, and laziness are all things that should not be in your life. As a foster kid you’ve already had a hard enough life so why make having a successful future harder to obtain for yourself? There’s always a place to place blame for the situation your in. If I couldn’t place the blame on the government, the foster care system or society for my issues I could always go back to “well if I would have had better parents”, but every time I open my eyes after placing blame I’m still in the situation. It’s not about who’s at fault or how you got there. It’s about getting where you need to be.

What can those in the lives of foster kids do to help kids aging out become successful productive members of society? The first thing you can do is prepare foster kids for the realty they are about to face. Don’t go about it the way my parents did obviously, but kids need to know the realty a head of time to be prepared to face it. Don’t allow your kids to be lazy or complacent. That’s a bad habit to start and it carries over into adulthood. Most of the time foster kids aging out don’t have a stable adult to help them through the process. They will have to know how to cook, clean, manage money, and live entirely on their own. They also must be taught about the opportunities out there and pushed to take advantage of them. If all you know is just making it by day to day then you often forget that there is a future and should be a goal to work for.  A child has to be taught the bare necessities to live but they must be molded and pushed to be successful productive members of society.

How To Solve The Aging Out Crisis

If you are involved in foster care or have done any research then you know that the statistics are stacked against foster kids when they age out of the foster care system. This isn’t just a short term problem. Many foster kids go on after aging out and continue to be homeless or in jail. Many spend their life on some sort of government assistance. Kids that are told to go out on their own to be adults don’t know how to be adults. Sometimes there has been bad habits instilled in them from abuses they received as a child. Some may not know how a person is really supposed to act or behave because they have only been subjected to craziness. How are you supposed to succeed out of foster care if you are never taught how?

I feel like sometimes in foster care it’s more of just taking care of the children. I only lived in one type of placement setting and I know some foster parents teach their kids more than others. This may not be true for foster parents looking to adopt but I feel like foster care is just that, care. There needs to be more of an emphasis on how to be a PRODUCTIVE member of society. Society itself needs to step up and take responsibility instead of complaining about the way things are. If we are tired of spending all this money on people in jail, on drugs, homeless, or just unmotivated; then there needs to be something interjected before it gets to that point. There needs to be someone there to mentor these children into adults.

Though I have not found statistics relating to kids in foster care and mentoring, I have experienced what it’s like to have a mentor, how it affected me, and that mentoring in general has been proven to work. According to a, a California Mentor Foundation survey found that out of 124 mentor programs and 57,659 mentees:

  •     98% stayed in school
  •     85% did not use drugs
  •     98% Deterred from teen pregnancy
  •     98% Did not join a gang

In another study by the Ford foundation of high school students from families receiving public assistance found that those children with mentors where more likely than those without mentors to:

  •     Graduate from high school
  •     Enroll in college
  •     Have fewer children
  •     Have fewer arrests
  •     Live without public assistance
  •     Become involved in community service
  •     Be hopeful about their future

Though it wasn’t through a mentor program and he was labeled a friend and not a mentor, there was a man that took me under his wing for awhile when I was in foster care. I met him at church camp and he was in the Marine corp. I can’t tell you how it was cool that he had so much going on in his life and he would want to hang out with me. He would pick me up and we would go on different adventures, work out, he would teach me to shoot and just hang out. The best were the pranks that we would pull.  I felt normal, and got to go out and do normal things. You just don’t get to leave with a foster kid and go off somewhere either. There is background checks and signatures. It means lot when someone is willing to go through that just to hang out and give you a place to get away. I wanted to be a good person and I wanted to succeed, I didn’t want to let him down. Though I have lost contact with him, he made a big impact on my life when I needed it most.

Mentors are need for more than to just keep kids out of trouble or on the right path. They aren’t just needed for a couple years after aging out of foster care either.  Sometimes I think that people that grew up “normal” forget that kids in foster care often aren’t taught a lot about the “little things” that are really actually major things that can impact your life long term. By this I mean things like budgeting, paying bills, loans, and I could keep going. I can’t tell you how many life decisions I’ve gone through really wishing I had someone just to ask for advice.

There are many ways your can help kids that have been involved in foster care. It doesn’t have to be through an agency or by volunteering. You don’t even have to seek out a foster home. I bet there’s someone in your church, workplace or neighborhood that could use a mentor. You can sometimes help by just making yourself available to someone that needs it, by letting them know that your there if they need help with any of life’s questions.

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