Through adoption, Lydia, 7, gained a family and the ability to communicate.
By Bevin Theodore
When Jill Callela met Lydia, the little girl did not talk and rarely even looked at those who tried to engage her.
But Callela, a behavioral health professional with KidsPeace in Bangor, Maine, felt an instant connection with the child and knew that beyond the mask of autism was a girl longing to be drawn out and loved. Callela had worked with Lydia in her biological home and while she was in foster care. Months after she stopped seeing her, she ran into Lydia in the community and instantly felt that connection to her again.
“It was just a meant to be kind of meeting. And people were noticing it,” Callela said. “I kind of knew at that moment, it was time to step up… I could just see all kinds of potential in her and knew that I had what it would take to unlock it.”
Callela and her husband, Paul, were not licensed to be foster parents, so they had to move quickly to prepare for Lydia, who came to their home on Oct. 1, 2014.
“She came in and it was just as smooth as if she had always lived here,” Callela said.
Since that time, the now 7-year-old has started talking and making eye contact and is doing well in school. Her formerly severe behavioral issues have started to taper off; she has gone three months with no incidents, is spending more time in the mainstream classroom at school and is interacting more with her peers.
“I know she’s so smart and she had so much locked inside,” Callela said. “And she’s so happy now. The minute you put the phone up and she knows it’s picture time, she stops and poses.”
The Callelas adopted Lydia on May 5. Callela said one of the most rewarding things has been seeing Lydia enjoy the people around her, especially her older brothers, Dominic, 19, and Anthony, 20, and her grandparents, who live right across the street. It has been a family effort to improve her communication skills, and Callela, who previously worked with children on the Autism Spectrum, had the tools to help Lydia blossom.
“I grew up with foster children,” Callela said. “And working in the field, you can’t help but think you want to help certain kids. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I wished I could do more. But it wouldn’t have come to the forefront before Lydia.”
Vicki and Neil Doucette have been foster parents for 10 years. Their most recent placement, a medically-fragile 6-year-old boy, is leaving to go to an adoptive home.
By Bevin Theodore
Vicki and Neil Doucette are getting ready to say goodbye to the little boy they have called a son for nearly three years.
It is the side of foster care that some people fear and that deters others from opening their homes to children in need. But the Doucettes know that this is the right move, even if they will miss him because he is finding his forever family.
Their foster son is the first medically fragile child they have cared for since becoming foster parents through KidsPeace’s Williamsville, N.Y. Foster Care and Community Programs office. The boy has cerebral palsy, is legally blind and has a processing problem, among other health issues.
“It’s so hard to juggle because with my own kids, I just say, ‘get in the car,’ He can’t do that,” Vicki said. “I’m getting older, he’s getting heavier.”
Still, as their family prepares for the upcoming transition, Vicki worries about how the boy, who is very attached to Neil, will handle the move.
“I don’t know if he understands any of it,” she said. “I tell him that she’s going to be his new mommy, that he’s going to live with her in her house.”
The Doucettes, who have three biological children – 17, 20 and 23 – started fostering about 10 years ago. Though they had never known anyone else who had foster children, Vicki just knew it was something she wanted to do.
“I always liked kids and always knew there were lots of kids out there who needed a home,” she said.
The couple has housed 14 foster children, with their most recent placement being the longest. Vicki equates caring for a medically needy child to having an infant.
“You’re changing diapers, feeding. I can’t sit down and eat my dinner because it’s I take a bite, he takes a bite,” she said. “When you have a baby, you say, ‘Oh my gosh, this child screams two hours a night every night,’ but then in two months, they don’t do that anymore.”
But despite the challenges, she has seen a lot of growth in the boy over the past few years. He now likes to be included in conversation, even if he cannot join in, he has learned to control negative behaviors like biting and screaming and he has learned some words, even if he does not always choose to use them.
“We take baby steps. All those little things are a big deal,” Vicki said. “I don’t think people give him enough credit for things.”
As Vicki prepares to say goodbye, she hopes his new family will allow them to keep in touch.
“I don’t want him to think we don’t love him anymore,” she said.
The Internet is a great platform for communication, education and entertainment. Unfortunately, it carries many potential dangers for underage children. One of the most rapidly growing problems for kids on the Internet is cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is pretty much the same as traditional bullying. It is used to torment and harass children, only this time it is done in online world. Children use social media websites like Instagram and Facebook to bully each other online as well as chat platforms like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and traditional phone texting.
According to a recent study, children spend about four hours a day online, 80 percent of the time via smartphones, making it a major medium for cyberbullying.
While online bullying is similar to traditional bullying, it has one significant difference – there is practically no escape from it. If traditional bullying stops when kids graduate from high school, cyberbullying does not have an ending. Below are the most recent statistics:
- Nearly 45 percent of children have admitted to being bullied online
- 70 percent of students say that have experienced repeated cyberbullying
- 69 percent of children ages 8-17 agree that online bullying is a serious problem
- 90 percent of children have witnessed bullying on social media but were afraid to get involved
- Girls are twice as likely as boys to be bullied online
- Cyberbullying victims are two to nine times more likely to commit suicide
- Cara Dellile, Ryan Helligan, Megan Meier and Jessica Logan all committed suicide because of cyberbullying
- Only one in nine children reports bullying
Although it sounds desperate, there are ways to control and even prevent cyberbullying among children.
Pay attention to mood changes. Notice if your child acts oddly after going online. He/she can express anger, anxiety or even hysteria after visiting social media websites or chatting with someone on the phone. Rapid weight changes (gaining or losing), mood swings, repeated headaches, social isolation and heightened privacy about online time may be the first signs of cyberbullying.
Talk to your child. There is nothing simpler than having a conversation with your child. Find out what he/she knows about cyberbullying. Ask if your child has a friend who is being bullied so you can understand which side your child is on and what kind of problems you will have to solve.
Monitor online activity. Although no one wants to be a big brother, there is practically no other way to protect children than to monitor their online activity. Apps like Pumpic can help you track social media accounts, IM chats and basic texting. In addition, you can monitor a real-time GPS location of your child and block access to websites intended for adults.
Play a celebrity card. Kids usually copy their teen celebrities and luckily there are those who stand against cyberbullying. Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber share a lot of information in their social media profiles about cyberbullying and other online dangers. Most of them inspire children with personal stories and tips.
Cyberbullying may be a problem most adults cannot understand, but if you want to protect your children, you simply cannot ignore it.
This is a guest post by P. Geek. She is currently involved in a volunteering anti-bullying program in New York and is also a contributor to http://pumpic.com.
Jeremy and Rachel Bousquet had no foster care experience when they received a call in April, asking if they would consider taking in two sisters, 11 and 16. But now, they could not imagine their life without the girls.
By Bevin Theodore
Rachel and Jeremy Bousquet always wanted children, but they never expected to become parents so quickly.
Denise Card, the site manager for KidsPeace’s Foster Care and Community Programs office in Bangor, Maine, was scrambling last month to find a new home for two girls who were already in foster care but needed a new placement. After searching high and low among licensed foster homes in the area, to no avail, she reached out to Rachel Bousquet, Director of Educational Services for KidsPeace Graham Lake in Ellsworth, Maine. Even though the Bousquets had never fostered before, Card knew their experience in education and love of children would make them a good fit. Within eight days Bousquet and her husband, Jeremy, became foster parents to the sisters, 11 and 16.
“We worked really hard for four straight days of literally not sleeping, to get their bedrooms ready,” Rachel said. “It was fun work.”
The girls arrived in the United States from The Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. It is still unclear what led them to the country or why they were unaccompanied, but the Bousquets are much more concerned with making them feel at home than worrying about their background.
“They’re here now, and we have a responsibility to these children,” Rachel said. “It feels like they’ve been with us forever.”
While the Bousquets are in the process of getting licensed through the Department of Health and Human Services – they cannot foster through KidsPeace since Rachel is an employee – the girls will not have any interruption to the clinical support services and case management they have been receiving.
“Everything’s kind of backwards for us, because the girls are here with us first, but it’s been fine,” Rachel said. “My husband and I are very smitten with them. They are beautiful inside and out. They have good hearts. They are very loving girls. Really, what they needed was a loving and supportive home, and that’s something we can provide to them.”
Rachel said the sisters are both doing very well in school; are involved in track, field hockey and soccer and love to dance and sing. Their new foster parents are already getting them involved in charitable community work, and the entire family participated in an autism walk in April.
“It’s definitely been a transition for them, and with any kid, transitions are hard. They’re still getting to know us, and we’re getting to know them,” Rachel said. “We’re learning too. I definitely don’t have all the answers to being a parent.”
But their combined 20 years in the education field has positioned them well for parenthood because they have encountered children with so many different needs.
“It hasn’t been too much of an adjustment honestly. I think things happen for a reason,” Rachel said. “Everyone (in the Bangor office) has been so supportive. My husband and I are grateful to have the girls with us. We know there are challenges we’ll face but we know with the services we’ve been given, we’ll be helped and supported.”
Ultimately, the Bousquets hope to adopt the girls, if that is what they want as well. For now, they are simply enjoying the process of becoming a family. And Rachel hopes their story will encourage other people to consider fostering.
“There are so many wonderful children who need homes,” she said.
Yvonne Kizis has 11 children, eight of whom are adopted. She dedicates her life to caring for her youngest three (from left), Akeely, 6, Alnaim, 13, and Giovanni, 12, who have severe medical needs.
By Bevin Theodore
Yvonne Kizis’ days are a blur of diapers, feedings, baths and doctors’ appointments.
It is the typical frenzy that new parents know all too well – sleepless nights, endless worry, learning to discern different cries, never enough time for themselves. But Kizis is not mothering babies. Her three youngest children are 6, 12 and 13, yet their medical needs are so severe that they are in many ways as helpless as newborns. All parents want their children to be healthy, and those caring for even one child with special needs can attest to how utterly exhausting each day can be. But amid the incessant care-giving, Kizis sees hope rather than despair, and her children are enveloped in her unconditional love. After all, she chose to be their mom.
Akeely, 6, Giovanni, 12, and Alnaim, 13, are the youngest of eight children Kizis adopted, after giving birth to three children of her own – Jason, Jared and Jenni. When Kizis, of Milton, Pa., reached out to KidsPeace's Foster Care and Community Programs office in Williamsport in 2008, she was no stranger to foster care and adoption, having already adopted five other children – Derrel, now 24; Erica, 26; Raheem, 20; Malcolm, 22; and Sean, 26. While all of the children she adopted came to her with medical needs – ranging from cerebral palsy to heart defects to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to autism – this last trio is by far the most severe.
Laughter, tears and a mother's unconditional love
When Kizis first saw a video of Alnaim in 2010, she was taken aback by how he was just sitting in his wheelchair, the left side of his body paralyzed. She did not know if she had the strength to take on a child who needed total care. But then she went to New Jersey to meet him, and she knew she was meant to be his mom.
“You couldn’t help but fall in love with the little guy,” she said. “He’s just awesome.”
Alnaim, who was born with drugs in his system and has a seizure disorder, was placed in a wheelchair at 15 months old. He is blind, fed through a Gastrostomy tube (G-Tube) and has undergone surgery for scoliosis and dislocated hips. He cannot talk, and it is unclear how much he understands, yet he laughs all the time, a reminder of the pure joy intertwined with the more difficult moments.
Akeely also has a G-tube because, while she can eat by mouth, she would not survive with the amount of nutrition she could take in on her own. Two years ago, she began walking, but still spends much of each day in her wheelchair. She does not talk, and her most frequent form of communication remains self-biting then crying. Her arms are wrapped from wrist to elbow to prevent her from further injuring herself, and Kizis describes her as “beyond wild” and in need of constant supervision. Doctors have speculated that she might have autism, but an official diagnosis has not been handed down. Yet Kizis clings to the hopeful signs that Akeely will continue to show progress – she is learning some sign language and is in the early stages of potty training.
“I can’t figure her out yet. I’ve seen a lot of different kids with a lot of different issues,” Kizis said. “But I think she’ll be the one who proves a lot of people wrong.”
Giovanni lived with his birth family until he was 7. Like Akeely and Alnaim, he does not talk or walk, but he can sit cross-legged to crawl across the floor. He relies on a G-tube for most of his nutrition because of severe food allergies and suffers from a disorder that causes him to have drop seizures. But his face lights up when his mom asks if he wants to watch “Dora the Explorer,” and his voice rises in a wail as he tries to sing along to the soothing Christian music she plays on the radio. It is little moments like these that keep Kizis going – the way Akeely hands Alnaim a stretchy toy that is attached to her wheelchair or simply reaches out her arm until he grabs her hand and doesn’t let go.
Exhausting work and boundless rewards
“I love doing this. Some people just don’t understand,” Kizis said. “I just feel like this is my calling.”
When Kizis was 24, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. Beating cancer made her realize her life was meant for something more. Still, it is not easy, as she struggles to get immobile children in and out of bed; wakes to Alnaim pulling out his feeding tube, formula spraying across the room; and juggles a range of doctor’s appointments that could be a full-time job on their own. What would be a typical outing for another family – to a restaurant or the park – is a Herculean feat for Kizis, whose van only fits two wheelchairs. She looks forward to summer, when the nurses who accompany her children to school will come to the house once a week, allowing them to get out for a change of scenery.
“I often said if I ever won the lottery, I’d build a big house in the country and maybe take in more kids and give them a home, build a big playground,” Kizis said. “It’s bad enough people have to put their parents in a nursing home, let alone these kids. And some of them, with their health problems, they’d have to stay there until they’re old. That’s sad.”
Kizis was married until 2000, and her ex-husband moved back into her home a few years ago, although she adopted the youngest three children on her own. Her adoption journey is ongoing, as she was recently matched with a 6-year-old medically fragile girl who needs a home.
“I was married at 16, and I had my kids young. I just always enjoyed kids,” she said. “But if somebody would’ve told me ‘This is what your family’s going to end up looking like,’ I would have said ‘No way.’”
By Sue Weber
When we became foster parents, we wondered how we would tell the children who saw us as strangers that we cared for them. “I love you” might sound more frightening than comforting the first night we tucked them in.
We settled on “lucky to know you.” It felt right the first time I said it and even better when from their bunk beds, siblings called back, “Lucky to know you, Mommy Sue.”
Of course, they weren't terribly lucky. Children who can’t find security in their parents’ arms and are taken by a stranger to a house full of strangers can’t feel that luck has been on their side. But if foster care has taught us anything, it's that children are, luckily, incredibly resilient.
We’ve been lucky to know 19 children so far—some for days, others for a birthday or two.
Four years ago, we agreed to do respite care and met a quiet little girl who had just started to walk. A month later, we were asked to take her in when her foster mother had given notice. We enjoyed every minute with her, up to the moment of reunification. Michelle went home. We felt broken. Then, one day before Thanksgiving, we got a phone call. We had an hour to prepare ourselves. Nearly a year after we agreed to do respite, that same child was coming back. Would she think that we abandoned her? I mean, what 18-month old would think we let her go so she could be loved by her mother? When I opened the car door, she stretched to reach me with excitement. Lucky.
This second time around, the birth mom decided that what was best for Michelle was being with us. We signed a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA), outlining the terms for our evolving relationship once Michelle became our daughter. So far, monthly visits are going well. She seems to feel lucky, lucky to know her daughter.
With foster care, you need to be flexible. Things happen without notice. You get a call after the court hearing. Surprise, the child you love is going home in an hour. You get a call from a caseworker -- a child you don’t know will be there in an hour. Friends marvel at the inconsequential—what if you don't have a crib? Strangers are baffled by the consequential—isn’t it hard when they leave? Neither would stop you from doing it again and again, because children deserve to be safe and secure. And, we’re lucky to know these beautiful children. While it’s hard, often very hard, to be a foster parent, you don’t go it alone. Extraordinary people come into your life.
On Janu. 31, 2014, Michelle’s adoption was finalized. Every caseworker came—either to the courthouse or to our house the next day. With a “Frozen”-themed adoption party to follow, Michelle went to the courthouse in her Elsa dress. As caseworkers embraced her, we felt lucky indeed.
I still tell my daughter that I’m lucky; I’m lucky to be her mommy. At bedtime, I ask her “who loves you so, so, much?” She always starts with “you, Daddy, Lacy (our dog), and her foster sibling.” I add names—family members, birth mom, friends.
The beginning of a foster story is always unlucky—a scared child goes to a stranger’s house. We hope that foster care ends with a happy reunification, and parents who will make their child feel safe and secure as long as they breathe. But, when that doesn’t happen, and a child comes back to foster care, we hope it’s not through another stranger’s door. We were lucky to know a child, who reached out for us when she came back. Today, that kindergartner knows she’s loved. She feels safe, knowing Mommy or Daddy will come sleep in her room during a thunderstorm. She’s secure, happy to try new things. She’s lucky. We all are.
Model these skills and have youth practice them on a regular basis.
1. Help kids learn to express their feelings.
2. Does the youth know how to convey respect, caring, honesty and trustworthiness (e.g. saying thank you, not being rude, tone of voice, valuing others' opinions, not keeping people waiting, being inclusive, accepting responsibility for a mistake)?
3. Does the youth know how to greet someone and introduce himself?
4. Help young people learn social skills and develop at least one friendship.
5. Can the youth carry on a conversation and maintain comfortable eye contact?
6. Teach youth ways to have fun without spending lots of money.
7. Connect youth with a religious organization.
8. Start a Lifebook that tells the child’s story and contains important papers, pictures of family and other mementos.
9. Teach kids how often household chores need to be done to keep a house reasonably clean.
10. Show youth how to properly dispose of garbage, including recycling.
11. Teach youth what cleaning products and equipment to use for different jobs and how to use them, including how to change a vacuum cleaner bag.
12. Show youth the best places to shop for food, clothing and furniture.
13. Teach good kitchen hygiene, such as washing hands before preparing food and using safe practices to defrost and prepare food.
14. Teach youth how to read food labels for nutritional values and expiration dates.
15. Show youth how to tell if fruits and vegetables are fresh when shopping.
16. Teach kids how to use the store flyers and coupons and how to comparison shop.
17. Have youth plan and shop for one week's worth of meals within a budget.
18. Teach youth how to use utensils, an oven and a microwave.
19. Have the youth cook a meal using a recipe and be able to adjust it to feed more or fewer people.
20. Teach the youth to prepare at least five different meals.