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Making resolutions that count for you

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calvin-resolutionIn a few short hours, we will turn the page on another calendar year.


The New Year is a common time for all of us to reflect on the past 12 months, think about things we would like to change in our lives and find ways to make the next year even better. Resolutions are shared like proclamations:

  • “I will exercise for 30 minutes a day!”
  • “I will finally lose those last 10 pounds!”
  • “I will quit smoking!”
  • “I will get a better job!”
  • “I will be less stressed!”

The most common resolutions tend to center on improved health and lifestyle. But sometimes they are too vague and sound like they could apply to anyone. How will you lose the weight? What will you do to reduce your stress? What kind of job would make you feel like you are not working, but fulfilling your life’s mission? If you cannot outline concrete actions that will help you live out your resolution, it may be that you have chosen a resolution that you think you need to embrace rather than one that you actually want to follow through on in 2014.


So this year, rather than resolving to shun sweets, run five miles a day and give up all vices at once, why not come up with some resolutions that might actually make a difference in how you look at life?

  • “I will establish a no-screen policy at dinner so my family and I can enjoy each other’s conversation.”
  • “I will say something genuinely nice to another person every day.”
  • “I will travel to one place I have never been before.”
  • “When I find myself worrying, I will remind myself of its futility.”
  • “I will take a class to learn something new.”
  • “I will go to bed earlier.”
  • “I will read at least one book a month.”
  • “I will train for a triathlon.”
  • “I will go outside on my lunch break.”
  • “I will stop talking negatively about myself.”

It does not matter so much what you resolve to do, as long as it is something that excites you, something you want to see through to the end, something that is feasible and something that improves your life or the lives of those around you. By making meaningful resolutions, it is less likely they will turn into unfulfilled promises that are forgotten by Feb. 1.


Have an innovative resolution for 2014? Share it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.


Encourage Internet safety among teenagers

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girl-computerAs the holidays wind down, odds are good your teenager may be spending more time online.


Of the five most sought-after tech gifts for teenagers this holiday season, according to, three have Internet capabilities. While it's impractical in today's fast-paced world to shield your teenagers from technology, it is a good idea to set some parameters around Internet use.


Consumer Reports recommends establishing guidelines for how and when computers, tablets and smart phones may be used. Talk to your teenagers about what they are doing online, and set boundaries about what is acceptable. The Weller Health Education Center, in Easton, Pa., offers tips for staying safe online. They include encouraging teenagers to refrain from giving out their real names or meeting anyone they talk to online in person.


As a parent, you want your kids to stay safe online. Fortunately, there is a website where teenagers can talk to their peers, get answers to nagging questions and always remain completely anonymous. www.TeenCentral.Net is designed as a safe online space, where teens can read about everything from bullying to drug and alcohol use to weight issues to dating violence. There are special sections that focus entirely on foster care, military families and religion.


All questions posted to the site receive an answer within 24 hours, and even though the teenagers remain anonymous, they do have the opportunity to interact with other teenagers under the guise of their user names. So if you know a teen, encourage him or her to log on. It is a safe way to make connections and find information online. There's even a sister site for parents -- www.ParentCentral.Net -- where you can feel like you belong too.


Of course, remember that face-to-face interaction is just as important among family and friends, so carve out some screen-free times with your kids too.

Understanding Foster Parent stress, loss and grief

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Dr. John DeGarmoBy Dr. John DeGarmo


Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being a foster parent is the moment when your foster child leaves your home. As a foster parent, your home becomes a place where children come for a period of time, with the goal of being reunited with their family in the near future. Reunification is not possible for some foster children, and the birth parents’ rights are terminated. As a result, these children become available for adoption, and some foster parents do indeed end up making their foster child a permanent addition to their family through adoption.


If reunification is not possible with the birth parents, many foster children instead are placed into a birth family member’s home. Whatever the reason might be, reunification can be a difficult time for foster parents, as the child they have come to love leaves their home. Indeed, for many foster parents, the lack of contact with a former foster child after reunification is a time of deep sadness and

When any foster child leaves your home, no matter the level of attachment, there will be emotions when it is time to say goodbye, for both you and the child. Rest assured, many foster parents do feel grief during the removal of their foster child, as the child has come to be an important and loved member of their family. After all, the removal of a foster child from a foster home is akin to a loss, and any loss can cause grieving.


Stages of Grief 

Grief can be expressed in variety of ways, as it is personal. Some will shed tears while others will hold it inside. Some will busy themselves in a task, while other will seem detached and far away. The departure of your foster child from your home can be one that is devastating to you and your family. A brief look at the stages of grief (Kubler-Ross 1969) is important in order to fully understand the feelings that may come along with the removal of your foster child from your family. These same feelings may be felt by your foster child when he is removed from his own home, and first placed in yours.



The removal of the foster child may bring feelings of shock to the foster family. After a family member has formed an emotional attachment to the family, the sudden removal may cause deep shock and uncertainty, leaving the foster family confused.



With a sudden departure, some foster parents may deny that they ever formed a relationship with their foster child, or feel any sadness towards the removal. Even though they deny these feelings, they grieve believing that they were unable to provide the help the child needed.



A foster child’s removal from a foster home may bring feelings of anger and severe disappointment with the caseworker, as well as with the child welfare agency system. Foster parents may blame the system or caseworker for the placement of their foster child into an environment they feel is not productive, or even harmful, to the child.



During this stage, foster parents may experience feelings of guilt, blaming themselves with the belief that they are at fault, and try to comprehend what they did “wrong” in the removal of the foster child. Still, other foster parents may experience guilt if they were the ones asking for the removal, as they were unable to continue caring for the child.



Some foster parents will try to substitute the grief they have with helping others in need, in an attempt to justify the loss of their foster child. Others will try to substitute the loss with the placement of another foster child in their home, hoping that this new placement will help them forget about the child that just left.



There are different components to depression brought on by grief. Some foster parents will become easily irritated; others will experience a constant state of feeling tired. Others will feel as if they can no longer continue with their day to day lives, and have a difficult time with the tasks associated with family, friends, work and marriage.



After the passage of time, the grief from the loss of the foster child decreases, allowing the foster parent to accept the removal of the child, and move on. The emotional well-being of the foster parent improves, and a sense of understanding of the child’s removal becomes clearer.


Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several books, including "The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home," and the foster care children’s book "A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story."  Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, heard each Monday at 8 p.m. EST. He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. He can be contacted at, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.  





Sanctuary in the Home: Open Communication, Growth and Change

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sanctuary-pieThis is the fifth and final post in a series on implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home.


By Denise Morganthall


Our basic needs for survival are water, food and the air that we breathe. But communication is a basic need for survival in a family.

Families that promote communication talk openly and often and express themselves clearly. They share their hopes, dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, experiences and needs. They take the time to talk and to listen, allowing them to understand other family members’ feelings too. Communication is more than just the exchange of words between family members but also encompasses facial expressions, body language, tone and posture.


When we fail to communicate, it can create chaos in the home and be detrimental to a family’s happiness. A lack of communication can cause a child to develop aggressive behaviors, as a cry for attention. It can also lead to a lack of self confidence and motivation and contribute to what many call the “generation gap.”


It is important not just to talk with each other, but to communicate in a way that all people feel safe from criticism regarding their emotions. Open communication involves speaking not shouting, addressing conflict directly and speaking kindly. In short it is saying what you mean and not being mean when you say it. Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure you are communicating in a manner consistent with Sanctuary:

  1. Am I communicating in a way that is not verbally or emotionally violent?
  2. Am I speaking honestly, but kindly?
  3. Am I truly listening, or is my mind somewhere else?
  4. Am I communicating regularly?
  5. Am I admitting my mistakes and apologizing when I need to?

Actions often speak louder than words. Smiles, hugs and just being there for your child are all part of communication. Helping a child study for a test shows you care. Spending time together doing fun activities builds strong family ties. Many families find that family meetings can improve communication because they give each family member a chance to express opinions and ideas and offer compliments or complaints.


Life brings about constant change, and families are always growing and changing along the way. Children get older and move on; adults switch jobs or retire; families move to different communities; relationships are reshaped by birth, marriage, divorce, sickness or death. Family relationships are most likely to remain healthy and strong if family members adapt to these changes and support each other through them.


A family cannot grow as a whole unless each family member has the desire to grow. Change is inevitable, but growth is optional and must come from within. It takes time, energy and motivation. It all begins with having the right attitude. When you can put a positive spin on a negative event, it helps you to realize we can all grow if we want it badly enough. But growth is not always easy. We make mistakes, get stuck and fall back on old habits. But learning from our mistakes, and letting our children learn from theirs, is how we grow.

Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and a member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.

Sanctuary in the Home: Social Responsibility and Social Learning

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sanctuary-pieThis is Part 4 in a series of posts regarding implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home.

By Denise Morganthall


The most important influence in a child’s life is his or her parents. Children will learn good and bad behavior, but it is the responsibility of the parent to be socially responsible and provide proper role modeling. The community should not have to raise your child to be socially responsible because you did not.


However there are times when schools and communities do need to band together to impart lessons of social responsibility, as a way of teaching our children to care for others. It may be by helping to feed the hungry in our community. It may be protecting the environment by recycling. It may be visiting the elderly at a nursing home. We have an obligation to one another in our community as well as in our home. If we see our brothers and sisters struggling, we have an obligation to help them in any way we can. We are not just looking out for our own personal successes but helping others with theirs. It is a great feeling knowing you can help your own brother or sister in an unselfish manner. We should not be looking to be noticed or rewarded for our good deed. We are doing it out of the kindness of our hearts, not personal success.

In order to raise a socially responsible child we need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Be a good role model – Include your child in selfless acts. Help out at a food bank or visit a nursing home.
  2. Make your child realize that material things do not matter. It is what is in our hearts that counts.
  3. Get involved in helping the environment.
  4. Encourage your child to speak the truth and be kind to others. Use the Golden Rule every day: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  5. Teach that there is a zero tolerance policy for bullying and teasing.
  6. Read a chapter or two each day from a book such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” There is a book specifically for teens, and this is a great way to motivate your children and make them realize how fortunate they really are.

In raising a socially responsible child, you are building a sense of self and purpose in your child. Healthy and proper parenting in the early years is vital for contributing to a healthy community and molding children into socially responsible adults. Keep in mind this will not happen overnight, but you will find the time it took was worth the wait.


Social learning is another piece of the puzzle. As with social responsibility, children learn through observing and imitating others, so it is important as a parent to be aware of what you are doing and saying. Research shows that aggression is a socially learned behavior. If family members act violently toward each other, there is evidence that the child will act this way. Also when your children are very young it is important that you are aware of what they are watching on TV. If young children see violent behaviors, particularly if the person is a role model, they may feel it is ok in a similarly aggressive manner.


It is important to set examples for our children to grow up to be responsible young adults, enforcing good ethics, courtesy, kindness and helpfulness. Children learn best by example, so we need to go out of our way to see that we are doing our best to teach our children that life is not just all about them but those around us. There may be times when your child is around negative influences, but it is important that we are always communicating so that when bad things happen we are there to steer them in the right direction.

Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and a member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.


Giving back to others increases self-confidence in youth

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giving backBy Caren Chaffee


The month of December is well known for being a hectic time of year, yet it is also a time when many people celebrate their own fortunes by “giving back” to others. Recently, a KidsPeace foster care program received an unexpected visitor: Another non-profit organization moved into the office space next door to KidsPeace just a week earlier, and one of their employees walked into KidsPeace to introduce herself and ask if there was a family that she could “adopt” for the holidays. Serendipitously, a biological mother had been reunited with her three children the previous week, and while the family is celebrating their success with great joy, their reality is that the holidays will present a significant financial challenge. Upon learning that her family was being adopted for the holidays, the mother wept and expressed great appreciation for the generosity a woman who is (and will likely remain) an anonymous stranger to her.


It is important to share stories of goodwill to youth to impress upon them the impact of the actions of individuals on others. While not everyone is able to offer such a generous donation as the provision of a holiday celebration for a single mother and her three children, even small acts of kindness can make a difference. Collections of non-perishable food items for food pantries, hats and mittens for homeless shelters, gently-used coats for children and socks for our military personnel have a significant cumulative impact on those who reap their benefits.


For youth in care, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. Most youth in care are often the beneficiaries of giving, rather than the donors. However, they can still be involved in making a difference in the lives of others, which can increase their own feelings of self-worth and confidence. In fact, some researchers have found that giving increases endorphins, boosts positive emotions and decreases stress. Youth can get involved in giving to others by making ornaments for nursing homes, sending letters to our service men and women, making cards for others who need cheering or organizing a group of peers to clean and decorate for the holidays. Even more simply, a smile for someone new, a helping hand for someone who needs it or a thoughtful word for someone who is having a difficult day can make a significant difference to the recipients of these basic acts of kindness.


Doing something nice for someone else feels good and almost always ends with a smile. The knowledge that an individual’s actions made someone’s day better is empowering. Spreading cheer and goodwill can transform a community and bring about a sense of belonging. Providing something positive for someone else enhances the benefactor’s dignity and reflects positively on his or her character. And knowing that he or she made a difference in the life of someone else can help a youth with a tumultuous history build relationships and begin to feel safe. One single action that does not have to cost anything but compassion and time echoes the KidsPeace Model of Care and helps improve the lives of countless individuals during the holidays and throughout the year.

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