Thursday, December 13, 2012

Free Webinar Today! Developing a Healthy Feeding Relationship (for Adoptive Families)

Part I of Dr. Katja Rowell's wonderful adoption and feeding Q&A here on my blog got a wonderful response, so I know you'll be happy to hear about a free webinar she's conducting today, Thursday, December 13th from 1-2pm EST. The webinar is sponsored by Adoptive Families Magazine. Join in by registering here.

Some more information about the webinar:
Since bringing your child home, have you encountered behaviors like hoarding, food obsession, picky eating, overeating, or everyday power struggles around the dinner table? Join Katja Rowell, M.D., aka "The Feeding Doctor," to ask questions about the challenges you've faced at meal or snack times.

Please note that the information offered in the webinar is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace careful evaluation and treatment by medical, nutritional, or mental health professionals.
Check out my review of Dr. Rowell's book. The book can be purchased here (aff).

Part II of Dr. Rowell's adoption and feeding Q&A is coming soon to Fostering Thrifty Families!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Product Review: Xlear SparX Xylitol-Sweetened Candy & Tooth Gel

Xlear and Moms Meet recently sent me a generous package of Xlear SparX xylitol-sweetened candies and kids' toothpastes. I was especially excited to have my kids try the toothpaste, as research has linked xylitol to lower rates of tooth decay. Xlear is best known for their sinus sprays for treating and preventing allergies and congestion, but I learned they actually carry a variety of products from candy to toothpaste.

The toothpaste, Kid's Spry Toothgel with Xylitol, was perfect for our toddler who loved the flavor. It's fluoride-free, which some parents prefer, especially if their child is already getting fluoridated water, fluoride treatments, or supplements that may contain fluoride. Because it's fluoride-free it is safe for use with younger children who may still be swallowing more than they're spitting.

Xlear describes its SparX candies as part of "a growing line of healthy, xylitol-based candies. Xlear SparX is sweetened naturally with xylitol, a plant-based, dentist recommended sweetener that’s been proven to improve dental health and strengthen tooth enamel." The kids I shared the candy with described it as "yummy," "crunchy", "weird tasting," "very sweet" and "cool." The best thing about these tiny, crunchable little candies is the plastic canister they come in. The kids enjoyed shaking the candies in their container and dispensing just a few candies at a time. Grown-ups who tried the candies said some of the flavors tasted "off" (including some flavors that tasted downright off-putting) but others were very tasty. Some people found the shape and texture off-putting. One person complained the candies were too small and they preferred candies to be either chewy or to be hard sucking candies rather than something in-between like this. Another parent felt that the candies being so small was an advantage, as she could dispense just two or three as an incentive or reward to the child. The kids had no complaints over the crunch of the candies. The tasters almost unanimously preferred the Citrus flavored candy pack, with the Berry pack coming in second and the Fruit flavors coming in last.

SparX are a great option for parents seeking candies for their children that are free of natural colors and flavors and are sweetened with a sugar that won't promote tooth decay. Check out Xlear's website for a full range of products.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food Hoarding & Integrating Kids' Diet Preferences - Q&A w/ Dr. Rowell on Adoption/Foster Feeding Issues- Part I

I am so grateful to Dr. Katja Rowell, MD, for not only giving two copies of her new book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More (aff) away to my readers (see this post - giveaway now closed!) but also for volunteering her time to answer my readers' questions. During the giveaway readers were given the opportunity to ask questions about adoption- and fostering-centered feeding issues and in this post Dr. Rowell (aka The Feeding Doctor) answers two of them. In a second installment, Dr. Rowell will answer a few more. You can find much more on both of the topics addressed here in the book.

This information is educational. It is not meant to replace careful evaluation and treatment by medical, nutritional or mental health professionals.

Reader Question #1 (from Gabby): Do you recommend foster parents leave food accessible, such as bowls of fruit on the counters/basket of snacks on the shelf at kids' level; or just provide healthy meals and snacks on a set schedule? In training we've heard conflicting strategies up to, and including, giving the child their own container to keep wherever they please and allowing them to "hoard sensibly" while helping them clean out the container weekly... What is your best suggestion for dealing with foster children with food issues?

The best way to lessen hoarding behaviors is to lessen anxiety about food.

Too often, the food stash is presented as the solution to hoarding and food anxiety. It seems to have been presented to you as an either/or scenario: food stash, or healthy food on a schedule? I think the answer is both, or no stash, and that it may change with time. One of my main goals is to empower you, to help you know there is no perfect solution or anything that says you have to get it “right” from day one. That’s not how parenting works. We figure it out with each of our kids…

What I am firm about is that if you offer a food stash, it is not an “out” for providing regular meals and snacks. (Note I did not say “healthy” as I believe that to learn to handle and enjoy all foods, meals and snacks need to include “healthy” and not-so-“healthy” options.) My main concern with the stash, or allowing the child to help himself to the pantry, is that it misses the opportunity to complete bonding cycles and deepen the attachment with your child. For the older child who had to be self-reliant with feeding, showing that you will take care of him is important, and feeding is a concrete way of doing so. Feeding is about trust and nurturing, whether your child is 15 months or 15 years old.

Allowing the child to help himself to food at will can also undermine self-regulation, or knowing how much to eat, which is a skill your child may need to relearn.

Here are two scenarios from my book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More:

“Consider Marcus, who did not want to let go of his biscuit. He certainly can be allowed to hang on to the biscuit for a while, and maybe even have one in a baggie in his pocket. Follow his lead. If he throws a tantrum about having it taken away, allow him to carry it with him. But the parent also has to be absolutely reliable about regularly providing food. You may need to offer food more frequently at first, perhaps every hour or so.

In a different case, three-year-old Arielle, adopted at 11 months, was on calorie restriction and was experiencing intense food anxiety and preoccupation. Mom tried to let her carry food in an attempt to address her anxiety, but Arielle gobbled it up and begged for more. In this scenario, Arielle’s actions were not the “hoarding” behaviors seen when a child first arrives from a place of food insecurity, but were actually symptoms of a feeding relationship disruption due to her food restriction (see Chapter 5). Letting her have her own stash of food to carry around didn’t work for this family in this situation.
Feeding your child directly shows your child that you will take care of her and builds trust. Completing that cycle of need and meeting her needs, over and over again, is the basis for attachment.”

A few other thoughts:
  • Offer frequent reassurances such as, “There will always be enough food.”
  • Show him the pantry during the day, perhaps even as you end a meal, “See, there is always enough food here.”
  • Plan on pleasant family meals—if you’re battling over broccoli or a therapy task, that’s not helping him feel more secure.
  • Structure is critical. If you go to the park, don’t forget to bring a balanced and filling snack.
  • Offer food every 2-4 hours depending on your child’s age. Include fat, protein and carbs.
  • Institute the Division of Responsibility. At meals and snacks, he gets to eat as much or as little as he wants from what you provide. Even if he eats a lot initially, this will reassure him.

What it boils down to is this: with reliable, pleasant, and satisfying meals and snacks, hewill learn over time that he doesn’t have to worry about when or how much he will get to eat. You get to worry or think about the food, so he doesn’t have to.

Reader Question #2 (from Ben): How do you respectfully integrate your own family's eating habits and preferences with a child's? For instance we eat a lot of vegetarian only meals, and not a lot of processed foods. How would we honor a child's past experiences while also, hopefully, demonstrating our own?

This question is so thoughtful. Rather than ask, “How can I get her to eat my way?” I think you are asking how can I help her feel honored, safe and nurtured while helping her learn to eat a variety of foods as part of our family. By using the word integrate, you sense that it will take time and is a process. How we frame these questions matters.

I recommend handling this how you might handle an entrenched selective eater. Familiar foods feel safe. Early on especially, it is best to focus on “heart needs” as one client put it, rather than worrying too much about nutrition. All too often, adoptive and foster parents find themselves so caught up in nutrition and weight worries that they push and pressure children to eat only “healthy” foods. Alas, this can lead to conflict and power struggles, and doesn’t help the child learn to eat a greater variety of foods. Often, in fact, it makes matters worse. (Particularly with older or traumatized children, or children with sensory issues.)

  • If you are fostering an older child, consider asking her what her favorite foods are. Also ask if there are foods she likes in general or if there are foods she doesn’t like “right now.” (You never know, she may have been forced to eat foods she has gagged or vomited, or held down and forced to eat.) Hopefully her list of favorite and accepted foods will include a few foods that you are comfortable serving: bread, tortillas, rice, pasta, crackers, corn, canned mandarin oranges, baked beans…
  • Provide her favorite sauce or condiment. Keep a Ketchup bottle at the table, or mustard, or hot sauce that she can use as she sees fit. She may put ketchup on everything for a while, and that’s okay. (Research shows that condiments help children branch out.)
  • If she likes crunchy foods, consider offering new foods that are also crunchy. If she tends to like more smooth textures, consider offering puddings or applesauce.
  • Offer meals and snacks every 2-3 hours for younger children, and 3-4 for older children, maybe more frequently when a child first arrives if they are food insecure.
  • Sit and eat together, whenever possible, without TV or other distractions.
  • Reassure her that there will always be enough food, and that she doesn’t have to eat anything she doesn’t want to.
  • You can consider asking her to try a new food, and see how she reacts. Some children will try it, others will rage or protest if required to take a “no thank-you bite.” Take her lead.
  • Always have at least one thing from her accepted list on the table. She needs to feel that she can come to the table and feel that her hunger will be fed.
  • Consider leaving herbs on the side for now. If you make a Curry, put the cilantro in a little bowl on the side and serve it with rice. If your child isn’t fond of spicy food, prepare foods more mild than usual, and add hot-sauce to your own at the table.
  • Perhaps serve corn bread or one of her favorite sides with your lentil dish.
  • Invite her to help you meal-plan if she is old enough. Perhaps you can say, “We’re having lentils for dinner. Would you like cornbread or rice with that?” Resist the urge to argue, pressure or fight, even if she refuses the food she chose.

When children feel anxious (adults too for that matter) or there are battles at the table, it makes it close to impossible to learn to eat. Stress can kill the appetite or make some children (food insecure or restricted) eat more, so a pleasant table is important. Try to focus not on who is eating how much of what, but on each other. Ask about whom she sat next to at lunch, or how her favorite are class is going. Talk to other family-members too.

Other ways to help children feel safe and “in control” at the table:

  • Set out paper napkins and let her know that she may politely spit out any food she doesn’t want to swallow. Children are much more likely to try a new food if they can spit it out.
  • Don’t worry about enforcing manners right away. Lead by example.
  • Serve foods family-style (so she can serve herself)

Try not to worry if all she eats is bread and milk for a little while. Make up for balance where you can. Fruit leathers or dried fruit, 100% fruit juices or nectars, smoothies at breakfast, popcorn for fiber, maybe a good chewable multivitamin. And hang in there. As sixteen year-old Yiseth said, “Think of it from the kid’s point of view. What is the kid thinking? It shouldn’t be ‘how can I get her to try this,’ but ‘how can I help my child do this at her own pace.’

Over time, and it may take a lot of time if your child has been neglected or abused around foods or if she has sensory issues, she will feel safer with these tips and will be more likely to enjoy your family’s foods.

A lovely resource that helped me “see it from the kid’s point of view” is the book Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, who describes her ten years in foster care. She explores her neglect and even abuse around food, and how at thirteen, she bristled at the nutrition lectures and pressure from her loving and concerned adoptive parents.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Congrats to the Winners of the "Love Me, Feed Me" Giveaway

Congrats to COLEN B. and GABBY C. for winning the Love Me, Feed Me giveaway! Please e-mail your mailing addresses.

 Sorry it's taken me a little while to draw the winners - We're dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Sandy (thankfully we are all well, just still out of power).

Colen and Gabby will each receive a signed copy of the book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More (aff) by Katja Rowell, M.D., aka The Feeding Doctor. You can buy yours at or order it from your local independent bookstore.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Q&A with Dr. Rowell on this blog.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Adoption Book Giveaway: "Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More" by Katja Rowell, MD

I was eager to receive the copy I ordered of Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More (aff) by Katja Rowell, M.D., when it was finally released last month. I've been following feeding specialist Dr. Rowell's blog and tweets for a while, and have found her approach to the parent-child feeding relationship so sane that it almost seems insane. I knew I'd like the book but I didn't know I would literally read it cover-to-cover (all 354 pages!) in 24 hours. And I certainly didn't know it would seriously challenge me to think about what my actions and words are teaching my children about food and eating and weight.

Parents I know who have children adopted from foster care and orphanages deal are parenting kids with food/feeding issues such as:
  • Slow growth / failure to thrive, sometimes leading to feeding tube placement
  • Difficulty transitioning from formula to solid food
  • Picky/selective eating
  • Sensory issues including texture aversions
  • Malnutrition
  • Underweight and overweight
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Anemia
  • Food hoarding
  • Meltdowns at meal time and other difficult behaviors
  • Bingeing
  • Control issues regarding food
  • Oral motor and other physical feeding challenges
This book deals with all of these issues, and more. It focuses on trusting children's ability to learn to self-regulate around food and rejecting the common approaches of coercion, game-playing, force-feeding, guilt trips, pressure and bribery that many of us use to get our children to eat more of what we consider healthy foods. Dr. Rowell's book really turns everything you think you know about feeding picky, overweight, underweight, vegetable-hating, malnourished or even totally average children on its head. It forces you to rethink your own relationship to food and all your beliefs about whether or not children can be trusted to choose what foods they wish to eat and still get their nutritional needs met. It may even go against advice given to you by your dietitian, doctor or speech therapist. But, as many adoptive and non-adoptive parents can attest, it is a proven method that works for so many families. Dr. Rowell has seen this non-coercive, low-pressure, shame-free approach to eating help even children with severe feeding issues thrive and learn to be "competent eaters."

Love Me, Feed Me reflects the authors' familiarity with the issues of foster and adopted childrens from backgrounds of abuse, neglect or institutionalization. She goes over adoption-specific issues such as the cultural differences in feeding practices that may challenge your internationally adopted child when they arrive in your home, the transition diet to help a child get accustomed to a very different diet in your home than what they experienced in a foster home or orphanage, dealing with malnutrition, food hoarding, and more.

You will learn from this book how dysfunctional and emotionally fraught many adults' relationship with food is, and how we pass this on to our children unintentionally... especially if they are "picky eaters" or are "overweight". However, the book spends a lot of time showing us how to break this cycle and get out of thinking of foods as "good" or "bad" in favor of a balanced and healthy relationship with our bodies (at any size) and with foods. It's a book about the feeding relationship between parent and child, a relationship which is an important part of attachment for an adopted child.

What's that you say? You want me to cut the chase and get to the giveaway? Fine, then. Here you are: Dr. Rowell has generously offered two autographed copies of the book to give to my readers! There are a number of ways to enter below.

Whether or not you're entering the giveaway, please be sure to leave a comment with your adoption- and foster-related feeding and food related questions for Dr. Rowell to answer in the upcoming Q&A she's generously offered to do here at Fostering Thrifty Families.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: This giveaway is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

BPA-Free Childrens' Divided Plates & Food Storage - Limited Time Offer

Boy oh boy do I love these Kinderville products! Zulily is currently having a (limited time) flash sale on Kinderville BPA-free divided plates, food storage, bibs, cups and more. The products start at $5.99. According to the website, "Kinderville was founded by parents who had difficulty finding toxin-free ways to serve and store their daughter's food. Now that they've done all the hard work, every family can enjoy these products knowing that they're free of BPA, phthalates, and lead. All are safe to use in the dishwasher, freezer and microwave as well. Kinderville products are made of high-grade silicone, which is a safe, durable and pliable rubber-like material. It's great for food storage because it's hygienic, hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria. Plus it doesn't contain any toxic chemicals, nor does it react with food or beverages. You'll also love how easy it is to clean. From plates to jars and ice-treat molds, Kinderville helps families stock kitchens with everything little ones need (or simply want!) to make snack time safe, colorful and simple."

You can order (or join the members-only Zulily site, free of charge) here (aff), for a limited time only. Check out the rest of the sales, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Important Update on Efforts to Save the Adoption Tax Credit

Here's some news on a significant issue that's close to the hearts of both foster-adoptive parents and parents who are adopting domestically or internationally, as well as all of us who hope to adopt in the next few years. You may have heard about the fact that the Adoption Tax Credit expires at the end of 2012, meaning that if no new bill is passed people who adopt in the future will receive no tax credit. Although the new bills to extend the tax credit beyond 2012 (HR 4373 and S 3616) now have a list of sponsors, there have been rumors and concerns circulating regarding whether these bills will be sacrificed for political reasons as election day approaches.

An online campaign called Save the Adoption Tax Credit issued the following statement today in response to these concerns:

Many of you have been asking about what will happen with HR 4373 and S 3616 now that Congress is out of session. We expect that Congress will consider extending and enhancing the adoption tax credit as part of broader tax reform negotiations that take place after the November election. It is unlikely that there will be votes on these individual bills. It is still very important for you to ask your Representative to co-sponsor HR 4373 and both your Senators to co-sponsor S 3616. The more support these bills have—meaning the more members of Congress hear from their constituents and understand the importance of extending the adoption tax credit and making it refundable—the better chance that a refundable adoption tax credit will be included in the final tax package agreed upon by Congress. For more information about the adoption credit and the legislative process, see

What's most important right now is that you voice your support for this bill with your own Representatives and Senators. If they are not already sponsoring these bills, please ask that they do.

You can track the progress of HR 4373 here (and click on "Take a Position" to contact your Representatives).

You can track the progress of S 3616 here (and click on "Take a Position" to contact your Senators.)

Don't be discouraged that the GovTrack site shows a low chance of these bills passing - If enough support is shown, these bills may be incorporated into a larger tax package. What's important right now is not that these individual bills pass but that the tax credit is included in some type of legislation that passes in Congress. E-mailing and calling your elected officials on these specific bills is the best way to show them how important this issue is to Americans who may not be able to afford to adopt without this tax credit.

Please make sure to mention the following key points:
  • The credit should be refundable so that low and middle income Americans can benefit from it, not just wealthier families with more tax liability who can use the non-refundable credit. The tax credit should be focused on supporting adoption by working and middle class Americans who most need the financial help to make adoption a reality.
  • The credit should be permanent, and made part of the tax code rather than being at the whim of politicians.
More "talking points" can be found on the Save the Adoption Tax Credit site. Consider "liking" their page on Facebook.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story: Rita's Family

This post is part of our new guest blogger series, "Our Foster Adoption Financial Story." As new posts are added to this series you will be able to find links to them at the bottom of this post.


We became foster parents in September 2009.  At the time I was a nanny and I was able to bring our foster son (16 months at the time) with me to work.  However, he had a lot of issues as foster kids tend to.  In particular, he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and an attachment disorder and many developmental delays.  By the end of that spring, I was asked not to bring our son to work anymore.

We felt that our son would not do well in day care since it was important to build attachment with him, so I chose to stay home with him.  It was actually the best decision for him and once we began staying home and cut back on his plethora of visitations and appointments and let him "just be a kid," much of his aggression was gone.  I left work and became a "therapist/doctor mom" trying to help my child heal.

However, living on one income in the pricy D.C. area is not easy.  We cut back on everything we could and did what we could but we still are facing foreclosure.  Our only hope right now is to find a job in a different part of the country where housing is cheaper or move into the basement of my parents home.

Regrets? No. To help our son, I would stay home all over again for him.  He needed me.  We are now thinking he may need to be homeschooled, too.  Currently we have a special ed preschool that is funded by MA that we are hoping will help him (he is still socially/emotionally delayed).  That gives me 3 hours a day to so something to make money... but what can I do?  I've also thought of doing afterschool baby sitting, but we're not sure if our son can handle that either.  It's a tricky situation due to his needs.

My husband and I suffered infertility and 3 failed IVF's and chose to foster-to-adopt since we thought we could help more kids this way... Ironically, our son is the only one we have fostered so far.  I was a teacher for almost 10 years prior to that and have a Master's degree in education. You would think I could find SOME kind of job, but it's tricky with a child who is special needs and requires me to be there 24/7, and it's not like we can afford a baby sitter anyway.

This is also putting a huge strain on our marriage... we have been married for 17 years this summer but 14 of those years were child-free.  Suddenly we had a 16 month old child who is pretty much feral and needs me to be with him 24/7 so he can get the help kids with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) so badly need in attaching to a caregiver so they can function in life! Seriously, this kid never slept through the night or alone until about 4 months ago (at the age of four).  Even now, we are up/down with him or need to crawl in bed with him most nights.  I tried to do so much of it on my own that I got burnt out and any chance that my husband could get a second job went out the window because I needed a break!  It is very, very difficult to be alone all day with a child who has PTSD, attachment issues and developmental delays.  It can be even harder to go out in public!  For a long time the grocery store had to be a planned event or I would go in the middle of the night when my husband came home.  There were too many people and too many noises and things to look at for our son and he would freak out.

Before our son, before fostering, we were just average Joes who went to the beach every summer and had cook outs on the deck.  I worked, my husband worked.  We had friends and family and belonged to a church (my son can't handle church either).  When you get kicked out of Sunday School so many times, and preschool as well... you know you have to stay home with your child.

Our son is now four and things are a bit better, although we still have to follow a very structured schedule or he's thrown for a loop and the behaviors come out.  However, the financial damage is done.  Will it ruin  us? No.  But it sure did set us back a few pegs, and we don't feel like we can share our financial situation with friends and family.  All that said, for us it was well worth the financial setbacks in order to see our son's progress and know in our hearts we did what was best for him, even if that meant to sacrifice a few things.  He deserved it!

Bio: Rita lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and 4 year old son who was adopted through foster care. Her husband works at a radio station. Rita has a Master's degree in education but is currently a stay-at-home mom to her special needs son.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story: Sofia's Family

This post is part of our new guest blogger series, "Our Foster Adoption Financial Story." As new posts are added to this series you will be able to find links to them at the bottom of this post.


In February three frightened little kids arrived on my doorstep. In the past four months I’ve watched them blossom into happy, healthy kids, but it has been a bumpy road getting here. I would like to say that my experience with Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has been a good one, but largely it has been difficult and messy.

As a family friend I was able to take custody of the children almost immediately based on a presumption of eligibility. In other words, as long as I could pass a background check and demonstrate that I had enough room in my home, DYFS would let the kids move in right away and I would go through the training and the home study process after they were already in my care. While this is a great thing for the kids, the newly minted foster parent finds themselves suddenly expected to function as part of a system they know nothing about yet.

Here are some examples of things I wish I’d known sooner:
  • The monthly stipend a foster parent receives doesn’t kick-in until month #2 (as in, after I had already spent my entire monthly budget buying a crib, car seats, clothes, toys, diapers and daycare).
  • DYFS has handbooks and tons of pamphlets, publications and training materials– I only wish they wouldn’t have waited until PRIDE trainings* (three months after the kids arrived) to give them to me!
If I could give advice to another kinship foster caregiver as they embark on their journey it would be this:
  • Ask if you can get the handbook and training materials used in PRIDE as soon as you get the kids, if not sooner.
  • Be prepared for lots of conflicting emotions and have a plan in place for dealing with them. As family or friends, we often have lots of complicated feelings to work through about what has happened that regular foster parents don’t have to deal with, everything from anger, to grief to resentment, all of which can affect not only our mental health and our family relationships, but our parenting as well.
  • Network with other foster parents as soon as possible, they will be an invaluable source of advice and moral support.
  • Ask lots of questions about what your expenses are covered, how the stipend is calculated and what other financial assistance might be available, either through your agency or other county resources.

If you are a single-parent, like me, and funds are always tight, try the following:
  • Get a chest freezer, either full or half sized for your basement, or quarter sized for your kitchen. I bought mine new, but you can look for used on Craigslist or Freecycle.
  • Shop and cook in bulk for said freezer. I take one Saturday a month to make a couple batches of pizza dough, meatballs, chicken cutlets and casseroles to freeze.
  • Cooking ahead buys me precious down time on those busy weeknights when I’m too tired to cook without having to blow extra money on takeout. I even freeze half gallon cartons of milk so I’m never stuck having to get three kids into the car for an unexpected run to the corner store.
  • Keep a running grocery list hanging on the side of the fridge, then do one huge shop each month, preferably online. Shopping online really helps me stick to my list, save time and avoid impulse spending. I consider the $20 fee to have it delivered to my home to be money well spent.
The future outcome for my kids and their parents continues to be a defined by a question mark, so for now, we are all just taking things day-by-day. During the difficult moments I take comfort in knowing that my kids are with me, somebody they have known their whole lives, and that being here has helped them to feel as safe and secure as they possibly can during this difficult time in their young lives.

Bio: Sofia is a Central NJ single mom, writer, and graphic designer happy to be cruising through life in an 18 year old Honda. 

*Note: Many states use the PRIDE curriculum for training, while others use MAPP or other curricula.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Survey for Foster Parents of Adolescents

The National Foster Parent Association is doing an important study on fostering adolescents. They have found a real lack of existing research on the experiences of foster parents of teens, especially as it relates to mental health and substance abuse. This study, conducted by an independent research firm, aims at collecting information about this demographic. If you've fostered non-relative children ages 12-18, now or in the past, please click here for information about the survey. You will be paid $35 for your time if you qualify.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story": Jerri's Family

This post is part of our new guest blogger series, "Our Foster Adoption Financial Story." As new posts are added to this series you will be able to find links to them at the bottom of this post.


My name is Jerri, I am 45 yrs old and a stay at home mom. My husband and I have fostered numerous children, have had 3 failed adoptions, 2 successful adoptions and are in the middle of adopting a little boy with special needs from out of state.

My husband is 56 yrs old and is a Quality Assurance/Safety Manager of a small local business with an annual income of $40,000, I use to do interior design and make approximately $45,000 a year but since adopting our children I have been out of the work force for the past 10yrs. We are very fortunate that I have been able to do this but only because of our children's adoption subsidy.

Our children need 24/7 supervision, they will never be able to care for themselves financially and will always be dependent on someone else to care for them in life. My son is 17 yrs old has down syndrome and some minor health concerns, he receives a monthly SSI check that ranges from $321.00-$721.00 a month depending on what my husband makes in a week. My daughter is 7 yrs old and is Autistic and has fetal Alcohol syndrome, her monthly adoption subsidy ranges between $1700 and $1800 a month.

On average I spend 20+ hrs a week taking the children to music therapy, play therapy, occupational therapy, nutritionist and school meetings. That does not include at least 2 doctor appointments a month. This month alone my son was out of school for 2 weeks with asthma complications. If I had to have respite while I was at work it would have cost me $18 an hour. On top of that we would be struggling with severe behaviors because my son suffers from PTSD and the stress of his daily routine being different triggers his behaviors.

Over the years that we have been working with the system, there have been times that we have struggled financially. It is not always easy. Plus, when adopting a child in care that is not living with you all expenses are at your own risk. The little boy that we are in the middle of adopting at this point is still in a foster home in his state and so far in the past 6 months we have spent $3300 in travel expenses, extra food, diapers and clothing. If the adoption goes through we will be reimbursed $1200, if not we will have not only had our hearts broken once again but will be out quite a chunk from our annual income. 

Introducing the "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" Guest Blogger Series

I'm excited to begin a new series of blog posts today. The "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" series will be a set of guest posts by foster parents and adoptive parents discussing the financial impact of adoption, foster care and special needs parenting on their lives and how they've made it work (or haven't). It is my hope that these stories will help people considering foster care or adoption be better prepared for what the future may hold, and help those of us who are already fostering or adopting get support and ideas and maybe even inspiration.

There is so much stigma in our culture about talking openly about finances. This stigma around talking openly about money is even more intense for foster parents (who are routinely perceived socially as "doing it for the money" despite the fact that we often lose money and careers due to fostering). Adoptive parents also face stigma, such as the perception that privately adoptive families are wealthy or that people who do subsidized adoptions of children through the state do so only because they want the money or cannot afford private adoption.

People of all economic backgrounds become foster and adoptive parents, and for most of us who aren't wealthy it has impacted financial and career choices. Saving for adoption costs...  proving you make enough money to be approved as a foster family... discovering that your child's past trauma and attachment issues require services not covered by insurance... losing your ability to hold down a job because of the higher-than-anticipated needs of an adopted child with behavioral, emotional or medical issues... You are not alone if foster care and adoption have impacted your family financially in challenging ways, so let's talk about it! Tell us what has been difficult, what has been successful, how you've made things work. 

I am looking for more families to share their story of adoption or foster care from a financial/career perspective. If you are interested please e-mail me. Let me know what name you'd like to use (you can use your real name or a pseudonym) and if you'd like me to link to your blog, and be sure to include a brief bio or mention in your piece the ages of everyone in your family, your professional/educational background and what state or region you are from. Your piece can be an autobiography, a rant, an essay, a poem, a proposal for policy changes. Include a photograph or drawing that represents your family if you can.

Posts in the "Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story" series:
As posts are added, they will be listed above.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Free Therapy for Foster Children

Because we are lucky enough to live in an area where there are several decent mental health clinics who accept Medicaid and because one of us has extensive professional experience in navigating the local mental health system, we have not had too much trouble getting access to therapists for foster children. However, while we have experienced some wonderful clinicians, we have also experienced clinicians who were not at all skilled in helping children with the kind of issues ours face. We have also seen one child never have a consistent therapist but instead be bounced around from clinician to clinician.

Still, we have been lucky. I was shocked when I first heard about foster parents who had terrible trouble trying to get their foster kids into therapy. Barriers I've heard about include agencies that require all therapy be approved by the caseworker or foster care agency instead of allowing foster parents to make direct referrals, caseworkers with no mental health training who don't believe a child needs therapy, managed care organizations that limit a child's access to appropriate emotional and psychiatric care, and living in areas where few therapists or psychiatrists take Medicaid or those who do have little or no experience working with foster youth. Foster parents who are experienced at navigating the mental health and Medicaid systems sometimes struggle to access therapy for their kids  - Foster parents who are less educated or experienced in this area are up against even bigger barriers.

Foster children are all survivors of trauma, first the trauma of abuse and/or neglect and/or the death of parents... and then the trauma of the foster care system itself. Even amazing foster parents cannot fully insulate foster children from the way the system re-traumatizes them. I believe all foster children should have therapeutic services available to them if and when they need them. In addition, it is outrageous to me that foster children usually get the least skilled therapists. Because their medical and therapeutic needs are usually covered by medicaid, foster children typically get therapy through community mental health clinics that employ green, fresh-out-of-school therapists who not only have little experience with the complex trauma our children have lived through but also are unlikely to stay in their positions for very long since public mental health clinic jobs are underpaid and are understandably used as stepping stones to better jobs for many newly minted social workers. I have seen how disruptive and painful it can be to a foster child to have to switch therapists multiple times, but it seems unavoidable.

Ryann Blackshere from Fostering Media Connections discusses one amazing organization that is addressing these problems in a new article for the Huffington Post. In her piece, Free Therapy for Foster Youth: An Organization You Need To Know This Foster Care Month, she shares one family's story:

At school [Kayla, age 6] had been acting out on her anger and frustration over her life's instability. She bounced around family members' homes before being adopted.
Her adoptive mother, Donna Stapleton, who had cared for Kayla, her twin sister and younger brother while they were in foster care, was worried. After receiving many reports from the school about her daughter hitting other children and stealing items from the classroom, Stapleton thought the best assistance for her daughter would be therapy. She just didn't know exactly where to look for resources within the child welfare system, and how to pay for not only Kayla, but her other two children, to begin to work through much of the trauma they had experienced growing up.
"There is no list for anything," said Stapleton "You have to be proactive and find things out. The system isn't set up to help you find resources."
A social worker assigned to her children's school told her about A Home Within, a non-profit organization that matches any child who has been in foster care with a volunteer therapist, for as long as the child needs, at no cost.

A Home Within is a network of therapists who volunteer to take on at least one foster (or emancipated) child as a client and to remain as their therapist for as long as they need. That's right - They get no pay for this and they make a commitment no therapist at a community mental health agency has yet been able to make to our children, that barring any moves or unforeseen turn of circumstances, they will remain a consistent presence in the child's life for as long as the child needs their services. This promise of consistency is revolutionary in the world of foster care. In addition, based on a quick glance at some of the therapists listed, many of them are experienced, veteran therapists with their own private practices. They have therapists in 25 states and are continuing to grow.

Blackshere writes about the impact of this program:

Pamela Braswell, a therapist who has volunteered with A Home Within since 1998, has heard from youth she has worked with how that consistent relationship makes a difference. One of her clients, a child with whom she had worked since he was nine years old, expressed to her when he was 21 how their relationship made her different from every other adult in his life.
"Not until later could he say, 'Wow, you really know my history. No one else does,'" Braswell recalls.

If you're a therapist who would like to volunteer to be part of this network of providers, click here for more information. To find a therapist for your foster child, click on this page.

In honor of Foster Care Month, a grateful shout-out to all the therapists out there who are helping our children learn to heal. Yes, especially those "green" therapists I expressed my frustration about above, who are recently out of school and are thrown into underpaid and often-frustrating jobs doing really important work: Helping kids with tons of trauma and inherently unstable lives learn how to feel safe and cope constructively with their fear and pain. Thank you for caring.

Limited Time Deal: Crawl-Through Caterpillar Tunnel with Carry Case

Both my preteen and my toddler love crawl-through tunnels, play tents, and the like. They are great for a sense of containment for my kid who has sensory integration issues (as so many foster children do), and for my toddler as well. They are a quiet escape when they need to reduce their sensory input, but also help in developing gross motor skills and can be used as part of active sensory-stimulating play. Best of all, they're just plain fun! This one is just $19.99 (marked down from $50.00) on Zulily right now. There are equally inexpensive play tents, such as a pirate-themed one, that also look fun. Deals on this site are temporary, so grab them before they're gone if you are interested. If you're not already a member, Zulily is free to join and is a daily deal site for high quality childrens' toys and clothing as well as household items and women's clothing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More on Savings Funds for Foster Kids

I am a longtime fan of the foster-adoption blog Rancho Chico, written by "Dia por Dia," so I was tickled when she left a comment on my post "College Savings and Other Savings Funds for Foster Kids?" I wanted to make sure everyone sees her comment, because it has some good ideas that might help someone out there who's struggling with the question of how/if to save for children who may not be with you forever.

I know I am a little late on this one but here's what I did. I no longer foster since I have adopted 3 of my former foster children. When I fostered "older" kids, I had a system for how I used their monthly stipend which in our state came in 2 installments. The first installment I used for their essentials (clothing, shoes, supplies, etc.) that I didn't automatically cover with my own income (and created a system for anticipating upcoming expenses--field trips, school tshirt, soccer cleats, summer swimsuits, etc.) The second installment would sometimes need to be used for some of these too depending on time of year but whatever was left over I put into a bank account for them. Sometimes it was $10 other times close to $100. When they [left?] I kept the account as long as I could keep track of them and eventually got the money to them as they got older. In one case it covered a child's senior class trip (she was in care with a relative). In another case, there was enough to cover one of my foster daughter's first year expenses at college. I think it is hard to do this for younger children because some expenses are higher (diapers, formula, etc.) so I haven't "squirreled" away as much for those children.
 Thanks for sharing your experience, Dia por Dia! Right now we have started ING kids' savings accounts for our boys but have not yet started putting much in them. I would like to start scheduling automatic transfers of at least $15 a month into each of them, and then hopefully increasing as our financial stability increases. I know that's such a tiny amount but it's important to me that we get out of debt before we start putting a lot of money into savings. I am confident within a few years we'll be able to significantly increase our savings for them, and we'll also by then have hopefully adopted. Since our older foster son has special needs that make it not crystal clear that he will be college-bound, I want to make sure however I save the money for him it can be used for college or for vocational education or to cover living expenses while he does an apprenticeship or something like that. So I'm going to look into what options exist that allow the money to be available even if he ends up not choosing college.

Monday, April 30, 2012

FREE Tele-Seminar on Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) For "Trauma Mamas"

You know you're a "trauma mama" when you're just desperate enough to suspend your skepticism and try new therapies that before parenting traumatized children you would have considered too "out there" to give a second thought to. One of the things that falls into that category for me is tapping, also known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I have always been skeptical of trying new therapies that aren't heavily evidence-based, however the stresses of parenting and trying to help heal children with an alphabet soup of diagnoses (ADHD, bipolar, ODD, attachment disorder, FASD, etc) leads a lot of adoptive and foster parents to open their minds to trying alternative treatments.

This week I'm going to stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone to participate in a FREE tele-seminar by EFT guru Brad Yates that's specifically for "Super Moms" - Otherwise known as you and I. Another "trauma mama" blogger convinced Brad Yates to do this free EFT phone-in seminar for parents like us whose kids have experienced abuse and neglect (or even "just" the trauma of being adopted at birth which is, yes, a trauma in and of itself). Dads and moms of kids with special needs are welcome.

Emotional Freedom Technique, or "tapping," has no negative side effects. It's incredibly safe and gentle, because it only involves tapping gently on acupressure points while stating affirmations. It's really almost that simple. So, at worst, it won't help. At best, it can be transformative. At Parenting in SPACE I heard many families talking about the wonderful help its given them as parents and also the gifts it's given their challenging children. EFT is believed to reduce the emotional impact of stressful incidents, so it's especially appropriate for parents who are living in chaotic households due to their childrens' special needs, or to children or adults who've experienced any kind of trauma.

Brad Yates is the author of several books including The Wizard's Wish: Or, How He Made the Yuckies Go Away - A Story About the Magic in You. This book is a story for children about using EFT to reduce stress and negative emotions.

If you'd like to read about how "tapping" or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) has helped other foster and adoptive families (including skeptical ones), check out Christine Moers' post My Crush on Brad Yates and Lindsay's post Snake Oil, Kitty Litter in Capsules, and Such Witchery.

Click here for information on calling in for this free session. I'll be there!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

College Savings & Other Savings Funds for Foster Kids?

How many of you who are foster parents have opened savings accounts for your foster children for their future, whether for college, vocational training, or ongoing care needs?

What kind of account, and how much do you put into it?

What will you do if your child is reunified to help them with the college / other future expenses, if anything?

If you save for your foster kids, why? If you don't, why not?

If your child is unlikely to ever end up in a college setting due to disabilities, what ways do you help prepare for their future?

I would love to hear how other foster and pre-adoptive parents have dealt with the question of saving money for the future of children who are not (yet) legally ours. No judgment here, just true curiosity about how other foster families approach this issue.

FREE Webinar on Adoption Assistance Advocacy

Don't miss this webinar on adoption assistance advocacy from the National Council on Adoptable Children.  Don't miss this seminar if you have questions about how adoptive parents, foster parents, and anyone who is an advocate for children can help push legislators to maintain tax credits, subsidies and other support for families that adopt. I know I'm not the only one who's wondered what can be done to extend the refundable adoption tax credit, or whether subsidies for special needs adoptions will be reduced as the economy continues to falter.

Adoption Assistance Advocacy
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
2:30 p.m. CST

With state and provincial budgets continuing to be tight, adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and other child advocates will need to be vigilant in case legislators seek to balance budgets by reducing adoption assistance benefits. In this session, Adoption Subsidy Resource Center project coordinator Josh Kroll will explore advocacy strategies to maintain and enhance adoption subsidy programs.

Register here for Adoption Assistance Advocacy webinar.

DIY Waldorf Dolls - Make Your Own Multicultural Baby Dolls

I have to apologize for the hiatus from the blog. Things have been challenging, with multiple family crises / transitions, so blogging was low on the list of priorities. But I'm back, and can't wait to share some ideas, questions, steals and deals with you all.

Photo from
Today I came across this instructional post on how to make your own Waldorf dolls on the Living Crafts Blog. For the crafty among us, what a great way to make a soft, durable, lovable baby doll that can be made to reflect any child's skin tone and hair color. Waldorf dolls have minimal facial features and are often quite gender neutral in appearance. Because they are not hyper-realistic they are beloved for the way they inspire a child's own imagination. They are so much more huggable and squeezable than plastic dolls, and more eco-friendly. I grew up with Waldorf dolls of my own which have held up over time. You can make a baby doll with short hair or try using yarn to create braids or ponytails. Check it out. For a limited time you can download the pattern for free (click on the link for the PDF).