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April 25th

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Stories

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: The Effects of Childhood Trauma

Children who come into our care here at Upbring have often experienced significant trauma due to abuse and neglect. While there is no universal way trauma affects a child or presents its symptoms, it’s not to be discredited or ignored. As we continue to recognize April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’ve asked Upbring Family Services Clinical Director, Frank Lopez to share his expertise on how to spot signs of trauma in children and how to provide the best support and care needed.

 

Is there a standard system or method to assess the effects of traumatic experiences during childhood?

Children coming into care have a CANS Assessment completed within 30 days. This assessment is completed by a qualified assessor or clinician and provides recommended treatment based on the responses given. This assessment serves as the standard system for children in foster care. Additionally, each child who receives behavioral health services may have more specific assessments completed by a mental health clinician. A comprehensive list of several additional instruments that assess for trauma can be found here.

 

Is it common for a child to experience more than one type of traumatic experience? And if yes, how are these experiences measured by trauma experts?

Yes, and multiple traumatic events are known as Complex Trauma. Complex Trauma can impact an individual in various ways that interfere with forming attachments, physical ailments and emotional responses to common situations. The ACE Study, developed by the CDC & Kaiser Permanente, includes the use of an adverse childhood experience questionnaire (ACE).  An ACE score is a point value score used to measure Adverse Childhood Experiences that include abuse, neglect and family challenges. The higher the score, the higher the probability of health and social-related problems as an adult.

 

What are the types of trauma measured in the ACE study?

The questions are tied to abuse, neglect, mental health, violence and criminal behavior. We can infer that traumatic events happen when the areas above are part of those experiences. Information about the ACE study can be found here.

 

What is considered a high ACE score?

The study indicates that those with a score of 4 or higher are at a higher risk of health-related problems as an adult such as obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, mental health concerns and engaging in high-risk behaviors such as using illicit drugs.

 

What are some of the effects a high ACE score can have on children?

The effects impact social, emotional and cognitive impairment as a child, which can result in engaging in high-risk behaviors and possibly an early death as an adult.  While this does not mean that every child with a high ACE score will engage in destructive behaviors or experience health issues later in life, success rates are higher when intervention occurs.

 

What resources are available for foster parents who care for children who have a high ACE score?

There are many trainings available to help caregivers understand how a high ACE score impacts all areas of one’s life. Upbring foster parents receive eight hours of Trauma Informed Care (TIC) training before caring for children. Additionally, foster parents are required to attend two hours of annual training in TIC. There are many treatment models for specific concerns such as substance abuse, health-related concerns, mental health diagnosis, etc. Children receiving behavioral health services can seek support/resources from a licensed mental health clinician to help manage symptoms of trauma. A list of additional resources can be found on our website.

 

What factors in a child’s life increase resilience?

Protective factors such as safety, nurturing, meeting basic needs and access to health care all increase resilience in children. These protective factors allow the child to form secure attachments which help meet developmental milestones, socialization skills, good decision-making and overall improve the quality of life. With training, foster parents can provide these protective factors to children under their care.

 

While trauma can have a significant impact on a child’s well-being, it doesn’t have to dictate the rest of his or her life. Intervention and trauma-informed care provide a chance for a child to heal from the wounds of his or her past and move toward a brighter future. For resources and information on child abuse awareness and prevention, visit https://www.upbring.org/research/resources/.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frank Lopez currently serves as the Family Services Clinical Director for Upbring. He has held several positions within the organization over the last several years. In his current role, he is responsible for the clinical, training and adoption programs of the foster care and adoption division of the organization. Frank is involved in identifying research-based interventions essential for children and families, leading family-team meetings, support groups and staff development. Additionally, he serves as a member of the child’s service plan team.

 

He is a social work practitioner in the areas of child welfare, mental health and higher education who graduated with a Master of Social Work degree from the Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. He holds licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Child-Placing Agency Administrator and Certified Anger Resolution Therapist.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: Know the Signs

Thousands of children suffer silently from abuse and neglect every day. Imagine your home not being a place of comfort but instead, a place where you are frequently harmed, screamed at, anxious or fear for your life. Realizing that a child is suffering and reporting it to the proper authorities can make a significant impact on his or her life. Sometimes, it can even save a child’s life. However, you won’t be able to speak up for those who can’t if you don’t know the signs that suggest abuse is happening. While there are many different types of abuse and neglect, we’re sharing the signs of the five most common:

 

1. Neglect

Neglect is when a parent or guardian fails to take care of their child’s basic needs. Basic needs are those that the child needs for survival; for example, food, clothing, medical care, shelter and education. Some signs of neglect are easy to spot, while others may be a little harder. If the child is frequently seen in dirty clothes or wears clothes that are not seasonally appropriate such as sporting shorts and a t-shirt in 30-degree weather, has strong body odor or appears to be malnourished, they may be experiencing neglect.

 

2. Abandonment

Neglect and abandonment often go hand in hand. Some states do not list abandonment as a type of abuse or neglect, but in the state of Texas, it is recognized as such. Abandonment is when a child is left to fend for them-self without knowing where their parent is or whether or not the parent is returning. A situation is also considered abandonment if the child is seriously harmed while the parent or guardian is away. Take note if a child has had many absences from school, or if you spot a child stealing food from a store or restaurant. Make sure to listen carefully to the child. Sometimes they will tell you that they have been abandoned by mentioning that no one is home to take care of them.

 

3. Physical Abuse

This form of abuse can be easier to notice but it is tricky to confirm. Common signs of physical abuse are bruises, cuts or other physical injuries that the parent or child can’t explain; the child may frequently seem scared or cower in the presence of adults. The child may even try to tell you that they are being harmed. Watch the child’s reaction when it’s time for them to go home. Are they excited and ready to go, or do they cry and beg you not to make them go home? A child’s reluctance to go home may be their plea for help and safety.

 

4. Emotional Abuse

Also commonly referred to as psychological abuse, emotional abuse is the hardest form of abuse to identify and is even more difficult to prove. A child may be suffering from emotional abuse, or damage to their self-worth or emotional development, if they exhibit overly aggressive or passive behavior, if they are developmentally delayed, or if they act in a manner that doesn’t match their age – ex) adult-like or infant-like. An example of adult-like behavior could be taking on a parenting role toward younger children in the family. Infant-like behavior could be banging his or her head against the wall. Remember that all forms of abuse are not independent of one another. While emotional abuse can be difficult to identify, it often occurs in addition to some of the more identifiable forms of abuse.

 

5. Sexual Abuse

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines sexual abuse as “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

If you are concerned that a child is being sexually abused, listen carefully to see if the child talks about sex or seems to know things about sex they shouldn’t know at their age. A child may be a victim of sexual abuse if they wet the bed, have nightmares, frequently run away, have difficulty sitting or walking or display a lack of desire to change clothes for physical activity at school. A drastic change in appetite can also be a sign of sexual abuse.

 

Armed with this knowledge, you play an important role in protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Keep in mind that if a child exhibits one of these symptoms on its own, that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is being abused or neglected. What appears to be a symptom of passive behavior could just be a personality trait, or what looks like an unexplainable bruise could just be a minor playground injury that they don’t remember receiving. Use your best judgment and make sure you’re trained in the signs so that you feel confident in your decision.

 

You don’t need to be a family member or close friend to report a situation of suspected abuse or neglect. If you suspect that a child is experiencing abuse or neglect, report it online to the Texas Abuse Hotline or call toll-free 24/7 at 1-800-252-5400.

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Foster Friday: Building Bridges Between Foster and Biological Parents

Editor’s Note: Today on Foster Friday, we are honored to share a true story from a friend of Upbring, Jami Amerine. Jami is a loving mother and a passionate advocate for foster care and adoption. With years of experience under her belt, she lends support and advice to those interested in becoming foster parents. The following story is told by Jami in her own words and from her personal experience with foster care.

 

As I sat in the waiting room of the local Child Protection Services office, the little girl lying in my lap never stirred. I watched her sleep and wondered if her mother, now three minutes late to the visit, was as heartbroken.

 

She was.

 

Moments later, the mother bolted through the door with her caseworker walking closely behind her. She dropped to her knees in front of me and snatched the sleeping child from my arms. She buried her face in the child’s curls, rocked her back and forth and sobbed.

 

She looked at me with fury.

 

“Don’t you dare cut her hair!”

 

“I wouldn’t,” I promised. “I would never do that.”

 

She barked, “Is she eating?”

 

“Yes, she ate two pancakes for breakfast, a few bites of bacon, and she slept through the night, both nights.”

 

The child opened her eyes, examined the face of her mother, smiled and dozed off again.

 

She softened, just a little, “I heard that you have sons. Teenage sons?” Her voice cracked. “No offense to you, but I don’t want her in a house with boys. I am sure you’re nice, but I was molested.” A tear escaped her, “I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to be hurt anymore because of me.”

 

This was not the first time I was aware of the turmoil faced by parents whose children were removed from their care.

 

The little girl in this story? Well, I was able to have a decent relationship with her mother. Unfortunately, this was not the case with her birth father.

 

However, I learned a few things in my fostering journey. One thing that has helped me in every situation is to recognize the humanity of the birth parent.

 

Believe me – I understand the frustration and outrage we as foster parents encounter. I have had two injured children placed in my care. One child’s family was indignant, they were never sorry, and they were furious with me. In their minds, I took their child. The bottom line, in that case, was this: I cannot control what other people think or feel. I was available and kind to them. Everyone is capable of anything. This is paramount in exuding a spirit of compassion and empathy.

 

In the second case, the mother who had, in fact, hurt her child was sorry. That is the first thing she said at the post-72-hour meeting. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” This was vital to me in the months that proceeded. She blamed no one else, and she wanted to do whatever it took to get her baby back and be the stability her child needed.

 

For me, looking at the birth parents with an open mind helps advance reunification (when possible) and progress in exponential ways.

 

In the moments upon meeting each parent for the first time, I would remind myself that the situation was not about me. Except in incidents of sexual abuse or severe neglect and physical abuse, I tried to remember that I had made mistakes in my parenting. And, personally, I can think of nothing more terrifying than being away from my children, knowing they are with someone neither of us knows.

 

Most certainly, with parents who have suffered abuse, like the mom who did not want her little girl around teenage boys, being a good listener is critical. In that case, the birth mother was not only separated from her daughter, but her fears were tangible based on her own childhood abuse. Identifying with those fears and communicating with respect and compassion took the mother from a place where she wasn’t just wandering through the motions of reunification but was fully invested in progress.

 

Once she realized my commitment to her daughter and to her, she got very serious about making the changes needed.

 

I have found that when foster families can convey compassion and a non-judgmental stance with birth families, we alleviate the terror and replace it with sanctuary. Indeed, this is not always possible. However, as much as I love children, I was richly blessed by the restoration stories I partook in.

 

Disclaimer: Jami did not foster through Upbring Foster In Texas.

At Upbring, we put the safety and well-being of the children in our care first. Relationships with biological families are encouraged as long as it is safe for the child or children involved. The primary goal for CPS is to reunite children with their biological families after the families can correct the issues that resulted in the removal. What this means is that while the child is in foster care, CPS offers services and creates plans for the biological family to regain custody of their children. Ultimately, if the biological family complies with all terms of the plan and is involved in regaining full custody, the children will be returned. Maintaining healthy relationships and supporting the biological family while in this process can create a smoother transition if and when the child is reunited.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jami Amerine is an author, speaker, blogger and artist. She has two books, Stolen Jesus, an Unconventional Search for the Real Savior and Sacred Ground Sticky Floors: How Less than Perfect Parents Can Raise (Kind of) Great Kids. She and her husband, Justin, have six children and live in North Houston. Jami holds an undergraduate degree in Family Consumer Sciences and a master’s degree in Education, Counseling and Human Development. She and her husband are advocates for foster care, adoption and foster care reform.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: What Is It?

President Reagan first declared April “National Child Abuse Prevention Month” in 1983. What began as National Child Abuse Prevention Week in June just a year earlier, developed into an entire month dedicated to bringing attention to and advocating for a solution to child abuse in the US. But, that’s not where the movement for child abuse awareness and prevention began.

 

In 1974, President Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The signing of this act formally acknowledged the issue of child abuse and neglect on a national level and called for citizens of the US to open their eyes to occurrences of abuse that might be right in front of them. As a result, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (currently recognized as the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect) was formed to act as the federal center for the CAPTA cause, and states were granted federal assistance to help identify instances of child abuse and provide opportunities and programs for treatment and change. This was only the beginning of many conferences and subsequent acts that led to the raised awareness and care that we give to this cause presently.

 

Today, we dedicate the month of April to child abuse prevention to raise awareness, but also to encourage others to report abuse and neglect if they suspect or witness it. If you suspect a child is being abused, speak up. Information on how to report suspected abuse or neglect can be found on the DFPS website. A wealth of support and information is available to families and communities to help put a stop to the abuse.

 

Here at Upbring, it’s our mission to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. We each play a crucial role in ensuring that all children feel loved, cherished and cared for, and are free from abuse and neglect. This April, we encourage you to educate yourselves on the realities of child abuse and use your voice to advocate for those who can’t. Together, we’re creating a brighter future for the thousands of Texas children who experience abuse and neglect each year.

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Foster Friday: 5 Guidelines for Establishing a Healthy Household

So, you’ve decided to foster a child what now? Now is the time to start imagining the kind of family environment you want to create. One essential part of thinking this through and setting your family up for success as you welcome in a new member is to determine house rules. While setting appropriate house rules depends on factors like the age of the child you are welcoming into your family, here are five guidelines to help you get started:
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Foster Friday: Justin’s Story

Being a teenager comes with its fair share of difficulties. You’re still a kid, but you’re taking on more freedom and responsibility with each passing year. The pressure is on to maintain good grades, be active in extracurriculars and begin to plan for your future. Imagine balancing all of that while bouncing from foster home to foster home.

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