Giving Tuesday

February 25th

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Stories

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The Three Ts of Successful Test Taking

Along with spring showers and May flowers comes test-taking season at schools around the country. Be it standardized testing or final exams, anxiety runs high. For students in elementary school, this might be their first experience testing while older students may be more seasoned. Whatever stage your child is in, one thing is sure: it’s tough to be tested. A good night’s sleep and a healthy meal are a great way to start, but let’s explore the three T’s that provide children with the support they need during testing season.

 

1. Table

Dinner time is a great way to provide an opportunity for children to process their day. Turning off the TV, silencing devices and sitting down at the table together creates a space for families to debrief. If things are slow to start, go around the table and share a sunshine (a highlight of the day or reason for gratitude) and a cloud (a challenge or time of discouragement.) Consider making the meal special by allowing your child to help plan the menu for the evening. Remember, sitting in silence is okay too. The act of being together is often enough to help your child feel loved and encouraged.

 

2. Thoughts

Learning to self-regulate during stressful events is just as important as being tested for knowledge. Identifying the physical responses to stress is a great way to start. That might sound like, “When you take your spelling test, where do you feel nervous?” Getting children to identify where they feel nervous (in their stomach, throat, hands, feet, etc.) is very helpful. It might take an example to help them understand such as, “When I’m nervous, I feel it in my stomach.  It feels like butterflies are flying around in there.” Let them know that when feelings of stress arise, they can respond with self-soothing techniques. Breathing techniques are effective and produce fast results. Some examples include:

  • Pretend to blow a bubble.
  • Pretend to smell a rose with a deep breath in and a slow breath out.
  • Breath in through your nose and fill up your lungs. Breath out through your mouth until your lungs are empty.
  • Practice boxed breathing – inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, then repeat the process from the beginning.

 

3. Talk

Whether your child comes home confident in their performance or discouraged, filling their brain with encouraging phrases is helpful for modeling positive self-talk. This might include phrases such as:

  • I knew you could do it!
  • You can do hard things.
  • I can see you tried hard.
  • I’m so proud of you!
  • You amaze me!
  • You are learning and growing.
  • I see you working and learning every day.
  • Look how far you’ve come!

 

Seeing your child under any amount of stress can be difficult. By creating a safe place to debrief, teaching calming techniques and using the power of words to build self-esteem, we can provide a supportive environment for children to thrive. Happy testing!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Audrey Walker has served in a variety of early childhood and primary school settings for the past twelve years and has a deep passion for promoting the potential of all children. She earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Education from Concordia University Texas in 2009 and her Master’s of Arts in Education from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri in 2011 with an emphasis in gifted education. She is proud to be a Texas certified teacher (ece-4th grade).  

As Campus Administrator, she is committed to the USAS teaching philosophy to provide academic excellence in a Christian environment, working with families and teachers to discover and develop each child’s unique gifts to their full potential. Her daily motivation is to see that every child is deeply valued, respected, and encouraged to become a life-long learner by finding joy in coming to school. A highlight of her job is seeing teachers and staff igniting children’s imaginations, provoking ideas, and encouraging problem-solving skills based on each child’s interests. 

 Audrey and her husband, Andrew, have three children, Lydia, August, and Lucas.  They enjoy the simple things in life right now, going to the park, movie nights, reading, and all things Lego related.  

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Helping Your Children Stay Engaged During the Final Weeks of School

Once spring break has passed, the close of the school year becomes the focus. The students can seemingly sense that the end is at hand. Parents and educators all agree that children’s behavior changes as the temperatures rise and the days get longer. What can be done to keep students focused on learning? How can they be convinced to finish the school year strong?

 

Here are a few strategies that might help with the battle against spring fever.


1.  Remind your child that your expectations have not changed with the weather. You expect the same quality of work that was expected during the rest of the school year. You might even need to put these expectations/goals in writing and display them for reference as needed.

 

2.  Be sure to model the behaviors you expect from your child. Maintain your regular work schedule and stress that school responsibilities must be met before fun activities take place.

 

3.  In many families, it is helpful to create a checklist of tasks that must be finished before playtime can happen. This can be done on a weekly or daily basis. The sooner work and responsibilities are taken care of – the sooner the fun can begin.

 

4.  Burning off some excess energy by playing outside for a short time when you first get home is not a bad thing. Many people (not just children) need to have some physical activity in order to improve their focus when they sit down to get to a task. Allowing for a “brief” playtime might also score you some points with your child. Flexibility is frequently a good thing to model. The important thing to learn is that the responsibilities do not actually go away; they are simply delayed.

 

5.  Sleep hours need to be consistent. It is not unusual for children to want to stay up later once the clocks have changed.  It really does look like they are being forced to bed early when there is still daylight outside. Always refer to the actual time on the clock and the number of sleep-hours needed for success in the upcoming day. Numbers don’t lie – even though the sky may seem to be doing so.

 

6.  Allow for some extra-educational outdoor fun. Use special opportunities that become available with the warmer weather as goals during the week. Then, over the weekend, go to the local zoo, arboretum, or relax with a lakeside picnic and some fishing. There is so much to be learned through activities like these, and they are so much fun. They also allow for great memories to be made.

 

In all honesty, it is not just children who struggle as the weather improves and the days lengthen. Many adults are challenged by the same distractions. Working with your children on staying focused and forcing yourself to be a good role-model may prove helpful for you as well.  Summer break will be here before you know it!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brenda Burdick was born and raised in Texas. She graduated from Houston Baptist University with her undergraduate degree and the University of North Texas with her graduate degree. She spent 10 years of her career as an educator in public schools and 20 years in Lutheran schools in various roles including teacher, marketing and admissions director, curriculum specialist, assistant principal, and principal. Currently, Brenda is the Director of Christian School Expansion and Operations at Upbring.

National Foster Care Month: The Wright’s Story

May is National Foster Care Month. Right now, there are more than 440,000 children in foster care across the United States with nearly 30,000 children in foster care in the state of Texas alone. The need for loving and compassionate foster parents is evident. Ash and Patty Wright heard the call and answered with open arms. They welcomed their now adopted son, Nathan, into their hearts and their home. We’re honored to share the Wright’s foster care journey.

 

There are thousands of children in Texas who need kindhearted people like Ash and Patty to provide a safe and loving home where they feel seen and encouraged. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can begin your own foster journey, fill out our Foster Inquiry Form at Upbring.org/FosterInfo. One of our Foster In Texas team members will reach out to you.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: How You Can Get Involved Throughout The Year

While National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a great step toward creating awareness for abuse and neglect prevention, many more steps can be taken to ensure that all children are safe, loved and cherished. Here are five ways you can get involved, with resources included, so you can show your support year-round.

 

1. Spread the word

Change occurs when we raise awareness that change is needed. By bringing attention to situations of abuse and neglect and informing others of the harm it causes, we can display the need for change. Help raise public awareness in your community by posting a tip sheet on a public bulletin board or by sharing a message on your personal social media account.

 

2. Learn the signs

In order to help others, you must first learn the signs of abuse and neglect. Knowing the signs makes it possible for you to share the information with others and recognize situations of abuse in your community. If you suspect that a child is being abused, use the information you’ve learned to help make an informed decision about when to contact local authorities. By speaking up, you can make a difference in the lives of children who would otherwise have no one on their side.

 

3. Donate

One great way to get involved and show your support is by making a financial or in-kind contribution to an organization that serves children. Nonprofit organizations, like Upbring, use your donations to serve children who have been affected by abuse or neglect by placing them in loving foster homes, finding them forever homes through adoption or providing them with access to facilities where they can go to escape abuse and begin the healing process. Choose which program you want your gift to support by using our online donation form or by selecting an item through the Upbring Marketplace. Both options are 100% tax deductible.

 

4. Volunteer

Donating your time is another important way that you can support children who have suffered from abuse. Find a local organization where you can get involved and make a difference in the lives of those who need extra love and care. Your willingness to share your hobbies, talents and encouragement with children can make a tremendous impact on their lives. Upbring has many different opportunities to volunteer like mentoring, hosting group activities, academic tutoring and community garden maintenance.

 

5. Spend time together

Spending extra time with your children strengthens your family and promotes child and family well-being, which is one of the most important ways to counter the cycle of abuse. Taking time out of your day to focus fully on your child shows them that they are important to you. Create opportunities to spend more time together. For example, turn Friday nights into a family movie night; order pizza, rent a movie and build a blanket fort that you can all crawl in to watch together. Encourage other families to do the same by sharing your ideas with friends or even hosting a family game night.

 

With the help of the resources mentioned above and the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s 2019 Prevention Resource Guide, you can learn more about the best prevention practices. The more we talk about the reality of abuse and neglect and study the resources available to us, the more we will learn. Being informed will help us better recognize the signs so we can change the lives of those suffering around us. At Upbring, we strive to make sure that every child knows they are loved and important. By choosing to get involved and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others, you are joining us on our mission to break the cycle of child abuse.

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National Child Abuse Prevention Month: Lyla’s Story

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s important to recognize those who have been personally affected. By listening to their stories, we can learn to notice the signs of abuse and neglect and help lift others out of suffering.

 

Lyla* grew up in a violent home where she endured physical abuse and was often left to fend for herself. One day, after witnessing her mother being beaten by her fiancé, Lyla decided that she had to flee for her own safety. She left home, took the family dogs with her and walked 16 miles to another town to seek help from a relative. It took her a whole day to walk the distance, but she was determined to get away.

 

For the first time in a long time, Lyla was finally safe, but the trauma she experienced had already taken its toll. Lyla was so used to being frightened and protecting herself that she reverted to some of the behaviors she’d resorted to while living in constant fear. She began lying, stealing and skipping school. She knew she was sabotaging her relationship with her new family, but figured they would end up leaving her no matter how well she behaved.

 

Past experiences convinced Lyla that no one would be there for her and that trauma would be an ever-present force in her life. Because of this, Lyla felt the need to arm herself with something sharp at all times in case she needed to defend herself. Having a weapon made her feel safe. Lyla needed help to sort through her painful memories and fear of looming threats. Thankfully New Life Children’s Center became her next home for a few crucial months.

 

While at New Life, Lyla received treatment for PTSD and Reactive Attachment Disorder. She learned that traumas from her past caused her to keep people at a distance because she assumed they would leave her. With some time, therapy, and care from the compassionate staff, Lyla started to learn more about herself. Her bruises started fading and her openness to let others into her life bloomed. She found joy in learning to cook and volunteering. Instead of skipping school and falling behind, Lyla attended class regularly and began achieving on grade level. Instead of hiding behind the scars of her past, Lyla now dreams about her future and is setting goals to make her dream of becoming a pilot a reality.

 

Stories like Lyla’s are more common than you might think. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, last year there were 41,120 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in Texas alone. If an adult in Lyla’s life had recognized some of the signs of abuse and neglect that she was displaying (running away, skipping school, bruises and abandonment), she might have been able to get help sooner. If you suspect a child is being abused, please report it to DFPS now by calling 1-800-252-5400 or by visiting the Texas Abuse Hotline Website.

 

*Lyla’s story is based on the real story of a child Upbring serves. While the story is true, identifying information has been altered to protect the child involved.

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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.