By Dawn Crosswhite, MSW, LCSW
June is Pride month for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer) community all over the world, and that is no different for our youth in the foster care system. Did you know that there are approximately 400,000 young people in the foster care system nationwide?1 Of those adolescents about 10-15 percent of them identify as LGBTQ. Research indicates that there are likely more who identify but are too afraid to come out and be their authentic selves.2
When I was asked if I would write a blog in honor of Pride month and LGBTQ youth in the foster care system I could not resist the opportunity. After all, one of my specialties as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is working precisely with that population. I thought, I will write about how foster and adoptive parents can be open and affirming towards gay teens in their homes by finding ways to support them. For example:
- Ask them what their preferred pronouns are (he/she/they/their/etc.) and refer to them as such.
- Be affirming and supportive if they have decided to come out to you. Remember it is an honor for them to open up about such a sacred part of themselves.
- Please, do not tolerate slurs or jokes based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Let everyone know it is not tolerated in your house.
- Understand that sexual orientation can be fluid and may change over time. However, this does not mean that their identity “is a phase.”
- Get to know the LGBTQ community resources, like Rainbow Alley in Colorado. If your youth is not familiar with the organizations and events, assist them with making connections to the resources.
By Stacy York, licensed clinical social worker
As I ponder on mental health awareness, I realize that defining mental health is complicated. What’s healthy for one person may not be healthy for another. What does “mental health” even mean? I’ve been in this field long enough to realize that we will get broad, generalized definitions to this question. Thus, this is my very own definition: Mental health means the ability to manage life in a way that leads to being able to cope in a healthy manner, expressing emotions in a safe way, and continuing to engage in daily activities and relationships. Still a broad definition. Life is hard. Things happen. Many of us were never taught how to express feelings, let alone appropriately. Many of us struggle to ask for help or lean on others.
Here are 2 tips to maintain your mental health.
- Express your feelings. This is much easier said than done. Most of us grew up in a time where “kids are to be seen and not heard.” With so many messages growing up, we have gotten pretty good at just pushing those feelings aside and dealing with them “later.” That does not work very well. So, we have to find ways to express those feelings. Talk to a friend. Journal. Cry. Go to therapy. Exercise. Open up and start putting those feelings where they need to be placed. Add body movement to expressing those feelings and you’ll ensure that your whole brain is engaged in this process.
- Do things that fill your bucket. In a world where everyone else can control our agenda, put some things in place that actually bring you joy. Schedule it. Make this time non-negotiable. Find 10 minutes a day to do something that is not stressful and makes you smile. Maybe it’s going for a walk or talking to a friend. Perhaps it is sitting in silence. Maybe it’s reading a book or eating your favorite piece of chocolate. Listen to your favorite song. Being intentional and making a plan to do something you enjoy can make a huge difference in our mental health.
Mental health takes practice and intention just like physical health. It is just as important. I hope these 2 tips point you in the right direction!
Stacy G. York is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She provides counseling services, as well as training for parents and professionals, through her private practice in Evergreen, Colorado. Learn more about her services at http://bewhatsright.com/
By Jon Smith, professional counselor and adoptive dad
As a professional counselor in private practice, a behavior specialist for a large school district, and a father of an adopted daughter and two biological children, I have spent the past twenty-some years searching for solutions to all kinds of behavioral, social, and mental health challenges my own and other people’s children have exhibited. Every year scientists and researchers discover more about the brain, and every year I learn of some new intervention, strategy, medication, nutritional supplement, curriculum, theoretical approach, and so on. With the sheer volume of knowledge out there, I find myself easily entrapped by a perpetual quest for the optimum answer to every child’s problems. If I just say the perfect thing, if I can identify the precise diagnosis, if I can figure out just the right behavior program, if I can find the best specialist or the right medication, then certainly this child will steer back on course and develop into a healthy, productive adult. While many children, because of significant trauma histories and mental health challenges, do in fact need evidence-based interventions and highly trained professional support, I was recently reminded by a researcher named Stephen Porges that all of us possess in the foundations of our very own neurology the ability to provide the one thing that every child must have in order to thrive, despite any other supports or services they may need; that is, a safe, trusting neurological connection with others—human-to-human, soul-to-soul.
By Lindsay Kaeding , UT Director of Development
Karen was once a vibrant, active five-year-old. She loved to play outside and run around with her friends. Because of physical abuse in her birth home by her biological mother, Karen ended up in the hospital unable to walk, talk, or communicate. She spent many years alone in a hospital room, unsure of what her future held for her. After being registered with The Adoption Exchange, a prospective adoptive family was matched with Karen. On their first visit to see her, the family asked if Karen would want to go home with them. After not speaking for several years and many doctors saying that she would never speak, Karen whispered the word “HOME.”
Since being in her adoptive home, Karen has learned to communicate in many different ways, including sign language. She attends school, plays with her brothers and sisters, and continues to improve day after day. Karen just recently celebrated her 16th birthday and is enjoying a life that at one point seemed impossibly out of reach.
By Jill Crewes, Family Support Services Senior Director
As an adoptive mom, I stand bolstered by the mantra that I am “strong enough”:
Strong enough to meet my children’s daily needs;
Strong enough to know what questions to ask and to whom;
Strong enough to teach my children the life skills and tools they need to navigate this world;
Strong enough to nurture strong connections and healthy, secure attachment for my children;
Strong enough to help my son understand, process, and heal from the trauma he has endured;
Strong enough to create an environment that will meet my children’s challenging sensory needs;
Strong enough to advocate tirelessly on my children’s behalves for the educational, social, behavioral, and emotional support they need at school;
Strong enough to help my son heal from the deep sense of abandonment he feels; Strong enough to constantly secure the therapies, services, supports, and resources my family needs;
Strong enough to empower my son to navigate a world filled with challenges he will face because his skin is brown;
Strong enough to weather the many passing storms that bring big behaviors, intense emotions, and judgement from others;
Strong enough to allow myself to be human and make mistakes, big and small, and hopefully learn from them;
Strong enough to mirror back to my children how incredibly precious and amazing they are, even when I am struggling;
Strong enough to take care of myself;
While this mantra of strength has carried me through many challenges, sometimes I am not actually strong enough on my own. This is when I must be strong enough to ask for help. Continue reading
By Amy H., Adoptive Mom
Four months ago, after starting the TBRI classes and being “awakened” to what my children really needed from me, I was crying to my therapist that I didn’t know why God would send children to me who I frankly didn’t have the skill set to give them what they needed. I wrote in my journal, “I know my kids need a more nurturing mom, and I seriously question if I am that kind of mom.” I was crushed to think that I couldn’t give my kids what they needed. Seriously, what could be more heartbreaking? Because I really love them! I remember one therapy appointment when I said to her, “Rex is just so mad at me all the time!” She said to me, “Well, you’re really mad at him all the time.” Whoa. I had never thought of that before. I really was at rock bottom as a mom. I determined to make things better. Over time, through the techniques I am learning in the classes, I have completely turned things around for our family. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I wondered if anything I was doing was making any difference. Rex seemed more angry at me for several weeks, but I have since seen Rex blossom into a completely different kid. He looks at me with that sparkle in his eyes again. He is not afraid of me anymore. I want to be with him and close to him. I want to listen to him and meet his needs. I want to help heal his wounded heart.
By Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker
As a parent, how often do you wish you could read your child’s mind? What would you give if you could understand their thoughts and feelings? What would it mean for you to know what they really need from you?
If you are a white adoptive parent to a child of color, it may seem difficult to relate to your child’s needs. If you have not experienced life as an adoptee or a person of color or if you are not trained in the psychology of racial identity development, then as the saying goes: “You can’t know what you don’t know.” Luckily, there is a plethora of resources to learn “what you don’t know” as a transracially adoptive parent, so the narrative can shift to: “When you know better, you can do better” (abbreviated quote from Maya Angelou).
As a psychologist who specializes in transracial adoption, as a transracial adult adoptee, and as a transracially adoptive parent, I’m here to provide you with insight on how you can “do better” for your child. Here are the top five things I believe every transracial adoptee needs from their parents, based on my professional and personal experiences: