3 People Who Need You to Be Aware

Is a whole month dedicated to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) awareness really necessary? There are so many “awareness” months already for things like breast cancer, autism, and Down syndrome. Many people know of autism or can think of someone in their lives affected by cancer, but not FASD.

However, FASD is the leading known cause of intellectual disabilities in the United States. An estimated 40,000 babies a year are born with effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. FASD affects more people than Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, and Spina Bifida combined.

Chances are, there are people in our lives right now who are affected by FASD. These people need us to be informed. The more we are aware, the better friends, neighbors, and community members we can be.

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Three People Who Need You to Be Aware:

Individuals with FASD

When society is more aware of FASD, individuals with FASD are better able to thrive. Young children need doctors who are aware of FASD. The earlier children can be diagnosed and get intervention, the better outcomes they have. School-aged children need teachers who are understanding of the behavior and learning problems caused by the brain damage of FASD. Adolescents with FASD need friends who care and are accepting of how FASD affects their friend. Adults need communities, including work places, that are aware of the adaptive skills people with FASD use to function well.

Family Members

Families benefit when friends and communities are aware. It is encouraging for families when their member with FASD is accepted by others. Friends who are aware of FASD also encourage families in other ways. Sticking to a consistent schedule is easier for families when friends accept that the reason is to provide predictable structure for a family member with FASD. A babysitter who is familiar with FASD can enable parents and guardians to attend seminars on FASD or support groups while providing peace of mind that the child will be cared for appropriately. Siblings of children with FASD need people to be aware in order to relieve the pressure of having to defend and explain their sibling to everyone.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women also benefit when society is aware of FASD. Pregnant women need doctors who are up-to-date with the current information about FASD. They need doctors who are willing to discuss alcohol use during pregnancy. Women dependent on alcohol need communities who acknowledge the difficulties of alcoholism and provide support. Mothers of children with FASD need friends and community members who know that stigma about the cause of FASD only hurts people and does not help mothers, families, or individuals with FASD.

Which of these three people are in your life?

FASD touches our lives more than we are aware. Being aware makes a difference for the people in our lives. Simple changes to our understanding and attitudes can make life easier for those dealing with FASD.

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Still think a whole month is too much for FASD?

At least take some time tomorrow, International FASD Awareness Day, to talk to someone with FASD and find out how it affects his or her life.

You can also hear people explain what FASD means to them in the following resources:

Jasmine; a young woman living with FASD (Video)

Rebecca; a mom with FASD (Interview Article)

Four young adults with FASD (Video)

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Not Grieving in Words

A coupon for 20% off a certain brand of lotion has been pinned to the wall above my desk. I just pulled it down to check when it expires.

The coupon expired January 31, 2016.

My desk has been in a similar state of neglect. Under textbooks, scattered post-it notes, three mechanical pencils I have been looking for, and receipts (some from Wal-Mart, others from the library), I found a picture of two little girls I dearly love. Their faces poke out from a blanket as they smile, together. One of the little girls is now my sister. The other…I miss.

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I do not mean to throw a pity party. After all, she is doing well. Her mother is working hard and loves her. My family even gets pictures from them occasionally, so I can see that the little girl still has the same self-assured smile.

Back when she was leaving our foster home, I wanted to hold on to the memories I had of her. I wanted to spend time writing down stories so her little quirks and personality would remain vivid in my mind. It is something I wish I had done more with previous foster children. When she left, I tried to make time to write down special memories.

Here I am a year later. I wrote down a total of one story, about the first day she came. I have not written anymore. Sometimes I did not write because the memories were painful to relive. Other times I could not write because other children had come to our home. Then again, I was also busy with a new job and college and all those other things in life. I was too busy to grieve or write.

Now as I seek out memories of her, the stories are faded. The details are fuzzy, and many whole scenes are missing. It seems that during this un-grieving year, I have lost my memories of her. My mind silently let the stories slip away. My heart grew numb to the thought that she will never be a part of my life again. My life has rearranged itself to go on without her.

Then I see the picture on my desk. The image of her peaceful smile challenges that line of thinking. In an instant, the memory is brought back to life. The mental dust is shaken off, and I remember the scene:

The summer sun drifting in and out of the clouds, its afternoon beams warming the room…
The girls, with dozens of stuffed animals and baby dolls heaped in piles all around them…
Their giggles, one clear and the other muffled by a pacifier…
Both of them lying down, their feet in opposite directions, but their heads right next to each other…

The memory is all there. It has not been lost, even if I had never written it down. The picture reminds me that it is okay. Remembering can be done in many ways.

Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words. Maybe I did grieve this year, in a different way.

Now I think I am ready to get back to writing.

Books Recommended by Foster Parents (and Children)

Last week I went searching for children’s books about foster care. I asked a couple groups of people involved in foster care and got great recommendations from them. Foster parents listed many books that children in their care have enjoyed and benefited from. Some books were recommended multiple, multiple times!

One book in particular was so highly recommended that my family immediately ordered it. That book was:

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Maybe Days: A Book for Children in Foster Care

By Jennifer Wilgocki and Marcia Kahn Wright

Illustrated by Allissa Imre Geis

Maybe Days is a great introduction to the foster care system for children ages 4-10. The book depicts the often complex world of foster care in simple, clear, and realistic terms.

It acknowledges how frustrating it can be to only have questions answered with “maybe” and not know what will happen next in life. Each child’s journey in the foster care system is unique, which the book respects as well. A note to foster parents is included in the back, with tips from the authors, a therapist and a clinical psychologist who both work with children and families.

Overall, the book manages to balance the unknowns and vagueness of each child’s experience of foster care with reassuring children that no matter what, they can still be themselves and enjoy being a kid.

 

Other books about foster care that foster parents recommended were:

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Murphy’s Three Homes: A Story for Children in Foster Care

By Jan Levinson Gilman

Illustrated by Kathy O’Malley

A story about a puppy who goes through a couple different homes but wants one to call his own.

 

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Kids Need to Be Safe: A Book for Children in Foster Care

(Kids Are Important Series)

By Julie Nelson

Illustrated by Mary C

“’Kids are important… They need safe places to live, and safe places to play.’ For some kids, this means living with foster parents. In simple words and full-color illustrations, this book explains why some kids move to foster homes, what foster parents do, and ways kids might feel during foster care.” (Summary from Amazon.)

 

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Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights

(Kids Are Important Series)

By Julie Nelson

Illustrated by Mary Gallagher

“All families change over time. Sometimes a baby is born, or a grown-up gets married. And sometimes a child gets a new foster parent or a new adopted mom or dad. Children need to know that when this happens, it’s not their fault. They need to understand that they can remember and value their birth family and love their new family, too. Straightforward words and full-color illustrations offer hope and support for children facing or experiencing change. Includes resources and information for birth parents, foster parents, social workers, counselors, and teachers.” (Summary from Amazon.)

 

Foster parents also shared some books that are not specifically about foster care, but have still helped their foster children. These included:

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Home for a Bunny

By Margret Wise Brown

A bunny searches for a home. Foster parents said their children identified with the bunny and like the book.

 

 

 

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Here in the Garden

By Briony Stewart

A book about loss and grief, but not necessarily death. Helpful for children in foster care, especially if their parent/parents are no longer a part of their life. Foster and adoptive parents said this book helped children in their homes.

 

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A Terrible Thing Happened

By Margret M. Holmes

Illustrated by Cary Pillo

A book about a personified raccoon who saw a bad thing happen, but feels better after talking to someone.

 

 

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The Invisible String

By Patrice Karst

Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

A book about a mom telling her children that they are connected by an invisible string- a string made of love, that binds their hearts together. Helps children deal with feelings of separation from loved ones. Foster parents noted that their foster children love this book.

 

Many suggestions were also for books that talked about differences in families, including:

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The Family Book

By Todd Parr

 

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The Great Big Book of Families

By Mary Hoffman

Illustrated by Ros Asquith

 

 

 

Hopefully these book suggestions are helpful for you and the children in your life. I have not personally read them all, and do not necessarily endorse any of the books listed here. I simply wanted to pass on some recommendations from foster parents and children. What books would you recommend?

Here are links to more lists of foster care and adoption books:

11 Kids’ Books on Dealing with Loss, Grief, Illness and Trauma

50 Books About Adoption, Foster Care, and Healing Child Abuse

Books For Foster Kids And Foster Parents

 

Bad Call

Does she stare at me or is it just my imagination?

She is with her sisters. They look remarkably alike. All of them look at me now. Do they know who I am?

One of her sisters has a baby sitting in the shopping cart, but my friend doesn’t have her kid with her. Was the child removed?

Months ago, that one day when it happened- I didn’t even know she lived there. But I saw. And I knew her. And she walked into her house, so then I knew her address.

I am a mandatory reporter.

So I called the intake worker at social services to make a report. Funny, I knew the worker who answered, which made it easier in a way. Still, my hands shook as I held the phone.

I hated phone calls anyway, but that one could have consequences.

Back home from the store, I snoop on Facebook. Turns out she no longer has her child in her custody.

This really just boils down to the selfish question that haunts me, like her gaze does every time I see her at the store. Does she blame me for losing her child?

And why do I even think that? Social workers and judges are the ones who actually deal with angry parents everyday.

But little me? That was my first report and I am a scardy cat.

She is never coming back.

I was not ready.

Changing my schedule after foster children leave is the hardest for me. It is a process of totally replacing them. The time I used to read to them is replaced with personal study time. Afternoons spent giving them wagon rides are now reserved for a new project. An alarm on my phone set to wake my little sister up (to Frozen music, of course) has to be deleted.

I have never been ready to delete her alarm. Not for a year and a half.

It would be admitting that she is not coming back; that she will not need that alarm again; that she will not need me again. 

But now, after admitting it here in writing, I am ready. I can let go of the alarm setting.

Maybe I can let go of her too.

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Release

Little Curls

“Oh, look at her little curls on the ends of her hair! Isn’t she just precious?” swooned a kind lady about my foster sister.

“She sure is,” I replied.

It had taken a couple tries to get her hair to lie like that, covering the bald spot where the curls had been taken for a hair follicle drug test.

But I didn’t mention that.