Tag Archives: child

What happens when a child ages out of foster care?

February 16, 2014 by

Being a child in the foster care system can be lonely and confusing. Just ask Tabitha. Shuffled from one home to another, one town to another—by the time she was in high school, she was an entire year behind in her studies. She lost track of the number of foster homes and families that she left behind. It wasn’t until she was 17—nearly out of the system—that she became part of a family.

While foster care is not ideal, there are a few people who provide some stability and support while you are part of the “system.” Your caseworker. Maybe your therapist. But once you turn 19, those connections are usually lost. There may not be one single, caring adult who asks if you are doing okay. If you have enough to eat or just need a little help. If you have a place to stay or a way to get to work—if you even have a job. Or a way to go to college.

Just one caring person can make all the difference for a young adult who ages out of foster care. On their own, many are simply lost. Without connections, the statistics are grim for these older teens and young adults. Within two years, half are essentially homeless. They may be couch-surfing just to have a warm place to sleep. They have no network to find a job. Few can afford a car or even know how to drive, since the State of Nebraska doesn’t take on the liability of state wards learning those skills. They are easy targets for pimps and human traffickers. Many become pregnant.

Now, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) has adopted the national “Family Finding” model. This model recognizes the urgency of helping these young people establish meaningful, supportive, permanent relationships with loving adults—simply as a matter of safety, to start.

LFS is currently the only Nebraska agency providing these types of permanency services to 19-26 year-olds previously in foster care. In July 2013, LFS’ Permanent Connections program began working to build bridges for young adults to biological family members, former foster parents, siblings, former case workers, or group home staff. Most recently, LFS began expanding this support to young adults in Fremont and surrounding areas.

The program starts by identifying 40 people who have somehow been involved in the life of the young person. From this group, a smaller team is chosen. This team includes those willing to make a long-term commitment to this young adult and be an active, stable part of their lives. It’s not as formal as adoption; more like a vow to be a friend.

Many youth who grow up in foster care or spend significant time in foster homes transition into adulthood alone. They lose contact with all the people in their lives who were once in a caring role. Permanent Connections helps these youth create ties with caring and supportive adults who can give them some stability and support.

What Should I Get Out of a Parent-Teacher Conference?

January 27, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Spring semester parent-teacher conferences are coming up soon, but parents wanting to maximize their return on these quick meetings with their kids’ teachers might want to start a few habits now.

Don’t expect to solve major problems in five minutes

Anna Rempel, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Conestoga Public Schools, says she tries to keep individual meetings between five and seven minutes long. Josephine Langbehn, a seventh-grade art educator at Omaha Public School’s Monroe Middle School, says her meetings may average ten minutes.

Serious problems, like acting out in the classroom or demonstrating a need for special education testing, aren’t tackled here. “If a student is struggling, I’ve already e-mailed a parent about it,” Rempel says, adding that school counselors and the principal would handle those concerns.

Parent-teacher conferences, on the other hand, are more along the lines of checkups. Expect to be handed a grade report and discuss:

  • Test average
  • Homework average
  • Overall grade
  • Any missing homework
  • Suggestions for improvement

Take notes

Parents can receive a lot of information in very condensed form during conferences. Rempel says she offers pointers like homework organization or encouraging a student to check against a calculator. Langbehn will discuss more abstract skills, such as a student’s ability to navigate art criticism or form their own ideas about what makes good art.

Whatever the subject, jot down the teacher’s suggestions and refer to them the next time you help your child with homework.

A teacher may even offer insight directly from your child. A few days before conferences, Rempel has her students write three sentences on their own grade reports. “I have sentence starters for them to choose from: I’m doing awesome at blank, I’m not really understanding blank, I participate by blank.” That way parents can hear in a student’s own words what’s going on in class.

Ask how to take grades to the next level

If maintaining a specific grade point is important to you and your child, ask for specifics: “If my child has a B and I want them to have an A, what else could they do?” Paying attention to grades posted online is another way to monitor progress, Rempel says, and note any warning signs in particular subjects.

For improving on concepts like creatively solving for solutions, Langbehn suggests asking the teacher for more self-guided goals and projects to pursue outside the classroom. “That is a life skill now. You have to be able to think creatively.”

Be proactive with your communication

If you or the teacher mentioned concerns during your conference, Rempel strongly encourages contacting the teacher again in a few weeks. Langbehn adds that it’s important to find the best way to reach a particular teacher. “If we need to follow up, how will that happen?” she says. “I personally 
prefer e-mail.”

While Rempel encourages parents to attend at least the first conference of the year (you can usually expect one in fall and another in spring), she suggests sending an e-mail to a teacher if you’re not going to drop by.

“The important thing is that a parent and a teacher work together as a team,” Langbehn says. “It’s not just me telling a parent that your kid needs to do this.”

If all goes well, Rempel says parents can expect to hear, “They’re doing great. I appreciate your involvement in your child’s education, and if there are problems in the future, I will definitely contact you.”

Don’t let motion sickness keep you from new activities

January 5, 2014 by

Motion sickness is very common. A simple swell of the sea, a bounce in the car, or the sway of a ride at the amusement park can make anyone’s stomach turn upside down.

Cause of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness occurs when the inner ear, eyes, and nerves in the extremities, which detect motion, send conflicting messages to the brain. One part of your body may sense that you are moving while another part does not see the motion. This leads to a disagreement between the senses and can result in motion sickness. Signs of motion sickness may include:

  • Pale appearance
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Complaints of feeling hot, although not warm to touch

Preventing and Treating Motion Sickness

Boys Town Pediatrics has several tips on how to prevent motion sickness:

  • Provide a very light snack before the activity.
  • Avoid strong smelling odors.
  • Wear layered clothing and adjust as needed.
  • Drink plenty of water and ensure the body is hydrated.
  • Make frequent stops.
  • Do not sit facing backward from the 
direction of travel.
  • Focus attention on listening to the radio and talking.
  • Open vent for a source of fresh air.
  • Avoid reading or games that cause constant focus.

If motion sickness occurs during your travels, the best way to treat it is try to stop the motion. If you cannot stop the motion, try laying your child down or having him sit in an area with the least amount of movement. Remind your child to take big, long breaths. You can also provide him or her with a damp towel applied to the forehead.

When to See a Doctor

If your child has motion sickness, and your family is planning an activity that may trigger the sickness, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Medication may be available to help prevent motion sickness. If your child is having motion sickness symptoms, but they are not involved with movement activities, schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor.

The Real Bogeyman

December 14, 2013 by

When I was a little girl, I knew my house was going to burn down. I didn’t just fear it. I knew it. I didn’t know when. I didn’t know how. But I just…knew. And in my young mind, the only thing I could do to prevent it was to think about it. To worry about it. If I worried about it enough, it wouldn’t happen, right?

I had to wait. Just wait. I had to be ready so I could get everyone out of the house in time. At night, that meant that I positioned my bed near my door so I could lie awake and look down the hallway toward the kitchen to see the first licks of flame. During the day, it meant having a stomachache so bad that I had to stay home from school. That way, I was home and could be there to rescue my mother.

What it led to was a loss of appetite and undiagnosed stomach pains that frightened my parents and pediatrician. I was hospitalized for a week while they ran test after test, trying to figure out why I couldn’t eat and why I was constantly complaining of an upset stomach. I was finally diagnosed with a “hyperacid stomach” and handed a bottle of Mylanta®.

I felt like such a fraud. I knew why I was “sick.” I had literally made myself sick with worry. And paralyzing fear. I was 11 years old. Old enough to understand how ridiculous my fears were. Still too young to realize the power of talking to someone about it, no matter how embarrassed I was.

Finally, I found enough courage to confess to my mother, who was wonderful and kind. It was the beginning of my healing. My father later asked me how I was and assured me that, “We can replace anything in this house. That’s why we have insurance.” Which was fine, but it really wasn’t my concern. I was worried about losing my family. I had this horrible image in my mind of me opening my parents’ bedroom door and the two of them lying there as the bed burned. I couldn’t get past it. While the adults in my life really wanted to help me, they didn’t grasp the depth of my anxiety. It was real. It was constant and consuming. I almost felt I could touch it.

It was at that moment I vowed to myself—if ever a child comes to me expressing their fear of something, I will listen. I will get them to talk it all out. I will reassure them and give them tools to cope.

“Children can react to trauma in ways that adults don’t expect,” says Ryan Suhr, Statewide Administrator for Children Services at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. “Avoidance, anxiety, depression, and acting-out behaviors are just a few. Those behaviors have a function, and it is really up to adults to sort through that and try to understand what is happening.” Suhr goes on to say that a child’s ability to recover from trauma is directly related to the quality of their adult relationships.

What finally brought me a peaceful night’s sleep was talking things out and a spiritual quote that encouraged me to “go to sleep in peace.” It took months, but eventually I could get through a full day—then two—without thinking of my house burning.

Looking back as an adult, I know that I was picking up on subtle signals from my parents’ failing marriage. We had also helped with the recovery for one of my father’s co-workers who lost their home to fire just a few days before Christmas. And I had actually witnessed a mobile home burning a few weeks after that. I can see now how it all added up to a kind of trauma that I wasn’t able to process well.

I share this story because adults can forget how real the bogeyman can be for a child. Even a smart fifth-grader who “should know better.”

There’s much in this world that can frighten a child (or an adult, for that matter), and dismissing or discounting those fears can only make the child feel there’s something wrong with them and doesn’t help his or her recovery. Plus, there may be underlying reasons for unexplained physical ailments in children, especially when they just don’t “feel good” or they have a stomachache. Make sure to consider whether there might be something seriously troubling them and know that love, kindness, and conversation might be the best cure of all.

“I Just Want Someone to Love Me”

November 1, 2013 by

I’ve worked at Lutheran Family Services for well over three years now, and I can pinpoint my toughest day at work.

It was the day I was interviewing foster children for a fundraising video. At the time, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I could have done a better job preparing myself. But I didn’t.

So I walked into the conference room and started interviewing “wards of the state,” one by one.

What struck me the most was that they were just kids, not statistics. Kids, very similar to my own children. Attractive, smart, funny—really delightful to be around.

One young man had worn nice slacks and a tie because, as he put it, “I just want to look nice.” This was the same boy who shyly told me about coming in second in a free-throw contest just that afternoon. Later, he admitted how much he liked to play football and really wanted to be on a team, but he couldn’t because there was no one to take him to practice. As a football mom at the time, that just broke my heart. How could there be no one willing to make that commitment to this child who was obviously an athlete?

Another beautiful young woman talked about her frustration with her education. Because she had been moved from one foster home to another, one school to another (she had lost track of how many), she was a year behind in high school. She should have been preparing to graduate, she told me, but all of the moves had set her that far back. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a nurse or go into the military. I suggested being a nurse in the military. She thought that was a great idea. “I’m going to have a bright future,” she told me.

The kids talked about being taken out of their homes because they weren’t cared for properly. Being in foster care is not their fault. They’ve lost the only home they know, and many times they lose their siblings, too. Few foster homes can take sibling groups. Despite efforts to help siblings stay in touch, it’s a challenge.

While the goal is always reunification with family, it’s not always possible. And once these children become eligible for adoption, the goal then becomes finding the right permanent family. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska operates a program that searches a child’s history to find that one relative, teacher, or neighbor who might be willing to provide loving permanency.

I realized that if every parent could sit where I sat that day, all of these children would already have homes. We often hear of the numbers of children in Nebraska’s foster care system, but for their own safety, we don’t always see the faces or hear their stories. But the simple message from each one of them was the same, “I just want someone to love me.”

Can you imagine your own child feeling that way? I couldn’t either. So, on that tough day at work, when all I wanted to do was take home every child I had talked with, I went back to my office, and I wept for them. And I wished with all of my being that the right family for each of those beautiful children was just a few steps away from making their dreams come true.

November is National Adoption Month. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, or foster child adoption, please call Lutheran Family Services at 402-661-7100 or e-mail: fostercare@lfsneb.org.

What are the 40 Developmental Assets?

September 24, 2013 by

In the past, a school’s sole purpose was to educate students in reading, writing, math, and other areas. Today, the focus of schools is on the entire development of the young person, including academic, personal, and social growth.

You may have seen the 40 Developmental Assets posted somewhere in your child’s school. But are you aware of what these really are and how they are utilized in your child’s education?

The 40 Developmental Assets were developed by Search Institute, a research-based organization that works to address important issues in education and youth development. The assets are the institute’s framework of strengths and supports believed to be critical in developing the child as a whole.

The assets are divided into halves. The first half examines external aspects of children’s lives, such as family support, safety, and a caring school climate, which are some of the main focuses of the school. The second half examines internal aspects of children’s lives, such as compassion, integrity, responsibility, and self-esteem. These traits are developed through guidance lessons in the schools, as well as by the learning atmosphere teachers create in their classrooms. By making a conscious effort to foster these assets in children, the schools are creating well-rounded students who are better prepared to learn and grow.

Several school districts use these assets to drive parts of their curriculum. Teachers can utilize the assets when delivering their daily lessons by relating ideas discussed in the classroom back to the assets. School principals can use the assets as a tool to develop a strong culture of learning and achievement among their student body. Lastly, parents can apply the assets to their parenting, which combines with the development provided by the teachers to create a good balance in the lives of their children.

A full list of the 40 Developmental Assets can be found at search-institute.org.

Help For Behavioral Health Issues is Just a Few Doors Away

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting help for a child with behavioral health problems is just a few doors away at your pediatrician’s office at Boys Town Pediatrics clinics. All of the Omaha-area clinics staff one to two psychologists who are available to work closely with your child’s pediatrician to provide a comprehensive, seamless plan of care.

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that we both understand each other’s perspectives and can work together to develop a game plan for each child,” says Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics. “It also allows us to stay up-to-date with the child’s progress and readily provide input when appropriate. In the end, we think it results in better outcomes for the patient.”

More importantly, the parents and children love the setup, notes Dr. Vandersluis. “It’s been a very successful arrangement for us and the family,” she says. “Families love to be able to come to their pediatrician’s office for counseling because it’s familiar, more comfortable, and less stressful for the child.”

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that [we] can work together to develop a game plan for each child.” – Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics.

The easy accessibility of the psychologists relieves some of the apprehension and stigma of seeing a psychologist, notes Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health. “We’re seeing a greater willingness among families to reach out for our services.”

Parents often discuss their child’s behavioral concerns with their pediatrician, says Dr. Reimers. That makes the close relationship we have with the pediatrician’s and medical clinics so important. The Behavioral Health Clinic treats a wide variety of behavioral health problems in children, from infants to adults. Some of the problems treated include defiance, tantrums, toilet training, learning problems, anxiety and depression, bedtime problems and sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), peer relationships, phobias, habits, and eating disorders.

Determining when it’s time to seek help is something that should be discussed with your pediatrician. A good rule of thumb, notes Dr. Vandersluis: If there is a disruption of your family’s ability to function on a normal basis due to your child’s behavioral health problems, or it is affecting your child’s ability to be successful in his or her daily activities, it may be time to seek help.

“If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help.” – Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health

“By the time they come to us, parents have likely been concerned about a problem for some time. They’ve reached out to family and friends and exhausted most of their accessible resources,” notes Dr. Reimers. “In some cases, waiting can make the problem worse. We encourage parents to seek advice early rather than later.

“We use evidence-based interventions with the goal of providing the most effective treatment in the shortest amount of time possible,” says Dr. Reimers. “If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help. In many cases, we can provide help easily and readily and get your child back on the right track.”

The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health offers three services, which include the Behavioral Health Clinic, Chemical Use Program, and Assessment Program. Children may be seen in their doctor’s office or at the Center for Behavioral Health’s main office at 13460 Walsh Drive on the Boys Town campus. For more information, visit boystownpediatrics.org or call 402-498-3358.

Button Batteries

July 22, 2013 by

Button batteries can be found in a variety of electronic devices. Things like wristwatches, calculators, toys, and even recorded birthday cards all use button batteries. Unfortunately, their small size means that they can be easily swallowed by children.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have singled out button batteries as the most harmful type of battery for young children if swallowed. They can get stuck in the esophagus, leading to serious injury, and are the leading cause of death by ingestion. Poison control centers across the United States report that about 3,500 button batteries are swallowed each year.

The symptoms of battery ingestion include vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and swallowing.

Many times, swallowed batteries pass through the intestines and safely exit the body. This is not always the case, however, as they can easily get lodged in the esophagus. Batteries stuck in the throat cause an electric current and can leak corrosive chemicals, like alkaline electrolyte, that can cause internal damage.

When this happens, a buildup of the chemical hydroxide may occur, causing dangerous burns within a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the damage caused can remain long after the battery is removed.

If your child ingests a battery, Boys Town Pediatrics recommends:

  • Calling the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 1-202-625-3333 or contacting the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Gathering the battery identification number, if you have it, found on the package or from a matching battery.
  • Contacting the child’s doctor. An x-ray may be needed to be sure that the battery has gone through the esophagus into the stomach. If the battery remains in the esophagus, it must be removed. Most batteries move on to the stomach and can be allowed to pass by themselves.
  • Watching for fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in the stool or vomit.
  • Checking the stools until the battery has passed.
  • Don’t induce vomiting and don’t allow your child to eat or drink until the x-ray shows the battery is beyond the esophagus.
  • Swallowing batteries is dangerous. Search your home for devices that may contain button batteries. Secure button battery-controlled devices out of reach of children, and keep loose batteries locked away.

Young Hero: Franklin Sites

Franklin “Frankie” Sites, 4, just finished his first year of school, and his mom, Julie, couldn’t be happier.

When Frankie was 2, Julie learned that he was in need of speech therapy. “He started out imitating and spoke baby gibberish as any other child would,” she says. “When we first noticed that he was starting to struggle…we knew we needed to seek an experienced professional.” The Omaha Public School system agreed and worked with Julie to help Frankie. “We decided when he turned 3 that he would start attending special education pre-kindergarten and work with a speech pathologist.”

Frankie went on to attend Skinner Magnet Elementary School in the OPS district, where he received weekly visits from the school’s speech pathologist and worked with a teacher Julie believed was very helpful. “Together, they made for an awesome team and taught Frankie so much. He is able to make new sounds and say new words. Not to mention [he had] structure, teamwork, and everything else that comes along with daily educational routines and learning with peers.”

Frankie’s speech milestones and accomplishments in school have made Julie proud, especially since she knows how difficult it is for him to communicate with others. “He has to overcome these obstacles daily, and even though he can’t always succeed, he’s not a quitter, [and] he doesn’t show anger when he gets frustrated…he just keeps going.”

Julie sees her son as a hero because he’s strong and has the ability to face anything thrown his way. From his premature birth (due to complications) to his struggles with his speech, she believes Frankie’s been a fighter since the beginning. Above all, though, she thinks he just makes the world a brighter place. “He’s selfless, kind, loving, and always doing good for others,” she says.

Next year, Frankie will attend St. Philip Neri School, where he will join his brother. He will also remain in OPS’ speech therapy program. Nevertheless, Julie has no doubt that her son will only continue to improve in his education—a thought that makes her confident in his future.

Do you have a Young Hero in your life? Tell us their story. They might be featured right here on our Young Hero page! Contact Bailey Hemphill.

Having “The Talk”

Q: My daughter is 11, and I haven’t talked to her about the “birds and the bees” yet. What cues should I look for to know when it’s okay to have the talk? And how do I approach her?

A: If initiating “the talk” makes you nervous, many resources are available to guide you.

A book series by Stan Jones, God’s Design for Sex: How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex, provides age-appropriate ways to teach kids about sex from a Christian perspective. If you don’t adhere to the Christian values, you can input your own values in your discussions. Passport2Purity, a weekend retreat approach to teaching pre-teens about sex, offers many supplemental materials. The Care and Keeping of You (age 8+) and The Care and Keeping of You 2 (age 10+) are great books about puberty and body changes, presented in a straightforward way that is easy to understand.

Some parents like to go through the book with their kids; others let their kids read them and then talk about it together afterward. Read through it first so you know what they’re reading and are sure you’re comfortable with the way things are being presented.

There isn’t a “magic age” for talking to your kids about sex, but there are some things to clue you in that your kids might be ready:

  • What are your kids and their friends talking about?
  • What lyrics are in the music they listen to?
  • Is there any interest in dating?
  • Do they pay closer attention to commercials for tampons, birth control, or condoms?

Curiosity is natural, and it’s better for you to address sex before they decide to go online to find out about it—even innocent internet searches open up a slew of inappropriate sites.

It is important to set aside some uninterrupted time for a longer discussion. Offer plenty of time for questions and be honest with your answers. Be aware of your own attitude, because guilt, shame, and embarrassment are not good emotions for your kids to associate with sex.

Don’t be shocked if they ask a question out of the blue. Watch your reaction, and if it’s not a good time, just let her know it’s a good question but one that you want to talk about later. And keep in mind that girls will respond differently to the topic of sex and development.

My 7-year-old daughter just asked me last week what “sexy” means, thanks to a song lyric she heard. She didn’t need elaborate details—just an answer that satisfied her curiosity, and then she bounced out the door to go play with her friend. My 9-year-old daughter heard the question and was mortified. She needed a little more of an explanation but never would have asked.

Be relaxed and talk about sex like any other topic. If you’re uncomfortable, your kids will be, too. Take advantage of the little opportunities that present themselves because even if a statement or question from you doesn’t initiate a conversation, they will hear you. Sometimes, these situations are your kids’ way of “testing the waters” to see how you will react. They need to feel comfortable enough to approach you with questions, especially if you want them to learn your morals and values about sex.

In summary, act relaxed (even if you aren’t), and bring up the sex talk before it’s needed. You’ll both be glad you did.