UMCH Social Worker, Tondra Stiles:
Keagan* came to live with the Miller family two weeks before his second birthday. The Millers were new foster parents and this was their first placement. The DFCS worker and I dropped Keagan off with a collection of donations from UMCH and some items from his birth home. We shared as much as we knew about his situation at the time, answered as many questions as we could, and then left the Millers alone with Keagan.
I can honestly say that although I expected these foster parents to do a good job did with Keagan, I never would have guessed what an impact they would have on Keagan’s mother, Summer. Of course, having a toddler that has experienced trauma and separation was an adjustment—having a toddler at all requires adjustment! But the Millers jumped in with two feet. They took Keagan to the doctor and helped to reverse his constant congestion. They used verbal redirection, time out, choices, and positive rewards. They bought cars and trains—lots and LOTS of trains—and knew all the songs from Thomas the Train. They found ways to get him to eat vegetables instead of junk food—in quesadillas, chili, etc. This guy was finally on his first schedule—he took naps and learned how to fall asleep all by himself after bath and story time. He thrived with routine and lots of play. But what was so critical was not that he received this routine at the foster home; what mattered most was that Keagan’s mother learned how to do these things too, and why they were so important.
The Millers attended every hearing and meeting. They picked up Keagan at the end of his family visits. They brought photographs to Summer, and artwork he created at daycare. They created an email account and began to make videos of Keagan to send to Summer. These videos and photos showed what a typical week looked like at their home, and kept Summer involved and engaged in Keagan’s life. Summer would ask Keagan about the zoo, his road trip, his success and trials on the potty, etc. when she would see him at visits. Then she began to send her own videos. Keagan loved watching these. He didn’t realize they were recorded, and that his mother couldn’t hear him when he talked to the video.
Keagan grew several inches and began to talk. He spent his second birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas with the Millers. The Millers grew closer and closer to Summer. They encouraged her when she felt lonely, and they applauded her triumphs at treatment and parenting classes. Everyone involved began to see a true change in Summer. And when visits were changed to overnight, Summer followed the Millers’ routine to the letter so that Keagan would feel some continuity. She even bought the same foods that he began to eat at the Millers. When it was time for Keagan to go home, the Millers felt great about it. They had developed and cultivated a special relationship with Summer that was about mentoring, coaching, mutual respect and kindness—free of judgment, criticism or blame.
Keagan went home the day before Good Friday, so it was Great Thursday. There were a lot of tears—happy and sad. It was not their final goodbye. Just a few weeks ago, the Millers visited Keagan and Summer at the park. Summer calls once a week and talks to the Millers about what’s happening with Keagan. Keagan gained a second family, and Summer gained a support system. This is the true gift of foster care.
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*The privacy and safety of our children is very important to us, so all names have been changed.