Any foster parent knows that court appearances can be a huge point of anxiety for older foster children. For those who are unfamiliar with the foster care system – no, we are not talking about juvenile delinquents. The young teen has broken no law; but their parent or guardian did something in the past that was deemed incompetent enough that a judge is now the decision-maker about where they will live, if adoption is best or not, etc.
Young children are exempt from attending court. Teenagers, however, are asked to attend a court session whenever it’s time for a judge to review their case, or if a permanency hearing is called. Although stressful, it is for the teens’ benefit. The court recognizes that they have a voice and an opinion, and they want to give older children the opportunity to express those feelings.
Yet, as you can imagine, the days leading up to a court date can be full of stress and worry. Our Home Parents have learned to help the children cope with those anxious thoughts, and we wanted to take a moment to share their insight, for the benefit of other foster parents.
Home Parent Mom in The Wright Home, Merri Heberlein, explains, “We have two brothers who recently had another court appearance. In the past, it’s been a huge challenge for the younger brother, as he struggles with some pretty intense anxiety. This time, however, we decided we’d make the day a special outing for the boys. Just the two of them, with my husband Andrew and I, for a few hours before the court session. We kept it fun and relaxed. After having these brothers in our home for over two years now, we know what triggers their anxiety – so every moment before court, we did our best to avoid any of those triggers. We’ve also taught them some relaxation techniques. All of this was not only aimed at making their court session as stress-free as possible – but also empowering the boys, so they would have the courage to speak up and express their thoughts and feelings while in court.”
Home Parent Dad in The Atherton Home, Brian Wallace, added, “We’ve found that simply showing up early and allowing the teen to spend some time chatting with their biological parent beforehand helps relieve a lot of tension. I simply step back and let them have those moments, one on one, with their parent.”
Our Therapist (and a former Home Parent) Rachel Howell concludes, “Court is a day that tends to draw out all sorts of emotions from our youth (and Home Parents.) Kids recognize that court is the place where big changes might be made, positive or negative. Court can be a reminder of why they are in care, the trauma they may have experienced, and the separation from their family they face each day. Perhaps there is anticipation of increasing visits with family while at court, or anxiety about getting in trouble due to recent choices or behaviors. Perhaps there is excitement that they may go home or fear that nothing will change. Often those feelings are wrestled with alone, just under the surface. For kids, acknowledging or even labeling these big feelings is a difficult task. Home Parents are attuned to picking up on the ways these feelings get communicated in the home. Sometimes kids withdraw in order to cope with the uncertainty of potential change, or act out in anger in anticipation of having to face their reality head on, or a number of different emotions and behaviors. Our Home Parents get to be the ones deciphering these interactions in the home and loving each child in those emotions. Whether a joy-filled court date or one riddled with frustrations, our kids have their Home Parents in their corner, walking them through these emotional days.”
If you as a foster parent, would like further information on coping strategies we use, please contact our Program Specialist, Amy Kingery.