Peter A. Kenny's
Adoption and Foster Care Law Blog

Here, I write about foster parenting and legal issues related to foster care and adoption.

New posts come twice a month.

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What a lawyer can do to for you, how to prepare for court, and other legal issues

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Complete List of Articles

Foster Care for Tomorrow June 29, 2021 Foster care has changed. Has anyone noticed? The DCS can no longer count on foster families with a stay-at-home parent. Certain goals for children in temporary care remain the same. Care should be brief, safe, and lead to permanence either through reunification or with a new permanent situation. To keep up with our society as it exists today, we have three simple recommendations.
Connecting to Your Kids June 1, 2021 Here are five hints on making connections with your hard-to-reach foster child.
Imagine How a Foster Child Feels May 18, 2021 Foster parents in training are sometimes asked to write down the ten people or things they value most on separate slips of paper. Next, they are asked to give up one, throw it into the trash basket, and discuss their loss among themselves. One by one, they are asked to get rid of the items they value, throwing the papers away as they reflect on what they have lot...
Foster Care Has Changed May 4, 2021 “What did Grandma do for a job?” asked my 12-year-old nephew, Jack. “Well,” I replied, “she raised your dad and me and our ten brothers and sisters, was a foster parent to many more, took care of our 14-room house, and even took care of her dad when he got old and lived with us.” “Yes, but what did she really do for a job?” Jack persisted. I was dumbfounded.
Rowdy Student to Son April 20, 2021 "At certain points, his behavior got so bad," Chelsea said, "I thought, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't be a teacher.'" Chelsea was working with Teach for America in a low-income elementary school. That's how she found herself in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, struggling to control Jerome and, somehow, gaining his trust. Other teachers would send the boy to her classroom, where she made him get his work done. "I got a lot of thankful emails and knocks on my door," she said.
Two Dumb Questions on Adoption April 6, 2021 From my own family and from my legal practice, I have become aware of dumb questions people ask about adoption. Two in particular stand out.
Moving Toward Permanence March 23, 2021 Here are a few suggestions, both for birth parents who wish to be reunited with their child, and for foster parents who hope to adopt.
Instant Family March 9, 2021 “Instant Family” is a realistic full-length feature film about the ups and downs of fostering-to-adopt. To quote one reviewer: “We are foster parents and this movie touched every base and emotion about what foster parents go through.” The film story was written by a foster parent. The actors are excellent. And beyond all that, it is touching and funny and great entertainment.
Whatever February 23, 2021 What a wonderful way to silently greet your new foster child over the first few weeks. "Whatever!" Plan to observe and listen. Without expectations. See what develops, what happens.
Whatever February 23, 2021 What a wonderful way to silently greet your new foster child over the first few weeks. "Whatever!" Plan to observe and listen. Without expectations. See what develops, what happens.
Bedwetter at Five February 9, 2021 “We’ve had our five-year-old foster son for over a year now and we were planning to adopt him. All was well until two months ago when he began to wet the bed nightly. Trying to be understanding, we began by waking him regularly to use the bathroom. Lately we have started to withhold sweets and privileges. Nothing seems to work.”
Cultivate Your CASA January 26, 2021 Every Indiana foster child has a case manager, a birth family with possibly concerned relatives, and foster parents. They also have (or should have) a legal advocate. Either a CASA (Court-appointed special advocate) or GAL (Guardian-ad-litem.) Although they undergo training, they are unpaid volunteers, giving of their time, as you do, to serve kids in need.
Know Your Case Manager January 12, 2021 Your case manager has legal control of the child in your care. As a foster parent, it is very important for you to get along. Whether you like each other or not, cooperation is vital as you plan a future for the child. Here are a few suggestions to help you work together. When you speak to each other for the first time, try to find something in common.
Legal Rights for Indiana Foster Parents December 29, 2020 Indiana foster parents have many legal rights to assist in caring for their wards. Know your rights and use them when appropriate. Here are the more important ones:
The Best Resource: Each Other December 15, 2020 Foster parents offer a special community of know-how and support. Thanks to the internet and Facebook, Indiana foster parents have a statewide resource, the Indiana Foster and Adoptive Parents group. On IFAAP, with its nearly 10,000 members, our state foster and adoptive parents can communicate back and forth regularly with one another on a large variety of practical and parenting issues.
Pay Attention to Behavior You Want December 1, 2020 The mistake most of us make is failing to recognize that negative attention is valued almost as much as positive time and praise. If there were only one simple rule for discipline, it would be this: You get more of whatever you notice.
When Residential Care Makes Sense November 17, 2020 While family remains the time-honored best way to provide a child with nurture and safety, there are exceptions. Sometimes the medical or emotional needs of a child require more than an individual family can offer. Or an older foster child, usually age ten or more, seriously threatens the physical or sexual safety of family members.
Handling Loss November 3, 2020 “After spending almost two years with us, our five-year-old foster son was removed to live with his grandparents in Illinois. Prior to that, he had been with them for less than a week of visitation. We had come to love our son and hoped to adopt. Now we are devastated. We don’t know whether to fight or cry.”
What to Call Your Foster Parents October 20, 2020 What does your new foster son or daughter call you? Names are important. His initial reaction offers a window to his world.
When Foster Care Goes On and On October 6, 2020 You have had your foster child for many months and have heard little or nothing. You are becoming attached. Afraid to contact the case manager for fear that might trigger the child’s removal. What can you do? Obviously, calling the case manager to inquire about the status is an obvious next step, but not always a comfortable one.
White Parents / Black Child September 22, 2020 “We are white parents planning to adopt our four-year-old foster son of color. Any suggestions on how to handle the race questions ahead?”
College or a Job for a High School Graduate? September 8, 2020

My 18-year-old adopted son will be graduating from high school in the Spring. I want him to apply to college and receive an education.  He wants to get a job.  Help.

The fact that he is adopted should make no difference.  You should respond the same way you would if he were your birth child.  But before you do, here are a few things you might consider.

About Tantrums August 25, 2020 Once a tantrum has started, stopping it is difficult. Rock-em sock-em tantrums are unlikely to be corrected by rational pleas or explanations. Foster parents need a three-step approach. First, do what you can to prevent a tantrum. Second, stop the out-of-control behavior. Third, re-engage the energy in another activity.
Your Quiet Foster Child August 11, 2020 You have had a new second-grade foster son or daughter for a month.  He is compliant but smiles rarely.  Very passive and says little.  All your overtures seem to have elicited short and unhelpful responses.  How can you connect?
Fix the Problem, Not the Blame July 28, 2020 “The more I get after him, the worse he gets.  He’s just doing it to get attention,” complained one foster mom.  Mother has stated the major objection to the Lecture/Yell/Punish (LYP) method of discipline. It’s not that effective.
About Time Outs July 14, 2020 What does the coach do when his basketball team loses control of the game?  A good coach calls a time out.  Not so much to give his team new instructions but to “stop the bleeding.”  Give them some time to regroup.
The Scary Stuff June 30, 2020 “My adopted son and daughter are almost legal adults. I know I need to give them more freedom to grow up,” one dad told me. “And yet the stakes are so much higher. No more little problems. Now my kids are facing mistakes that could change or destroy their lives. I know I need to let them go and yet I am frightened at what can happen. I want to protect them.”
Curfews for Teens June 16, 2020

Prevention by reining in a teen’s time away from home late at night is a good parental strategy. It is important to know where your youngsters are, especially later at night.  Especially for teens when the odds go up for car crashes, sex, and other life-changing events.

A Foster Child's Self-image June 15, 2020 What can a foster parent do?
Choice of Friends June 2, 2020 Peers are important, especially for teens.  As Judith Harris in The Nurture Assumption makes clear, peers have a strong influence in socializing one another. And teens are fascinated by the novelty of someone different. Perhaps they are attracted by the apparent self-confidence of a braggart or a bully, or the delinquent behavior of an agemate who flaunts the law. Probation departments have rules that forbid delinquents from associating with other probationers. Worrying about your child’s companions is legitimate. Children copy the behavior of their friends.
Vacations with Foster Kids May 19, 2020 Everyone needs to get away from difficult or boring routines. As foster parents, struggling with damaged children and with little money to waste, you need a break more than most.  A getaway also provides you with the opportunity to bond with your child through new adventuring.  Here are a few ideas on where you might go in Indiana and what to do. (To leave the state, you need permission from your caseworker and the judge.)
About Procrastination May 15, 2020 Get ready for school. Pick up your toys. Do your homework. Come to dinner. Foot-dragging can provoke long drawn-out attempts to get results by endless nagging. Parents become frustrated. Reminding and arguing and threatening are usually ineffective. Even worse, the attention that nagging provides can reinforce the very behavior that is driving the parent mad. The best discipline for slowpokes is for the parent to set deadlines. And then to enforce them, not with a lecture or punishment, but with practical consequences.
Thoughts on Defiance April 21, 2020 “I don’t have to,” asserts six-year-old Dion when he is told to pick up his toys. Some moms might automatically react negatively to the verbal defiance. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” she may reply. Mom may even be successful at obtaining compliance. But the price may be that Dion learns simply to suppress his oppositional feelings. A wiser mom might respond that she understands and accepts Dion’s resistance. “I know you’re mad but we still have to get these toys picked up.” Mom is showing respect for Dion’s feelings while still insisting on obedience.
Two New Special Families April 12, 2020 Good news at a bad time. As the Coronavirus kept most of us isolated at home, I drove from Indianapolis to Gary to meet two Indiana families.
Selecting the Right Attorney April 7, 2020 I am a foster parent. I need an attorney. How do I go about finding the best one?
Adoption Is Forever March 24, 2020 The courtroom was crowded. More than thirty people were present. The new dad and mom, of course. Grandparents. Older brothers and sisters. Friends and neighbors. They were there to witness the formalization of a lifelong commitment. The crowd had come to celebrate the adoption of Jana, a five-year-old. She had been their foster daughter for more than a year.
Negotiating for Adoption Subsidies March 10, 2020 All post-adoption subsidies in Indiana are referred for negotiation. In Marion County, your case will be assigned to one of four attorneys who will probably begin by offering a minimal amount of support or nothing. How much you eventually are awarded will depend on the knowledge and skill of your personal adoption attorney. Details of the negotiating process are contained within Chapter Ten of the DCS Manual.
Preparing for Adoption Court February 25, 2020 Know your judge. Adoption court hearings differ widely. Most are uncontested and informal. In those cases, you can anticipate a positive experience, brief and happy for you and your new child.
Getting Through to Your Child February 11, 2020 The biggest mistake we make in our effort to control the behavior of our children is our tendency to blame them. We wrap our verbal discipline inside a message that sounds like good parenting. It may sound good to us but it often fails because our child responds by shutting us out or automatically defending himself or herself.
Important People Who Can Help January 28, 2020 Foster parents, especially those who hope or plan to adopt, need to know and cultivate the major players. Rather than waiting around for their wishes to come true, they can quietly do a lot to enhance their chances. Here are some important contacts.
The Rights of the Child Come First January 14, 2020 Laws are provided to protect those most in need. The powerful can take care of themselves. Civil rights legislation offers a voice to women, ethnic minorities, persons of a different gender persuasion, those who are injured, and even to so-called illegal immigrants. An immature child with an unsafe or no home clearly heads this list. As our potentially most vulnerable citizen, the child whose basic need for safe and sane surroundings is seriously in jeopardy has an overriding right to our protection. The child’s rights become primary. 
Celebrating Family December 31, 2019 During a recent visit to our local hospital in Indianapolis, I noticed a brief and intermittent melody played over the hospital-wide sound system. I had to ask a nurse what that meant. She replied with a smile: “Oh, they play that every time we have a baby born here.”
On Giving December 17, 2019 This poem by Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet” suggests much about the motivation of foster and adoptive parents.
About Lying December 3, 2019 When one lecturer recently asked a group of foster parents what behavior they would most like to eliminate in their child’s repertoire, lying led the list. “It’s a betrayal of family trust,” declared one father. “How can you ever trust him if you never know whether you are getting the truth?”
Family First November 19, 2019 The primary goal of the new Family First Preventive Services Act (10/19) is to avoid foster care when possible by keeping mother and child together in the home. Minimal federal funds are authorized for up to 12 months to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment for parents and for pregnant foster children. Keeping the original family together with help is a worthy goal. As a psychologist friend of mine remarked: “If the abuse is serious enough to remove a child in the first place, then chances of reunification should be slim.”
Finding That First Job November 5, 2019 My foster son wants to work. What kind of job should he get for starters and how can I help him?
On Stealing October 22, 2019 A better approach is to begin with prevention. You are taking a damaged child into your home. Don’t tempt him or her. Instead, secure your valuables.
Making a Difference, a new book on foster care and adoption October 8, 2019

Attorney Peter Kenny announces the publication of his third book: Making a Difference: Foster Care and Adoption. His book contains over 70 single-page topics, all of which are of major interest to foster and adoptive parents.  The book is inspiring, and practical, a quick and easy read.

Inspirational Moments for Foster and Adoptive Parents September 10, 2019 It’s not always the big things that affirm foster and adoptive parents. Here are four everyday moments that different foster parents I know found memorable.
Four Good Reads for Children at Bedtime August 27, 2019 Several parents have asked for suggestions about children’s books that especially relate to foster and adopted children. Here are my favorites.
Keep Smiling August 13, 2019 A strong sense of humor is a necessary survival tool for foster parents. Here are three of many examples shared by my foster parent friends.
The Family Meal July 30, 2019 The family meal has historically served two very important functions. It has provided better nutrition and it offers a major time when parents and children can relate to one another. So sit down and eat together when that is possible. But if not, here are a few other ideas.
Who Gives of Himself (Herself) July 16, 2019 James Russell Lowell, in his epic poem, "The Vision of Sir Launfal", writes of a knight who goes off in search of the cup which Jesus shared with his followers at his last supper.
On Adopting a Foster Child July 2, 2019 My husband and I recently adopted our beautiful two-year-old son. When I share this amazing news with people, I sometimes get a response that, well, stings.
Vacations with Foster Kids June 18, 2019 Where to go and what to do in Indiana for foster families.
Time Out for Foster Parents June 4, 2019 Be gentle with yourself. You are your child’s biggest and best resource. Remember when you first get on a plane? The stewardess is giving safety instructions. In case of emergency, if you are traveling with a small child, she tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first. Without you, your child may be lost.
Grandma Made a Promise April 9, 2019 When this single grandmother adopted her two young grandchildren, that was occasion to celebrate-- special enough to write a poem.
Don't Make Kids Wait March 26, 2019 Imagine you are awaiting the results of your breast exam or prostate test. You call daily but they still don’t have the results. What are you thinking, feeling?
Quotes about Adoption March 12, 2019 I hope these quotes about adoption inspire you like they have inspired me.
Extending Adoption Subsidies in Indiana February 26, 2019 You have adopted a child with a disability. Normally, the child's Medicaid and per diem payments, funded by the federal Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), continue till age 18. Can you get them extended until age 21? Yes, but it’s somewhat complicated. Here's how.
On True Love for Foster and Adoptive Friends February 12, 2019 In a plastic and often hollow world, you are the real people. You are doing it, giving without recompense. Lovers in a me-first world. Like Pinocchio and the weathered and worn Velveteen Rabbit, it is your loving that makes you real.
Every Child Has the Right to a Permanent Home January 29, 2019 Research has clearly shown that delay in achieving permanence is not in the child’s best interest. Time is the enemy of a growing and developing child.
The US Federal Income Tax Credit for Adoption January 15, 2019 The US government offers a one-time non-refundable tax credit to adopting parents for expenses incurred in the process. Most Indiana foster-to-adopt parents receive a post-adoption subsidy paid by the state. If that is the case...
Why Adopt? Inspiring Ideas from Past Clients January 1, 2019 There are as many answers as there are adoptive parents. Each person has their own story, their own personal motives. Here are a few ideas from past clients that have inspired me.
Dealing with Children's Cellphone Use December 18, 2018 Taking away their cellphones and forbidding access is not usually a wise strategy. In addition to preventing contact with their peers and searching for useful information, it may foster resentment and encourage sneakiness. Here are four approaches which may help you monitor cellphones and computer use without appearing to take over.
How to Become a Foster Parent in Indiana December 11, 2018 An overview of how to become a foster parent in Indiana. The process appears more complicated than it actually is.
Foster Care Payments Are Not Taxable Income November 27, 2018 Foster care payments are reimbursement for the daily costs of raising a child, and are not considered taxable income by the IRS. Having a foster child in the home does not change the family’s status for receiving food stamps.
Adoption: Two Views October 23, 2018

By Mary Kenny

I am so unfulfilled
I have a house
	a car
		a job
			a loving spouse
But I have no child.
I need a child-
	I need a child so I can grow-
Maybe I should adopt.


I am so blessed
I have a home
	a car
		a job
			a loving spouse
But I have no child.
I have so much to share.
I need to help a child-
	Help a child to grow-
Maybe I should adopt.	

Helping New Foster Parents October 9, 2018

Foster parents, like other people, learn best from experience. Which means that those new to fostering are at a disadvantage. Even if they have already raised children of their own, Foster parenting presents some unique challenges.

Dealing with Bad Language September 25, 2018

A friend of mine complained that his eleven- and thirteen-year-old foster sons frequently spiced their talk with crude sexual and violent words.

Leaving Home with Empty Hands September 11, 2018

Your new foster child appears at your door, frequently with nothing more than bare essentials.

To raise consciousness about how a child feels at that moment, here is a memorable exercise that has been used during foster parent training. To begin, the leader asks you to write down on five separate slips of paper the five things you value most.

Family Helpers August 28, 2018

Five-year-olds and up are capable of learning and performing several household chores.

The Non-responsive Child August 14, 2018

"We have had our five-year-old foster daughter for six months and are hoping to adopt her. She causes no trouble but is like a shy little mouse with few words and big eyes. How can we break through and communicate with her?"

The Exception Proves the Rule July 31, 2018

Frequently at foster parent gatherings the organizers will trot out a young man or woman who grew up in foster care and is now educated and successful in a career as a teacher, writer, or in another productive field. This child would be a high achiever in any field, but remains unusual. Most adopted children, like all developing youngsters, are works in progress.

The Termination of Parental Rights July 17, 2018

“We have had our foster child for almost two years and nothing seems to be happening. Mother makes a little progress and then relapses. How long will this go on? When does the state give up on reunification and look for another permanent home?”

Handling the Non-stop Child July 17, 2018

“Constantly in motion. That’s our first-grader, Jonny. If I can get him to stop for a minute, he stays poised on the edge of his seat, ready to run off as soon as I say okay….His mind is just as undisciplined, jumping from one thought to another. Homework time is a nightmare. His doctor prescribed medication to calm him without much success. Any ideas?”

Preparing a Life Book July 3, 2018

One simple and meaningful way to get to know your foster/adopted child is to help him or her collect their history in pictures and stories in their own homemade personal book. Whether you are able to adopt the child or not, a picture-story book will become a treasure for a child who lacks “possessions.”

All About the Child June 19, 2018

The child fares better when foster parents and the birth parent can get along. Mutual distrust and hostility, often based on a lack of information, serve no one. You don’t have to agree with one another. But foster parents do need to withhold judgment. And show courtesy and respect for the person.

Foster Parenting Isn't Easy June 5, 2018

To paraphrase the former Peace Corps slogan, foster parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. You have chosen a difficult path. Instead of a big cheering section, you are likely to face problems, and even be blamed unfairly when things go wrong.

A Grandmother's Story May 22, 2018

We were attending Grandparents’ Day at the elementary school of our youngest grandchildren. Several of the children were showing pictures of themselves as babies being held and admired by their grandparents. “I don’t have any baby pictures,” my young granddaughter said matter-of-factly. “I don’t know what I looked like when I was a baby.”

Ten Good Reasons to Adopt a Teen May 8, 2018

Why older foster children think teen adoption is a great idea:

Tony Dungy on Adoption April 24, 2018

“As a football coach, I always had to be ready to overcome unexpected challenges. With injuries, crowd noise, and especially weather, the game plan is always adjusting to adversity.”

On Being an Adoptive Dad April 10, 2018

My father, Dr. Jim Kenny, wrote the following article on how he felt about being the adoptive father of my brother and three sisters.

Hints on Handling Your New Foster Child March 27, 2018

In my last blog entry, I asked you to imagine welcoming your new ten-year-old foster son. He certainly feels alone and scared and may express that by acting cocksure, or more likely quiet and reserved at first. From a psychologist who was also a foster parent, here are a few hints on how you might respond.

My New Foster Son March 13, 2018

Imagine your new foster son has just come in the door. His name is Eric, he is ten years old, and is clutching a paper sack holding everything he owns. Not much. You greet him warmly and tell him he is welcome. But you don’t really know him. All you have to go by are your expectations. Here are a few thoughts you might consider.

A Voice for Foster Parents February 27, 2018

Caseworkers and DCS conferences do not have the final word about removal, placement, and possible adoption of Indiana children in foster care. Courts are where these ultimate decisions are made. Foster parents have rights to be heard in court.

A Foster-to-Adopt Story for Children February 13, 2018

My father, Dr. Jim Kenny, with the help of an artist from Stone Belt in Indiana, recently wrote a children’s story about a little monkey who loses both parents and begins searching the jungle, looking for them. After many adventures, he discovers a family of chimpanzees who offer him a permanent home. Little Lost Monkey is a foster-to-adopt story.

Why Bonding Matters January 30, 2018

Here is our definition which has been used to support adoption in many courts throughout the US: “Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and is interrupted at peril to the parties involved.” Interrupted bonding is strongly correlated with adult mental illness, crime, poverty, and homelessness. Bonding can be demonstrated by 24/7the amount of time spent together, by community support, and by statements from the parties involved.

When a Cooperative Adoption Makes Sense January 16, 2018

A cooperative adoption allows for some continuing post-adoption contact. This usually involves a nominal offering of information about the child and/or the exchange of cards, letters and photos. Less frequently, personal visits may be permitted on special occasions. It may make sense when the birth parent fears giving up all future connection with her child.

A Tale with Two Endings January 2, 2018

A Middle School teacher began the following story and asked his students to make up an ending: One child’s story finished very differently.

When Kids Fight December 19, 2017

 “My pre-teen-age boys get into fights regularly,” complained one foster parent.  “It’s hard to stop them. My caseworker warns me against punishment.  Help!” 

How to Keep a Journal on Your Foster Child December 5, 2017

The strongest material you can have in advocating for your foster child is a well-documented daily journal. Keeping a daily journal assists you when reporting to the Child Welfare Department or advocating for your foster child at case conferences and at court hearings, especially adoption. When opinions are divided, your journal provides you with reasons and documentation for your views.

The Best Training for Foster Parents November 21, 2017

Whatever happened to the old adage: “Experience is the best teacher”?   Most would agree that is true.  So why the heavy reliance on agency-run workshops or classes for foster parent training?  Parenting can be learned and improved in several ways.

Dealing with Allegations of Abuse for Foster Parents November 7, 2017 Foster parents are especially vulnerable to charges of child abuse and neglect. Charges may be leveled by the foster child, the birth parent, the caseworker, a neighbor, or a stranger. The reasons are many and the allegations may be exaggerated or patently false, often motivated by resentment. No matter the source or the merit of the charges or how absurd they appear, they must be taken seriously right from the start. Don’t wait.
Foster Children Discipline Tips for Foster Parents October 24, 2017

For too many people, discipline is equated with punishment. This creates a special problem for foster children who have already suffered from abuse and neglect. In actual fact, punishment is a rather ineffective method for obtaining compliance. There are other methods that work better. Here are a few ideas.

Indiana Adoption Subsidies for Foster Parents October 10, 2017

Many different subsidies are available for Indiana foster parents who wish to adopt. They include continuing your monthly payments, providing health insurance, reimbursing you for some of your adoption expenses, a federal income tax credit, and help with college tuition. Your new child is entitled to all the financial support that is offered.

My Mother's Thoughts on Adoption September 26, 2017

My mother’s wrote: “We raised twelve children, both ‘homemade’ and adopted. People often ask me how I did it. But then I met Ralph. Ralph is the one who makes me ask, ‘How do you do it?’”

A Moving Poem on Adoption September 12, 2017

I want to share Carol Lynn Pearson’s moving poem on adoption.

Should I Adopt? August 29, 2017

You may have been thinking about adoption. How does a family go about making that decision? Like marriage, adoption involves a lifetime commitment. Not a step to take lightly.

When Do You Need a Lawyer? August 15, 2017

Here are a few thoughts about when and why foster parents might benefit from legal help.

Motivation for Foster Parents August 1, 2017

My admiration for what foster and adoptive parents do is boundless. I am honored to be their attorney. They have tackled the toughest job I can imagine, offering their home to already damaged youngsters who may well take out their misdirected anger on the “new” parents.

Welcome to the Kenny Law Blog July 18, 2017

The Kenny Law Blog will offer a brief twice-monthly comment on issues of interest to foster parents, especially those who are considering adoption.

Fix the Problem, Not the Blame

July 28, 2020

“The more I get after him, the worse he gets.  He’s just doing it to get attention,” complained one foster mom.  Mother has stated the major objection to the Lecture/Yell/Punish (LYP) method of discipline. It’s not that effective.

Of course he is getting worse. Most of us thrive on attention.  So stop rewarding his problem behavior. What else can you do?  Correct the problem directly rather than blaming and punishing the child.  Apply brief consequences.  Here are a few examples:

When he lies: Skip the lecture on the importance of trust.  Instead, after a falsehood or two, no longer accept his word.  Check independently on everything important that he tells you.

On stealing: After missing a few family possessions, one foster parent frisked his kids each time they left the house, even making a game of it.  Another parent searched their room while they were gone.

On playing hookey:  The school called to report an unannounced absence.  After this happened twice, mom took a day to ride the bus and sit in class with her teen foster daughter. When the daughter complained that mom was embarrassing her, mom replied with a smile: “School is important. I simply want to make sure you attend.”

When siblings fight:  Separate the combatants.  Make it a fun game.  Collect one of the combatants and take him with you as a helper.  Or play “Hugo.” Identify one of those yelling or fighting as Hugo, and then direct him to go somewhere else.

The hyperactive child:  Hold him on your lap and read him a story. Or set him on an armless stool with his legs dangling for a few minutes. Hopefully, balancing will require his full attention.

Consequences are designed to prevent problem behavior by providing a minimum of attention. The remedy is focused on stopping the behavior itself rather than trying to correct the personality of the child.  

In addition to brevity, consequences aim at stopping the questionable behavior itself rather than inducing guilt with a time-consuming lecture. Further, the child is not demeaned with actual punishments like grounding, isolation, or withdrawal of privileges.  The most important difference: Consequences are far more effective than a lecture and punishment.

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About Time Outs

July 14, 2020

What does the coach do when his basketball team loses control of the game?  A good coach calls a time out.  Not so much to give his team new instructions but to “stop the bleeding.”  Give them some time to regroup.

Time outs have an honorable history for effectiveness for parents in dealing with fighting and with temper tantrums.  Rather than punishing their child, the parent applies a non-punitive consequence, one designed to stop the wild behavior without demeaning the person.

One foster parent found a fun way to stop fighting.  When two of her young foster children began to scream at and hit each other, she shouted “Hugo.” With that, she named one of the youngsters Hugo (You go….)  He was sent someplace else, to his room or outside for a short period.  She knew her discipline was working when one of the combatants complained: “Why can’t I be Hugo?”

Another foster parent developed a simple way to stop her four-year-old when he began to shout and strike out at not getting his way. Rather than yelling at him or threatening punishment, she blew her whistle and said Time out.”  Then she picked him up and placed him on a high-back stool with no arms.  He had to remain there long enough to calm down.  She wisely realized that the important issue was not whether he could have his way but whether he could control his behavior.  In fact, he became so concerned with not falling off the stool that his lack of control subsided rapidly.

What to do?  It’s simple. First, you need a loud noise to get their attention.  Perhaps a short blast on whistle, a horn, or a magic word. Then remove your child from the immediate situation and engage him in some activity.  You will have better results if the new activity is something that captures his attention. Good luck!

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The Scary Stuff

June 30, 2020

“My adopted son and daughter are almost legal adults. I know I need to give them more freedom to grow up,” one dad told me. “And yet the stakes are so much higher. No more little problems. Now my kids are facing mistakes that could change or destroy their lives. I know I need to let them go and yet I am frightened at what can happen. I want to protect them.”

Powerful life-shaping drives, like sex and aggression, have much in common. They both generate sudden strong physical arousal which insists on an immediate response. The cost of a serious mistake is unacceptably high. These drives are most impelling in adolescence, a time when emerging adults lack sufficient life experience to fully appreciate the dangers. What can parents do to minimize the dangers?

Why is it that the matters that parents are most concerned about are also the ones where they have the least to say? A thoughtful consideration of either violence or sex is considered taboo in our culture. Instead we demonize sex as pornography and we trivialize violence as if it were a game. Our attitude makes it doubly difficult to protect our children and to prepare them to cope with the two primal drives of sex and aggression.

Sex is the way the human race renews itself and a tangible expression of love. Yet we ignore its wondrous purposes, primarily focusing on premature and unwanted pregnancy. Aggression can fuel assertiveness and energize a person to overcome handicaps. It becomes a problem when it degenerates to personal violence. Unfortunately, we make light of it with a mindless overflow of homicidal video games and films, as if killing were romantic and death were not real. We live in a society that treats sex schizophrenically as a peekaboo sin, while violence is paraded as entertainment.

No verbal lectures can be relied upon to override surging hormones and passion. Checking for drugs and sex is a never-ending and nearly impossible quest. Teens are inventive enough to work their way around almost any parental attempt to control them.

Blind spots in our culture make it difficult for parents to deal with the dangerous problems of late adolescence. Each family must work with their teen to find their own reasonable solution: a balance between the almost-adult’s need for freedom to grow and the parents’ need to set limits learned over a lifetime.

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Curfews for Teens

June 16, 2020

Prevention by reining in a teen’s time away from home late at night is a good parental strategy. It is important to know where your youngsters are, especially later at night.  Especially for teens when the odds go up for car crashes, sex, and other life-changing events. On the one hand, teens need independence to try their wings while still under parental control.  On the other hand, they need protection from their lack of life experience and their impetuous natures.

Curfews may be easier to verify but harder to enforce. The ability to apply a curfew will lesson the possibilities for tragedy.

Mark and Cindy realized that most problems with sex, cars, drugs and alcohol occurred later. They decided to require that their 15-year-old foster son be home by 10 on weekend nights. Although far from perfect, they believed this was a reasonable precaution. They used a strategy of rewards with bonuses for late time coupled with assigned work for every fifteen minutes late to enforce the curfew. While not perfect, the results were mostly positive.

What is a good curfew time?  That varies, depending upon the age of your foster child and his or her likelihood of getting into trouble.  Talk it over with your teen.  Then set a time you believe is reasonable.  Choose an earlier time to begin with.  You can lengthen it later as he or she proves to be reliable.

Since problems with drugs and sex occur when your child is away from home, a curfew allows you as a parent to relax. You do know if your teen is home or not. If he is not home when he is expected, the simplest discipline is to go get your foster teen.  No need to be mean about it. Do what you can to find out where your child is, collect him or her, and bring your teen home.

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