Normalization is a term that can be tossed around in certain circles when foster parenting is the topic. Some define it as the right of foster kids to have very similar opportunities as kids in traditional family homes. Not just material things, which most 14 year olds think they should have, such an X-Box and 2 hoodies. It means being able to attend groups, activities or school functions. just as their peers can and do. It means not lagging behind in anything in which they want to participate, due to their being in Foster Care.
The idea itself is wonderful, but how realistic is it to accomplish using State and Federal guidelines? We live in an ever-changing world with cultures that are very different from each other. It is more important that a solid foundation is laid so the child has an adequate confidence level before worrying about whether they are getting into the same activities as everyone else. If I had to pick only one phrase in this whole entire post that one would retain for sure, it would be the following . . .
Normalization is achieved as a by-product of self-esteem and confidence. One cannot force normalization on old, beaten down souls in young bodies, without these strengths!
My work in live-in foster care was about six years and during that time I had over 40 teenagers, about six at a time in our home. Following those years, I spent most of my career working with the same population but in other venues.
In order to prepare for my career in foster care at Father Flanagan’s Boystown (beside my formal training in college as a social worker), I was trained 30 straight days before even being allowed to talk or speak with a child. Their program was probably the best I have ever seen as far as results go. I believe this is due to the fact it was a family model as referred to in the industry. This model leans toward helping that group of people who are now together, function as much as possible like a family unit. Our job depended on making sure that occurred. It was important that we would never be misconstrued to be an institutional-type setting, where a kid just felt like another number.
So whether you’re a foster parent to 1 or 2 or 8, at whatever age, the first priority, in my opinion, should be building foundations. Help them acquire the tools needed (confidence and self-esteem) to become normalized. A natural outcome will include a sense of ownership, (in your home/family), so they can call your home, their home.
I live in Florida so we get hurricanes almost every year. This year we had Irma, which crushed our state, covering the entire state with its 100mph+ winds and severe flooding. After it was safe to return home, I was again reminded of the difference between the stick/ wooden homes that were mansions and once huge and stunning but which now looked like they were kicked over like a wooden match book.
However, as we came back to our smaller, non-mansion home, we had power, and just some flooding, no damage to our brick foundation . Build your foster family on the brick foundation that holds its own during the storm. Once you have the solid foundation, the other things will fall in to place.
In closing, here are 5 key tips I used on all of my foster kids, and my 4 natural kids. Whether you are a foster parent now, may become one soon or currently have only your natural children, these work across the board. They pertain to normalization because no insecure kid will be itching to participate in any activities without the tools needed on the inside.
Building the inside up first gives way for that needed experience and confidence necessary to transition into normalized activities.
T.J. Petri is an alumni from foster care, and now works to help children in care today. Visit T.J.'s website HERE.