Whether or not a parent of a severely disturbed child feels supported (or simply survives) depends a great deal on how much they involve their community. It's up to the parent to make the first move in establishing a positive relationship in the community before the child establishes a negative one. Educating our neighbors, church, the stores we frequent, and the families
of our child's classmates is a formidable task, but one that is well worth the effort.
Neighbors can be brought in naturally by inviting them over for a cookout, or just a cup of coffee. Make them feel comfortable and welcome amidst the sometimes crazy environment of your home. Be up front about how chaotic life can get, and how things aren't always what they appear to be. Taking into account the need for confidentiality about your child, let them know that you are always open to any questions they may have, so they shouldn't hesitate to ask. Check in with them periodically, even if it's just an over-the-fence visit. Make sure that they know that you hold your child responsible for any damages he may cause, and that restitution will be made as quickly as possible.
Our church family can also be a great source of help. Often it is within the church that we find the greatest concentration of adoptive and foster families who are hurting. Volunteer to give a workshop on parenting difficult kids, start a support group, and be available to offer help at Sunday school
and other youth activities. The more you reach out, the more willing hands you will find to give you something back.
If our child has an incident with a store (such as stealing), we address it immediately. We take the child to the store manager, have the child return the item to that person (if possible), have the child tell when and how she stole the item, apologize for the theft, and tell the manager how she plans to make restitution. Let the manager know that similar incidents may occur again, and to call you as soon as it does. Frequent their store, and make them an ally.
If our child is fortunate (or manipulative) enough to have friends at school, we're open and available to the parents
of those friends. We have the friend over to our house the first few times so we can get a better feel for the relationship. Is the play healthy and appropriate? Who is the leader? How do they resolve differences between them? If our child has handled the relationship during several visits at our house, he may be ready to go to the friend's home. We let the friend's parents know what problem areas to watch out for (especially if our child has a history of sexual acting-out with others), and make sure they know to call us as soon as any problems arise. If our child seems to be handling short visits, their length can be extended as behavior warrants. Any overnight visits should be viewed with caution, only after a long period of displaying the ability to have a normal, healthy relationship, and under tight supervision in our home the first time.
Each segment of our community can be brought into our family structure to some degree. If they can be made to feel part of a team, community members will be a source of support. Let them know that, with their help, we can heal one more disturbed child.Denise Flanders is a therapeutic foster parent with the Attachment Center at Evergreen.
© The Attachment Center at Evergreen
Credits: Denise Flanders