Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Web Site

We are excited to have our new web site up and running.  It is still under construction, with kinks and quirks being worked out.  We will be posting all of our upcoming blogs there, as well as an archive of our past blogs.  Please come check out the new Jeremiah House web page and our latest blog entry!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The World I Grew Up In

That fateful day in Newton, Connecticut has in one way or another affected all of us. The taking of innocent life always leaves a void and feelings of frustration and helplessness. There are those that feel that gun control is the answer, while others speak out about the mental health issue in our country. Everyone is looking for answers to a problem that doesn’t render itself to a clear cut, black and white solution.

Whatever the solution is that we as a people come up with we’re all going to be left with knowing that those lives that were taken will never be returned to us. During this time of mourning, we as a people need to band together to come up with a solution, putting away all political agendas, and band together for what is best for the protection of our children, our schools, and all of those that serve and protect our children. Schools should be a safe place to be where children aren’t in fear of someone coming in and hurting them.

We make laws to cover the exceptions to the rule, instead of enforcing the laws that we already have. In doing so we punish the law abiding citizen that would never dream of bringing the carnage that was perpetrated on these children by the gunman in Newton. We need to understand that in the world that we live in there is always going to be evil. If we take guns away from everyone, evil will find a way to rise up its ugly head and strike out at those that are innocent.

As a society we need to try harder, now more than ever before, to reach out to those who are hurting and need a friend, mentor, coach, parent, or teacher. It only takes one person to bring about a positive change in a person’s life. People, and especially children, are worth our investment of time, money, and energies.

Back on May 16, 1970, I walked into Walt’s Gym in Hayward, California. I was there only to bring a friend of mine down to the gym. I had absolutely no intention to work out. Walt Teixeira, who was the owner, saw me, walked up to me put his hand on my shoulder and told me that I needed to hang up my jacket and work out with my friend John. When we were done working out Walt came up to me again and told me “this is where you need to be.” I didn’t know what to say; I didn’t have money to pay for a gym membership. “I didn’t ask you for any money; this is where you need to be. You need to quit smoking because that will hinder muscle growth. Men work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; I’ll see you when you come in with John.” At that, Walt turned around and went to help someone out in the gym with whatever they were doing.

One person turned my life around. I went from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, running with the wrong crowd, and making decisions that weren’t in my best interest, to creating positive goals for me. Just because one person stepped up and took an interest in another human being. Would it have made a difference in Newton, Connecticut, if someone would have been a positive instrument in that gunman’s life? We’ll never know. But it could make a difference in the community that you live in.

Forget all the arguing about whether gun control or mental illness or some other factor was to blame for that horrible day. There is nothing we can do to bring those children and staff members back. Strive to be the person that someone needs so that they can make positive changes in their life. You can make a difference in the life of a young person.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Does Being Politically Correct Lend Itself To Providing Natural Consequences? Part II

If a child is lazy it is not going to hurt them to hear it from an adult or a parent who is going to make it their mission in life to teach the child how to work. I have had many children come live with us who, if you looked “lazy” up in the dictionary, you would see their picture staring back at you. With proper training and direction, laziness is curable. We have adults call up and ask for my teenage boys to come work for them, even when they have teenagers living in their own home. I had one parent tell me that they were hoping that my child’s work ethic would rub off on their child.

I am a very strong advocate for giving praise when praise is deserved or earned through a job well done. We need to stop putting our time and effort into no child being left behind and more time and effort into creating a learning environment where a child can do their best--and not what a standardized test says they should be doing. If a child gets an F on their report card and they deserve that F, that’s what they need to have. What we teach in our house is that an F has natural consequences. Privileges aren’t given because of good grades, they are taken away because of bad grades. That is the way it is in the outside world. When we do well, the natural outcome is that we are able to do more things. In contrast, when we don’t do well, our world becomes smaller around us.

Giving false praise in the attempt to hopefully redirect a child and their behavior is not only non-productive, it’s potentially damaging. A child who is told by their therapist, social worker, teachers, etc. that they’re a nice person, when in reality their behaviors are far from being nice, is being given a false sense of who they really are.

I read a booklet that was part of a parting gift, signed by all of the people in charge of or who had worked with a child who was coming to live with us, telling this child what a nice person he was and that he was going to be missed. Let me just put it out there that when this child came to live with us he put us through holy Hell. He wasn’t anywhere close to being nice, and anybody in their right mind couldn’t possibly have missed the type of behaviors this child brought with him. If they truly missed it, then perhaps they had a screw loose themselves.

In the “feel good” world we live in, they had continued to lie to him. The people that worked with this child gave him a false sense of who he was, in hopes that if they kept telling him he was a nice person enough times he would turn into that nice person, somewhat like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. It wasn’t working with them, and it wasn’t working with us.

Now I’m not saying that you need to belittle a child by telling them that they’re bad and addressing their behaviors negatively. What I’m saying is that the parent needs to address bad behavior with the mindset that they, the parent, have an opportunity to teach and proceed accordingly. But to be “politically correct,” you’re supposed to be positive at all times, not honest. No child left behind, isn’t that the flavor now? How dare anyone tell a child that they aren’t a nice person, and what they’re doing is not acceptable.

I had a child who was starting to steal, so I arranged for him to have a guided tour through a juvenile detention center. I wanted him to know what, if he continued doing what he was doing, his next living accommodations were going to look like. God clearly has a sense of humor, because during this tour my young man saw two kids that he knew from school locked up there. One young man was in isolation and the other was in a holding cell, and had been there for over eight hours.

We need to be honest with our children. This will allow them a chance to be able to start to reflect on who they are, what they’re doing, and what they’re becoming. This young man was becoming a thief, and there needed to be something done to turn him around, and nothing to date had worked. With approximately seventy percent of children who have been in foster care ending up in the penal system, sometimes extreme measures need to be taken to bring about positive results. When nothing is done, nothing will be accomplished. At over $40,000.00 per year to house an inmate, shouldn’t we put more of our resources into our youth before they get to a point where nothing can be done?

We need to be less concerned with being “politically correct” and more concerned with teaching our children what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. They need to be taught that there are consequences for everything we do in life, both positive and negative.

I loved coaching kids. One year at try outs I chose a young man who was undesirable to other coaches, yet this child was a gifted player. I was told that in no way did I want this child on my team. He had a bad attitude and his mother was even worse. This kid had talent that was through the roof and I thought to myself, how bad can this kid be? It didn’t take long to find out. He was the mouthiest youngster I had ever had the privilege of working with. Little Donald was an equal opportunity pain in the backside, and everybody felt his wrath. In little league I only had to play him a minimum of one time at bat and two innings in the field, and that was all he played.

His mother, being African American, started spreading the rumor that her boy wasn’t playing because I was prejudice. There was another African American youngster that was playing on my oldest son’s team, and we had become good friends with his parents. When this mom voiced her concerns to this family, she was told that it was highly unlikely that I was prejudice, and that it was more than likely her youngster. Well, mom didn’t come to talk to me, Donald’s father did. This was probably for the best because he was known as a pretty nice guy.

He voiced his concerns about his boy’s playing time and what could be done to get him to play a little more. I looked at him and told him, “You take care of your kid’s attitude and I’ll take care of his playing time. I picked your child as a six inning player, but his attitude stinks.” His father was dumbfounded and replied, “You mean that if I take care of my boy’s attitude, you’ll play him more?” “That’s right,” was my response. The next day Donald showed up kind of hanging his head and told me, “Coach, I’m sorry I have a bad attitude.” A couple of games later, after this youngster made a complete transformation, Donald was up to bat and struck out on a called strike. He turned around to the umpire and started to give him a ration, when I yelled out to him, “Donald!” Donald’s immediate response was, “Sorry Mr. Umpire, I have a bad attitude.” I am sure that when his dad had a talk with him it wasn’t sugar coated, and I’m sure he got to the heart of the problem. Donald was one of my best players. The same child that nobody wanted on their team had a chance to be the best he could be, because his parent didn’t take the politically correct road to make his child feel good. He took the road that needed to be taken to bring about change. When we start raising our children to understand that their hard work and attitudes outline the course of their lives, we start raising a generation that can change the world.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Does Being Politically Correct Lend Itself To Providing Natural Consequences? (Part I)

In our “make everybody feel good” world (where most all of our children participate in team sports, school activities, and/or any other type of activity that requires hard work and self-discipline) we have been programmed as parents to offer up false praise or rewards for children that did not try their hardest or do their best.

Special events or rewards are given out to a child for doing what should be expected of them in the first place. I have talked to parents that give out monetary rewards for a child getting good grades in school. Shouldn’t good grades be the reward that the child is striving for? How and when does a child learn that the benefits that come from working hard and being known as a person that strives for excellence build strong self-esteem and a good feeling of self-worth?

Being involved with youth sports, I have seen well-meaning parents adamant over finding just the right trophy to give out to the players at the end of the season so each child could feel good about themselves. Little did these parents understand that their children could care less about the trophies or awards handed out at the end of the season; what was of concern to the youngsters on my baseball team was how much better they were hitting and catching at the end of the season than in the beginning. Each child knows where they stand on the team, who is the best player, and if there are awards given out, which child on the team deserves the award.

The children that I had the privilege of coaching just wanted to see Mom and Dad present at whatever event they were participating in, cheering them on, giving encouragement. My own children knew where we would be sitting at their events and would make it a point to look over to make sure we were there. I learned my lesson concerning this when my oldest boy pointed this out to me. We ran our own business and I had a salesman come in right before it was time for me to leave for his baseball game. I could have very easily told the salesman that I didn’t have time and set up another time for him to come in and try to sell me something that I wasn’t going to buy anyway. He took up my time, which I allowed him to do, causing me to get to my son’s game right as it was finishing up. As I came up to the stands I asked my wife how he had done. “Not well, he struck out every time at the plate.” The game before he had three hits for four times at bat, so I could see that he hadn’t had a good day. I walked up to him and asked, “What happened today?” With tears in his eyes he told me with no hesitation in his voice whatsoever, “I guess you’ll have to be here to find out.” What a lesson I learned that day.

I also coached my youngest son’s second grade basketball team. One of my team’s biggest highlights for our season was when the smallest child on the team, who couldn’t make a basket, made his first basket in the last game of the season. In practice I wasn’t easy on this child. I set the bar high for him just like his teammates, wanting him to learn to be able to compete with his teammates. Early on in the season I pulled him aside and talked to him about how weak he was and how we were going to work to get him stronger. This young man couldn’t do a pushup when he first started. We discussed that everyone has a starting point, and every step forward we’ll call success. But I wanted him to know that where he was at wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t do the pushups for him; he had to do them. By the end of the season, he was squeaking out between five and six pushups. As far as I’m concerned that was acceptable.

During the last game, it was my desire to have him shoot the ball and hopefully make a basket. He would miss the basket every time he would shoot during previous games, so he got to where he wouldn’t shoot at all. We had had a very good season, only losing one game, and in the last game we were way ahead of the opposing team. Every time he would shoot and miss he would look over at me, wanting me to take him out. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I called a time out, got him away from his teammates and told him he wasn’t doing his best. I said, “I want you to quit looking at me every time you shoot and miss. You just play your very best and if you miss every shot, I don’t care. My only concern is that you work harder than you have ever worked before, because I’m not taking you out.”

His teammates kept passing him the ball, over and over again until that ball made its way up to the hoop and he made it. The opposing team even got involved and cheered him on. That child’s whole season was culminated in that moment. He ran over to me, and I picked him up over my head and said “good job!” “But coach, he said, what if I didn’t make a basket.” “Making the basket isn’t what’s important; never giving up is. Do you see what you can do if you keep trying and don’t give up?”

That memory, that accomplishment was worth more than any plastic trophy or award certificate that could have been given. He wasn’t the best player on the team, not even close. He knew that this was the only basket he made all season--even in practice. But that very moment, when that basketball circled the rim and fell through the net, this young man knew in his heart that he could accomplish whatever he put his mind to.

There were those who thought I was riding this child too hard. Was I? Maybe, but not according to him or his mother. There is a definite difference between demanding excellence and raising the bar for a child, as compared to those that ridicule and demean a child’s character. We need to demand higher standards in our children today so that they can grow up with higher standards for themselves as adults.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bullies Are a Fact of Growing Up

Growing up on a farm for the first twelve years of my life on one hand helped me to be responsible, but on the other hand kept me fairly naïve to the harshness of the outside world, and totally un-streetwise. When we left the farm and moved down to Clear Lake Highlands, California little did I know that I was going to be given a lesson in what it was like to be humiliated by my peers and beaten up on a weekly basis. And then on top of it all, having the teachers at the school look the other way, condoning the actions of the children that were the bullies. There were six of these boys in this little gang of thugs and they were inseparable. If you got into it with one, the other five would quickly jump in, leaving whoever it was that had tried to stick up for themselves lying on the ground writhing in pain.

My first week in school I pretty much kept to myself, having heard that you didn’t want to cross these kids or say anything to them that would make you a target. It wasn’t long, though, before I came across all six of them beating up one of the smaller children in our class. Trying to get them to stop beating my classmate up was easy; trying to get them to stop beating me up was a whole different problem.

I was constantly told by teachers, the principal, and (what hurt most) my mother, that I needed to “get along” with these kids. What was it that I had done, to make these boys react to me the way that they were? I had one teacher in particular tell me that these boys were good boys and if they were beating me up, I must have had it coming.

Now every child needs to have a hero and mine was my older brother. One day while these boys were chasing me home, my brother saw what was going on, and what had been happening throughout the school year, firsthand. Without even saying a word to me, he went down and bought two sets of boxing gloves and started showing me how to box every day after school. After a short time I learned to quit blocking his punches with my face and got to where I was gaining more confidence in myself and my abilities.

The last day of school came and I couldn’t have been happier. We were going to be moving from this town, down to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I wouldn’t have to put up with these kids anymore. As I was leaving the school to go out to get my bike, two of them had been waiting for me. I was able to get out the gate with them chasing close behind me. I headed off of the main road onto a gravel road trying to ditch them when I quickly discovered that the road department had put down more gravel making it hard to pedal. The two boys caught up to me, kicking me off of my bike face first into the gravel.

I felt the blood pouring out of the scrapes on my face, and heard the laughter and the taunting. I had put up with this all year and this was the last straw. I came up off of the gravel swinging for all I was worth. The training that my brother had given me in the short time that we had trained was now coming to fruition as both of these boys were lying on the gravel in tears.

I remember wanting to continue beating on these kids, when a soft but stern woman’s voice told me that I needed to stop, they had had enough. She told them to get on their bikes and skedaddle on home. She looked down at me and I will never forget her words. “ I have watched you being chased, hit, run off of the road for the entire school year, and I was wondering when you were going to stand up for yourself. Come on over and we’ll take care of your battle scars and I might even have some cookies and milk hanging around.”

She went on to say, “We all need to stand up for ourselves, and when someone can’t, the strong need to protect those that are weaker.” I truly believe that if the stronger were taught to stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves, bullying would be an exception to the rule. Bullying will continue until those that are protectors are permitted do something about it.

We read stories all the time about children that commit suicide, take guns to school, shoot other children and teachers, only to have the common denominator turn out to be that they were bullied and feeling trapped and felt something needed to be done. When these children take their lives or the lives of others, it leaves a huge gaping hole in all of us, individually and as a society. The senseless harming of a child creates in most of us a feeling of sorrow. Society continues to look for answers, trying to find something or someone to blame so that we can understand, or at least try to understand what happened.

Bullying can’t be stopped by creating more rules, laws, or empty conversation with those who bully about why they shouldn’t be bullying. Rules, laws and conversation only work for those who respond and abide by rules, laws and conversation. The people that abide by these parameters for the most part aren’t the ones that are the bullies.

There has always been and always will be those who pick on and abuse others that are vulnerable and easy targets. I have been raising children for over thirty six years, four of my own and over fourteen foster children, and the difference now as compared to when I first started is the children of today aren’t taught to defend themselves. They are taught to go tell an adult that somebody is picking on them. This only works when the person being told on is one of those people who, for the most part, follows the rules—this incident being the exception to their usual behavior. The person that doesn’t follow the rules could care less about being tattled on, and will continue to abuse.

Children have to be taught to defend themselves and others. They need to be taught to verbalize their feelings, telling those that are bullying them to knock it off and be willing to back it up. Those that see a wrong being committed against a weaker person should be able to feel free to stand up for that person and have the support of those in authority, without the fear of being punished themselves. With these sorts of standards in place, maybe we can finally see bullying behavior become the exception to the rule.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Knowing Your Limitations Continued…

Nancy and I periodically have people contact us, wanting to pick our brain concerning the pros and cons surrounding foster care. There is one couple that comes to mind every time I talk to someone in regards to foster care and knowing what you can handle. These people are a prime example why when working with children in foster care you don’t want to get in over your head.

We had known this couple for years but it wasn’t until after we had been in foster care for a number of years and one of our boys was graduating from high school that they made mention that they were interested and wanted to get together with us before they went forward with the training. That was the last time we saw them for over six months until we saw them coming up the steps at the DSHS office in Spokane, Washington.

After exchanging pleasantries, I proceeded to ask them what they were doing at the DSHS office. “We’re foster parents,” they both blurted out. “We have been licensed, and we are taking placement of a sibling group of three today.” “Wow, that’s incredible, what do you know about these children,” was all I could say. They proceeded to tell me that they were sorry that they didn’t get a hold of us and that it all just happened so quickly. They had made the decision to be foster parents and they decided to jump in with both feet, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. They went on to say that they had been told that there wasn’t any information, nothing on these children except that they were coming from a BRS home, which stands for Behavior Rehabilitation Services.

“Do you know what BRS stands for?” I exclaimed. “There are volumes of information on each one of these children, that is why you should have sought out counsel from someone, it doesn’t matter if you get the information from us or not.” The woman looked at Nancy and myself and exclaimed, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just give them back.” Nancy was appalled and said “These are children, not puppy dogs, every time these children are moved it sets them back significantly.” One and a half weeks later after taking placement they gave the children back, claiming that they couldn’t handle the behaviors. They were not prepared for the type of behaviors these children exhibited and it had taken them over the top. To date they are no longer foster parents.

I know these people and they are good people, well liked in the community, always willing to lend a hand or volunteer when needed. Their problem was that they were not prepared, didn’t understand their limitations, and got themselves in over their head. I would like to say that this is uncommon, but I hear about this happening quite often. The biggest problem we have with this occurrence is that we lose valuable resources every time we lose foster parents, and every time a child is moved, it makes it that much harder for the child to attach.

Understanding and knowing what your capabilities are before you take on any given task is just using good common sense. Always look for those that are doing the job and doing it well and glean from their experience. Never be too proud to ask for help or guidance. The very future of the child in your care, or the child coming into your care needs for you to be in control, understanding before the child comes into care what you should expect so you can help the child to heal and become successful.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Knowing Your Limitations

Having an understanding of what our limits are is crucial when working with traumatized children.

When I was thirteen years of age, I had a job breaking and working out horses at a boarding stable that not only boarded horses, but also bought and sold horses. They would go to the local slaughterhouse where the owners of the stable would buy them for a cheap price. They would pick through the horses trying to choose those that looked good enough and with the minimal amount of work they felt they could bring around to a point where they could sell them and make a profit.

One day they came back with what I would say was the most beautiful horse that I have ever seen. This horse was a Golden Palomino with a flowing flaxen mane and tail standing just under fifteen hands. I knew that nobody would send this horse to the slaughterhouse without good reason, there had to be something wrong and I was right. I soon found out why this horse had been discarded.

This horse would allow you to put on the bridle, saddle, lead him, pet him, and lunge him. This horse would even put its head into your chest and want the top of his head rubbed. The owners of the stable wanted me to hurry up and get into the saddle and ride this horse out because they already had this horse sold to a little twelve year old girl who at first sight had fallen in love with him and wanted to take the horse home with her.

The very moment after swinging my leg over the horse’s back and getting settled into the saddle, this horse erupted. First it started bucking, and throwing itself up against the corral trying to get me off of its back. When that didn’t work, the horse lunged forward, rearing up, and throwing itself on its back, trying to crush me under its weight. When I felt the horse rearing backwards I had thrown myself off of the right side, trying to get out of the way.

I spent a month trying to get that horse ready for that little girl, because she had fallen in love with him and was blinded by his beauty and wasn’t looking at his character. I got him to where he wasn’t bucking or rearing over backwards, at least in the arena. I was told to take him out on the trails and ride him out, because the people that had bought him were going to be coming in to take possession of him. Everything was going well; the horse was obeying commands and riding out well when all of a sudden with no warning it threw itself on its back once again trying to crush me under its weight. I was able to get off in time, grabbed the reins and at that point walked the horse back. There was no way that I was going to get back in the saddle; I was done with this animal.

When I got back to the stable the little girl came running up to her horse, along with her father. I looked at her father and told him, “if you put her on this horse, this horse will kill her, or hurt her really bad.” It was good to see that this father had common sense and asked for his money back even over the protests of his daughter. I remember her looking at me with tears in her eyes telling me how much she hated me. The owners of the stable were quick to fire me, kicking me out of their place and telling me that I wouldn’t be getting paid for the work that had been done for them.

Like this horse there are children that have been so severely traumatized and abused that no matter what you do or how much time you spend trying to help them you cannot undo the damage that has happened to their brain in early stages of development.

If you take in one of these children and find that you are unable to cope with the behaviors, rest assured that those affiliated with the child will be looking for someone to point the finger at and you the foster parent will most likely be the one. It is apparent in our society that there always has to be someone besides those that actually caused the damage to shoulder the blame. Understand the process, hold to your guns, and you’ll get through it. We live in a culture of armchair quarterbacks that believe they have the answer, even though they lack the ability to make the play.

Move on from this realizing that there are so many children out there that can be helped and want to do well, as compared to the one child you can’t help. It’s human nature to mourn the one that has to leave instead of rejoicing in the ones that benefit from your home and talents. You the foster parent didn’t birth this child; you didn’t abuse, neglect or abandon them. You are not the reason that their behaviors are out of control, or their young lives are filled with trauma, fear, or mental illness. You are the one that is trying to help, and sometimes the damage is so severe that the child is beyond help. Continuing to try will only create an unsavory environment not only for yourself but also for the other children in your home.

Everyone needs to feel safe in their own home, and when someone creates an atmosphere of fear or anxiety within the family unit, that person needs to either stop doing what they’re doing or for the health and wellbeing of all others in the home, they need to leave.

There are always going to be those workers that have no regard for the wellbeing of the foster parent or the existing children in your home. They try to place in your home those children that you don’t have the capacity, training, or the experience to cope with, let alone help. Be aware of your abilities and limitations and go with what you know. Do not be afraid to say “no” if you do not have the training or ability to care for this high needs child.