Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Survey on Personal Boundaries

How many of these questions would you say "yes" to?

1.) I can't make up my mind.
2.) I have difficulty saying "no" to people.
3.) I feel as if my happiness depends on other people.
4.) It's hard for me to look a person in the eyes.
5.) I find myself getting involved with people who end up hurting me.
6.) I trust others.
7.) I would rather attend to others than attend to myself.
8.) People take or use my things without asking.
9.) I have difficulty asking for what I want or what I need.
10.) Some people I lend money to don't ever pay me back.
11.) I feel ashamed.
12.) I feel bad for being so "different" from other people.
13.) I feel anxious, scared or afraid.
14.) I spend my time and energy helping others so much that I neglect my own feelings and wants.
15.) I find myself getting involved with people who end up being bad for me.
15.) I feel as if my happiness depends on circumstances outside of me.
16.) I tend to take on the moods of people close to me.
17.) I am overly sensitive to criticism.
18.) I tend to get caught up in the middle of other people's problems.
19.) I feel responsible for other people's feelings.
20.) I put more into relationships than I get out of them.

*Source: Boundaries and Relationships by Charles Whitfield

Boundaries and Core Issues

Healing often occurs within community
To work through whatever core issues are most important to you, it helps to be in the company of safe people who support what you are trying to accomplish.

Early experience(s) of abandonment can lead to feelings of self-doubt and shame.
Sometimes this creates layers of problems, including compulsions and addictions.

As an adult, it's important for us to create safe boundaries in our lives, especially if as a child, those boundaries were broken. We don't want those boundaries to be too rigid, keeping love and safe relationships out of our lives. But, we don't want to allow our need for love to cause us to put up with abusive behavior either.

As adults, we can choose the that we surround ourselves with, and with whom we share our personal information. (Please note that foster care alumni often have an all-or-nothing tendency to overshare or undershare).

Recovery happens in stages

Recovery issues might include:

1.) Grieving
- Stage 1: Identifying our losses
- Stage 2: Learning to grieve
- Stage 3: Grieving past losses
- Sign of recovering: Grieving current losses

2.) Neglecting our own needs
- Stage 1: Recognize that we have needs
- Stage 2: Identify what those needs are
- Stage 3: Begin to get our needs met
- Sign of recovering: Getting our needs met on a regular basis

3.) Being over-responsible for others
- Stage 1: Identifying boundaries
- Stage 2: Clarifying what our personal boundaries are
- Stage 3: Learning to set limits
- Sign of recovering: Being responsible for self, with clear boundaries

4.) Control issues
- Stage 1: Recognize what the control issues are
- Stage 2: Sort through what you can and cannot control
- Stage 3: Let go of some things, take responsibility for others
- Sign of recovering: Achieving more of a balance

5.) All-or-nothing thinking
- Stage 1: Recognize that it's there, and that it is a problem
- Stage 2: Consider possibilities of middle ground

6.) Trust issues
- Stage 1: Realize the importance of trusting
- Stage 2: Trusting selectively
- Stage 3: Learning to trust safe people
- Sign of recovering: Trusting appropriately

7.) High tolerance for inappropriate behavior
(often linked with dependence issues)

- Stage 1: Question what is appropriate and what is not
- Stage 2: Define what you will and will not put up with
- Stage 3: Learn to set limits
- Sign of recovering: Being able to set boundaries with others

8.) Fear of abandonment
- Stage 1: Acknowledge that we have been neglected or abandoned
- Stage 2: Talk through those emotions with a safe, trustworthy person
- Stage 3: Work through emotions and learn safe attachment within a caring community
- Sign of recovering: Willing to take the risk to open your heart to another person

9.) Difficulty handling and resolving conflict
- Stage 1: Define the conflict; put it into words
- Stage 2: List the roadblocks to conflict resolution
- Stage 3: Attempt conflict resolution
- Sign of recovering: Conflict resolution, or agreeing to disagree

*Source: Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self by Charles Whitfield, M. D.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Former Foster Children and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Comic from Cyanide and Happiness at http://www.explosm.net/comics/archive/

According to An April 6, 2005 study, former foster children in Washington and Oregon suffer post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of U.S. War veterans.

The definition of PSD is "a condition in which victims of overwhelming and uncontrollable experiences are subsequently psychologically affected by feelings of intense fear, loss of safety, loss of control, helplessness and extreme vulnerability. In children, the disorder involves disorganized and agitated behavior."

After having suffered a traumatic event, children believe that if they are vigilent enough, they will recognize the warning signs and avoid future traumas.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs reviewed case files of 659 adults, ages 20 to 33, who had lived in foster care between 1988 and 1998. They interviewed 479 of them.

It was the first significant study of how former foster children fared over a long period of time. Most of those studied entered foster care because they had been abused or neglected. More than half reported clinical levels of mental illness, compared with less than a quarter of the general population.

Foster children, the study said, are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Peter Pecora, director of research for Casey Family Programs, said a fourth of those studied reported symptoms of the disorder -- twice the rate of U.S. war veterans. "It is a dramatic finding," he said, adding that national studies show that 12 percent to 13 percent of Iraq war veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam war veterans suffer from the disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs in some people who experience or witness life-threatening events, such as violent personal assaults, military combat or serious accidents. They often relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks, and feel detached or estranged.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Identity development and self-protection among group home residents

Author's premise:
'Although it is a given that children come into foster care with multiple, complex problems that stem from traumatic experiences such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse and mental illness, there is little evidence that foster care ameliorates those problems.' (Definition of ameliorate: To make a situation better or more tolerable).

I love this quote from the research study: "There is a dearth of foster care research to elicit the perspective of the child."

In studies that did interview foster youth:
-Very few were able to articulate the reason for their placmment or plans for their future
-Most articulated high levels of insecurity about the permanency of their current placements

-Teenagers from ages 15-19 who had been in foster care between 2-11 years
-This sample was drawn from group home settings

Group homes are structured residential settings, housing several foster youth. The use of group care for teenagers is high for many reasons, including a lack of available foster homes for adolescents. Group settings are often chosen for teenagers in order to facilitate their preparation for independent living.

Identity development, according to Erikson, is the process by which a teenager develops a concept of his/herself. It includes the recognition of personal capabilities and limitations.

This process involves:
-Coming to terms with past experiences
-Accepting a realistic self-definition
-Manifesting a future direction (*educational disruptions don't help)

Self-identity is socially bound: A person's sense of self emerges, in part, through their interactions with others. Therefore the social context of living in a group home has a critical influence on the residents' developmental process.

Group home residents experienced:
1.) Development of a stigmatized self-identity (*culture of foster care)
2.) Self-protection

--Institutionalized: Group foster care was described by residents as being 'like an institution.' Despite being based on a familylike philosophy of care, group homes were perceived to be overly restrictive and to lack individual consideration or respect.

--Pathologized: Furthermore, caregivers interpreted normal teenage behavior, when expressed by group home residents, as psychopathological or devient.

--Stigmatized: Entering group care conferred a new status on the child. Being labeled a 'foster child' or a 'group home kid' was experienced as a diminished social status. Other people assumed that the teenager was delinquent or disturbed.

Impersonal treatment and disrespect: These assumptions were communicated to group home residents in everyday social interactions, and, in effect, devalued their personal worth.

Negative stereotypes followed them in both their living situations and their larger social world, and were widely held by adults and peers in their neighborhood and school environment. This resulted in biased assumptions and behavioral expectations.

Internalizing the stereotype: In time, the negative views that other people held and communicated through interactions with the teenager were interalized into the teenager's self-view. This led to self isolation and limited future aspirations (lowering the bar of self-expectations).

Process of self-protection
When a child in foster care endures recurring assaults on his or her developing identity, defenses must be developed in order to prevent additional harm. Foster care is rife with uncertainty.

Self-protection is the process by which a child develops those defenses and strategies to protect self from further disappointment, rejection, loss or trauma. This process may begin prior to foster care placement, when a child experiences major losses, neglect or ongoing abuse.

The self-protective process is often accentuated in foster care due to:
-Multiple placement transitions
-Unstable caregiving
-Further episodes of mistreatment within foster placements

1.) The illusion of normality: Upon first entry into foster care, many children are given the illusion that they will be placed in a 'homelike' setting, that they will be safe, and that the people will be like a family. For many of us, this turns into broken promises.

2.) The unpredictability of foster placements is that they so often involve many transitions. Children are often left without a stable core of caregivers. The faces change, at school, in the foster placement. Even permanent foster homes end when a teenager is emancipated, which "terminates" the placement.

Each time you move, it's harder to get close to people: Trust diminishes. Most participants in the study could idenify at least one previous caregiver to whom they have felt close. The loss of that individual had been disappointing and painful. The repeated transitions underscored the original losses or rejections that had caused the young person to enter foster care.

3.) Personal loss and disconnectedness: Quote from participant in the study, "When you move, you always leave a little something behind that was yours"
-Multiple moves
-Difficulty maintaining relationships with siblings, relatives and friends
-Learning how to live without those relational connections

Strategies for self protection
1.) Creating a fictional self to conceal their foster child status: Forethought and selectivity before sharing personal information with another person. First measuring the risks of disclosure, trustworthiness of the person and potential changes in the relationship.

2.) Maintaining a defensive posture about foster care status: Apathy, "I don't care who knows" or defiance, "If they don't like it, it's their problem!" Might involve setting up fronts or barriers to avoid involvement with others or distancing themselves through antisocial behavior.

Quote from participant: "I keep my problems to myself and I solve them in my own mind. That's the way I handle things."

3.) Keeping relationships superficial: Nearly all the study participants reported making a conscious decision not to get too close or make attachments to other people.

One participant said, "I'm not really close to anyone that lives here (the group home). Oh, I'm nice to them, like when I need to borrow something. So I basically just use this place like a motel."

Underlying themes for self-protective strategies:
-"I can and must take care of myself"
-"Others can hurt you"
-"I don't need anyone"

The key defense was a veneer of self-reliance, giving the appearance of self-confidence, competance and independence. This is accomplished by using one's internal resources to combat or cope with external conditions that have a real or potential impact on the self.

It's basically a barrier to protect self from further harm.

Kools, Susan. Self-protection in adolescents in foster care. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 139-152.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Does foster care affect boys differently than girls?

*External locus of control: An individual believes that his/her behaviour is guided by fate, luck, or other external circumstances.

*Internal locus of control: An individual believes that his/her behaviour is guided by his/her personal decisions and efforts.

The sample:
56 foster children from a public metropolitan social service area and 56 nonfoster children from the same community completed an external/internal locus of control scale and a brief demographic questionnaire. The male-female ratio of both groups was 28 boys and 28 girls.

The tool:
The Nowicki Strickland Internal-External Locus of Control Scale

The results:
Results indicated that female foster children experience a significantly higher external locus of control orientation. This difference was present regardless of the number of years in foster care.

Relationship between achievement and locus of control:
Other studies have demonstrated that high achievers are significantly more internal in their locus of control than comparison groups.

Please note that internal locus of control, or belief in one's one effectiveness can co-exist with low self esteem.

Speaking personally:
I have a high internal locus of control.

Speaking collectively:
Reading this research study made me concerned for other female alumni of foster care, who might think that their lives are governed by fate or chance, and because of that belief, sit idly rather than working proactively to make their lives better.

Jackson, Sonia. Reducing risk and promoting resilience in vulnerable children. IUC Journal of Social Work, 2001/2002.
Wiehe, Vernon (2001). Locus of control in foster and nonfoster children. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 148(2), pp. 183-187.