This is not the first time single-parent Vivian Lomax has been a foster parent. A special education teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools, she worked with the Maryland state-run foster program, Mentor, more than 12 years ago. Reconnecting with a grade-school friend, Vivian learned about The Children’s Guild Treatment Foster Care program. “My friend knew a recruiter for The Guild and she said ‘You are great with kids. You really need to check out this program,” recalls Vivian.
A growing program that now boasts 37 parent families, Treatment Foster Care places children with complex problems that are difficult for regular foster homes to manage. Many of the children are challenging because they have experienced abuse and neglect, and they exhibit varying behavior disorders.
After talking with Kay Brazile, Children’s Guild Treatment Foster Care admissions coordinator, Vivian was impressed. “Having been a foster parent before, I remember the honeymoon period. When the child first arrives, they are quiet and sweet, and then over time they can change,” explains Vivian. “Most programs highlight the positives and then leave you hanging when things get difficult. However, Kay talked a lot about the support you receive when you are a Guild foster parent, and she was honest about the difficulties treatment foster parents can experience when dealing with children who are wounded emotionally, physically and psychologically. With The Guild’s program, I would be the foster parent, but The Guild would be the expert on the other end of the line, providing me with strategies and assistance if and when I needed it 24/7.”
Modeling Successful Behavior
Ten-year-old Tionna, whose mother passed away when she was 8, first came to live with Vivian on December 1, 2008. “After her brief honeymoon period, she lashed out and was angry. Based on what she has experienced, Tionna learned destructive behavior; she’s been in six different schools, and she’s only in the fourth grade. She lacked stability,” explains Vivian.
“These children are anxious about a new environment and naturally want to test the waters to see what they can get away with,” she continues. “She trashed her room and was screaming, but, when I calmly came into her room, she was surprised. When I knocked on her door, she asked me why I knocked. Lessons about what is polite, how to appropriately handle a situation when you are upset, how cleaning your room and not living in filth is a matter of self-respect—these are aspects we not only had to discuss one-on-one but I had to model for her even when she was upset. It takes patience and understanding.”
Learning to Create a Positive Environment
While her background as a school teacher, former policewoman, mother and grandmother certainly have helped build Vivian’s patience and understanding for others, The Guild’s training and support have also proved invaluable.
As a certified treatment foster care parent with The Guild, Vivian went through rigorous training before Tionna was placed with her. This specialized training in Transformation Education, a philosophy of educating children with values and life skills to be successful in life, helps surrogate parents create an environment that provides children with activities and experiences to encourage their talents.
“What I really liked about the training was that they explained to you the type of child you could get and prepared you for the difficult times,” explains Vivian, who takes 20 hours a year of classes to maintain her foster parent certification. “Their videos illustrated strategies for dealing with these children and opened dialogue between the other foster parents in training. These videos and discussions helped us realize that, like us, these children were anxious, nervous and uneasy about what to expect. By looking at this from both the adult and child perspectives, our training reinforced ways to build trust and respect between foster parents and foster children.”
The Hands-on Difference
For Vivian, one way to help build trust and respect was to take an active interest in Tionna. The two go to the Y four times a week, where Tionna participates in dance class and karate. “Tionna was reluctant at first, as this was something she was never exposed to before coming to live with me,” comments Vivian. “I see a change in her now. She looks forward to putting on her karate outfit and showing me the moves she has learned. She takes pride in her accomplishments.”
The knowledge she is making a difference drives Vivian, who has recruited several friends to become Guild foster parents. “We are looking for good foster parents who are committed and will hang in there no matter what, because it’s about these kids,” says Vivian. “These children often have been from home to home and experienced a lot. Foster parents need to challenge themselves to see what they can do differently to make a difference, to get to the bottom of the issues these children have, and to give them the chance to shine.”