Adopted Foster Children and Animals


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An introduction to the benefits of sharing adopted pets with adopted children and families. Therapeutic interventions assist with improved bonding, self esteem, and positive attachment.

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Adopted Foster Children and Animals

  1. 1. AFCA Adopted/ Foster Children & Animals Animal-Assisted Social Work By: Rose R. K. Smith
  2. 2. Mission Statement AFCA is a non-profit organization who pairs successfully adopted animals with families and children of the foster and adoption care system.
  3. 3. Goal of AFCA Bridge existing resources for children and families of the adoption and foster care system with resources AAT approved volunteers from community facilitate and assist adoptive/ foster children and families with a least harm transition Mental health providers and parents engaged with treatment and outcome
  4. 4. Design • Collaboration of school social workers and psychologists, child care workers, and other family support • Connect local county and state Mental Health multidisciplinary teams • Animal adoptions approved by Delta Society and other AAT programs and volunteers CBI verified • Primary Care Physicians/Nurse Practitioners will use screening tools and referral sources for children • State and Federal support from the adoption and foster care
  5. 5. Purpose  To ensure children of adoptive and foster care safety, protective, and nurturing environments  Assist children and families with attachment, positive behavior, & creativity  Create a transitional space where the child and family are needed to actively participate in supportive services
  6. 6. Cost benefit Aurora Mental Health Early Childhood and Family Center  Utilize existing support programs- Project BLOOM for young children and families of adoptive and foster care  Denver Dumb Friend League  Colorado Humane Society animal walking/petting program  Delta Society, HABIC & AAT approved animals
  7. 7. Organizational Structure of AFCA • Elected volunteer • Community board (every 3 volunteers years) of multidisciplinary mental health, • Delta Society physicians, CFO, and community • AASW program at members DU interns • Paid positions (Operations • UCHSC interns Management, Community MSW Liaisons, Executive • Aurora Mental Dir., office staff) Health and coalitions
  8. 8. Services of Aurora Mental Health • Home visitation and family, community programs have mental health resources, education, and support for young children • Services and supports are accessible, culturally, and linguistically competent • Families are equal partners in a supportive and collaborative service delivery process • Community will use formal and informal agreements to support collaboration and accountability (AMH, 2005) Photo courtesy of J. M.
  9. 9. AMH Established Relationships Arapahoe County Early Childhood County Arapahoe Department of Human Services-TANF Arapahoe Department of Humans Services-Child Protection Adams Department of Human Services Aurora Public Schools Developmental Pathways Tri-County Health Early Childhood Connections Family Members/Parent Youth Children’s World Cherry Creek Public Schools Arapahoe County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Head Start/Early Head Start
  10. 10. Population: Early Childhood & Families • 0-6 year old adopted/ foster children and families • Animal assisted therapy available through collaboration of mental health, community organizations, and AFCA • Each AAT experience is case sensitive and carefully monitored by multidisciplinary teams
  11. 11. Keys to a Successful Program  Appropriate selection of species for client(s)  AAT approved animal care  Structured and flexible animal time with clients  Sensitivity and trained alertness of stress and warning signs for animals and clients
  12. 12. Critical Considerations  Animal handler and therapists need to know and act upon animal and client signs of stress  Be sure animal has a safe zone with fresh water to retreat  Animal finds the interaction a pleasurable experience  Animal has plenty of sleep (16-18 hours) and plenty of play time  Limited therapeutic time frame 1 hour per day (HABIC, 2005)
  13. 13. Family participation with entire process
  14. 14. Need for AAT with adopted/ foster children and families Families Children  Establish attachment  Assurance of physical with children and emotional safety  Awareness of habits  Experience and responses unconditional love from another living creature  Awareness of destructive parental  Improved self esteem behavior  Understanding limits  Provide parents with set by trustworthy possibilities for change adults
  15. 15. Photo courtesy of J. Fitchett, MSW, AASW
  16. 16. Animal-assisted therapy and child development  Preschool children’s human-animal bond is directly related to empathy for humans  AAT significantly increases communication between children of neglect and abuse with their social worker and psychologist
  17. 17. Human-animal bond can be participating in relationships…
  18. 18. …or observing animal behavior
  19. 19. Attachment Relational bond is the attachment which caregivers convey availability and caring; • Responsiveness to attune selves to the children’s affects and behaviors • Sensitively attend to the physical and emotional needs • Emotional well-being and sense of security. (Timberlake & Cutler, 2001)
  20. 20. Emotions of adopted and foster children • Coping with sadness • Anger • Abandonment • Grief and emptiness • Neglect • Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse • Feel responsible for placement and loss • Intense shame and guilt (Timberlake & Cutler, 2001)
  21. 21. Attachment problems, loss, and separation from home • Losses become truncated • Defensive attachment • Acting out • Harmful to self, animals, and others (Timberlake & Cutler, 2001)
  22. 22. Animals help with… • Insight • Trusting • Making & maintaining basic human connections • Verbalizing feelings • Regulating affect (Timberlake & Cutler, 2001)
  23. 23. Psychosocial benefits with children and families • Attachment is the strongest and most beneficial with mental health when an animal is involved (Fine, 2000) • Family morale is raised (Fine, 2000) • Over 70% of families in the US have an animal at home
  24. 24. Cognitive benefits of AAT  Reading improves with an animal present – R.E.A.D. program (Jalango, Astorino & Bomboy, 2004)  Social skills increase with peers  Identify disabling patterns and move them out to reframe new experiences  Create new patterns  Increased degree of creative and imaginary expression (Levine & Levine, 2000)
  25. 25. Common threads of adoption/fostering Children & Animals  In need of a safe and secure home  Need consistent nurturing of emotional, physical, and social support  Regular sleep (children 8-12 hours, dogs 12-15 hours daily)  Good nutrition and exercise
  26. 26. Termination / Rites of Passage • Openly discuss termination • Termination should be case unique and handled delicately • Offer client choices to create rite(s) of passage together with therapist: drawing, photos, painting, craft, letters, crayon, etc. • Client terminated with a positive experience with trustworthy adults
  27. 27. Families Track & AASW University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work Families track provides students with knowledge and skills to work from a systems perspective with a wide variety of clients. This includes individuals, couples, families, peer groups, work associates, school classmates, and organizations. Clients are viewed in the larger context of religion, race, class, gender, sexual Photo courtesy of B. Frontella family orientation, national origin, age, etc.. (GSSW, 2005)
  28. 28. Relationships with the whole family  Children Adolescents  Families  Adults  Elderly
  29. 29. References Delta Society. (1996). Standards of practice, Delta Society, 289 Perimeter Road East. Renton, WA 98055-1329. Fine, A. (Ed.) (2000) Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Jalango, Mary Renck, Astorino, Terri, & Bomboy, Nancy. (Aug 2004). Canine visitors: The influence of therapy dogs on young children's learning and well-being in classrooms and hospitals. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. vol. 32(1). 9-16. Reichert, Elisabeth, LCSW, PhD. (June 1998). Individual counseling for sexually abused children: a role for animals and storytelling. Human Sciences Press: Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, vol. 15(3). 177-185. University of Denver, Tedeschi, Phil, MSSW, LCSW. (2005). Master of Social Work course: Integration of animals into therapeutic settings. in class notes July 22, 23, 29 & 30). Zoltán, Kovács. (2004). Animal-assisted therapy for middle aged schizophrenic patients living in a social institution, a pilot study. APA: Clinical Rehabilitation. vol.18. 483-486.
  30. 30. AFCA Adopted/ Foster Children & Animals Hendel Rose R. K. Smith Tel: (303) 907-8853 Website: