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Vol. 5, No. 1 • Fall 2000

Workbooks Help Children Understand Foster Care
by Jennifer L. Painter

In troubled times, can dragons really be helpful? They can if they are Michael and Sara, two dragon siblings who experience life in foster care.

As a former foster youth, I know how difficult the transition from "normal" life to foster life is. Your old life, it seems, is over. Emotions flare, rules change, and adults just don't understand anything. With feelings of isolation and confusion, it is no wonder that foster children, especially young ones, have a hard time adjusting. Many times they don't know how to express their feelings, and sometimes foster parents don't know what they can do to help.

That’s why I was glad to come across a series of books written by Sandra Heidemann, illustrated by Kathy Gorman, and published by the University of Minnesota. This trilogy of workbooks chronicles the lives of Michael and Sara from their entrance into the foster care system to their ultimate reunification with their birth parents.

The first book in the series, A Safe Place for Michael and Sara, tells about Michael and Sara with their parents. In the opening of the book, the family enjoys many activities together, such as swimming and bike riding, portraying the strong emotional bonds parents and children can have in a “normal” family. Because of this bond, upon entering foster care, Michael and Sara still love and miss their parents very much. This book deals with the strong emotions that Michael and Sara experience, just like any child would. Their emotions range from missing their parents and blaming themselves, to lashing out and wanting to leave their foster home. In addition, the book contains a guide for foster parents. This guide explains the different emotions that kids may experience upon entering a foster home, and how they may be dealt with. The guide also offers suggestions for using this book, such as helping younger children understand by talking about the pictures instead of reading the story.

The second book, Two Places Called Home, deals with Michael and Sara learning to adjust to living in a new home with new rules, while they visit with their birth parents. Michael and Sara's foster parents learn how to deal with the children's anger, and help them learn to understand their feelings. This book also contains a guide for foster parents that deals with separation and loss issues children face, and how these emotions can be handled.

The final book in the series, Together Again, deals with Michael and Sara's return home. They are excited to be back with their biological parents, but they also miss their foster parents. As they learn to express their feelings in a healthy way, the four of them learn how to once again be a family.

Each of these books deals with serious emotions and situations that many children face. The story line is simple enough for young children, yet it handles many of the profound issues foster kids may face. Also, the pictures in the book can be colored, making it even more appealing to younger children.

I highly recommend these books for any person who has foster kids under the age of eight. These books will help them understand what they are feeling, realize that they are not alone, and help foster parents learn, too.

For more information about the books in this article, write to University of Minnesota, University College, 200 Westbrook Hall, 77 Pleasant St., SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55455-0139.

Jen Painter is a sophmore at UNC-Chapel Hill and a member of the youth advocacy group SAY SO.


Copyright © 2000 Jordan Institute for Families