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Celebrating Your Return

Posted by Val Fox on June 24, 2013 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Photo:  ValFox   Looking west  from home toward the Rocky Mountains

To my Special Sweethearts,

I remember when we first met.  You were frightened and confused, and we cuddled in a rocking chair.  You were afraid of the dogs because home had neglected, hungry mongrels roaming the townsite, learning to fight for any small morsel.

I remember when you spoke your first complete sentence, Little Man.  I have hickups, you said.  We celebrated with a picnic in the mountains.  Remember your swimming lessons, and talk to the Creator when you feel alone and hurt.  Childrens' prayers are powerful.

I remember the looks on all your faces when I took you to your first movie.  You laughed, fought over the popcorn, spilled your drinks and then fell asleep.  The movie was an animated comedy about chickens.  Do you remember the name of it?

I remember the joy I felt watching you all learn how to read.  Don't forget that books will be your friend and a window to the world where you can learn new things, escape from life's pressures and enjoy a good story.  I am so proud of you, my sweethearts.

Little Mother, don't forget to let yourself be a child from time to time.  Remember, it's not your job to take care of everyone.  Enjoy your youth while you can and don't be in a hurry to get married and have kids.  Reach out and grab the opportunities offered you to grow and discover yourself first.  You are a wise, old soul.

Little Precious, don't ever forget how beautiful you are.  Keep that knowledge tucked in your back pocket.  Pull it out often to remind yourself of the lovely young lady you are becomming.  Your generosity and ability to share is one of your many strengths.

Each evening I will remember our good night song and how it gifted each of us with forgiveness and peace before bedtime.

It has been an incredible journey getting to know you and I want to thank you for all that you taught me during our time together.   We've all grown and changed  since we first met almost seven years ago.

I wish you joy and peace as you continue your journey home.  


New Placement New Fears

Posted by Val Fox on February 6, 2013 at 2:50 AM Comments comments (2)

We know that words can be powerful tools for getting our messages across to others. Whether spoken or written, the words we use will influence others one way or another. Words used by others will arouse us in ways we never imagined through news stories, letters, song lyrics, speeches or intimate conversations between two.


Today’s blog features some brief snippets of dialogue. They are based on the work I’ve done with youth for the past 16 years; the words in the dialogue highlight some of the questions and comments that the flies on my wall have been privy to – words between me and various adolescents that have shared my space and taught me so much. It also highlights material that will be expanded upon in my book, Wisdom From the Front Line (working title) to be published when it feels complete.


This blog is also February’s entry for the IWSG Blog hop. It is a group of writers that gathers on line once a month to offer information, thoughts and inspiration. For those who may be interested, I will post the link at the end of this blog. And now, welcome to the world in which I write, where words can be provocative and powerful.  How does your use of words affect your writing or your own daily life?  Please share your thoughts, and thanks for stopping by.




When we were little I watched my dad kick my mom in the stomach when she still had my brother inside her. I screamed until he stopped and she fell down in front of the stove. He was really mad.

It must have been really scary for you guys.

We ran through the snow to the neighbor’s house. They let us in and called the cops. Those cops threw my dad into the back of that cop van, and the ambulance took my mom to the hospital. They said we couldn’t see her and we had to come here instead. What’s going to happen now?

Well, tonight you’re going to hang your hat here where it's safe.... I'm sorry you can't be with your family tonight but tomorrow we’ll go together and I’ll help you find some answers, okay?


Do you want to bring your stuff and I’ll show you your room?

No. I want to go home!

I know you do...





Wow, you’ve got an interesting fashion style. But I wonder if those tall, black boots are the best choice for such a pretty dress.

I won’t wear them to school, just at home.

The dress too, okay? Only at home. I know you want to wear girls’ clothes but for school you need to dress like a boy, okay? Not everyone is comfortable seeing a boy wearing a dress and tights. Some get so offended or even afraid they will bully anyone they think is different.

But why?

Because different groups of people have different opinions about certain things. Different families, communities and cultures each have their own beliefs. That’s what makes us unique. We are all different.

Yeah, so.

So….wear your guy clothes for school and outings. And when you’re an adult YOU can decide what you want to wear when you go out. Is that okay for now?





June’s a tough time to stay inside, isn’t it?

Yeah. I just wanna be outside without all the hassle at school, you know? Those teachers don’t know what the f—k they’re talking about half the time.

If you gave a number to how tempted you feel – a number from one to ten with one being hardly tempted at all, and ten being ready to run now, what number would you pick? What number do you feel like today?

Ummmm…probably eight.

Does that mean you feel ready to AWOL?


Well, I have an idea. What if you and I disappeared tomorrow after school and went on our own AWOL, maybe just for a few hours.

What do you mean, ‘our own AWOL?’

Well, we could just grab our stuff and head out to wherever you want to go. If you had a chance to just disappear for a while where no one could bother you or ask anything of you, where would you want to go?

Some place where there’s lots of trees and no people. I’m sick of people telling me what to do. I just want to be out on my own, you know. It’s better that way, then I’m not having to listen to everybody telling me what to do or where I can go. You guys don’t know what my life is like. You just sit around having your stupid meetings. You don’t know nothing.

Well, you’re right about that. I don’t know what it’s been like for you...

But listen, what if we – just you and I – took a planned AWOL – where we disappear and go find some trees and a place to just hang out for a while. We could pack some food, pillows, blankets, put some gas in the van and “disappear.” We’d have to come home sometime in the evening though. But we could go enjoy some free time where you don’t have to do anything but kick back and enjoy the rest of the day. Does that sound like something you’d like to do?

Maybe...  You're weird.

Yeah, that's me.  Weird.  So we gonna do this, or what?

Tags:  different writing styles; writing dialogue; listening to others; kids in treatment; acceptance of others; strategies for working with teens; foster care; writing descriptive dialogue; realistic dialogue 













Playing in the Dirt

Posted by Val Fox on May 3, 2012 at 11:25 PM Comments comments (3)


     More than 140 young people have lived with us over the years; many were diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( I dislike the term DISORDER.) One of the activities I've done with them each spring is play in the dirt, no matter what their age.

Most kids enjoy creating something outside after the dark, winter months. Alongside the lobelias and the poppies the children plant seedlings that include bright orange merigolds, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radishes and whatever other vegetables will fit.  They watch their projects grow, and add to Earth's beauty or to the dinner table.  Feeling proud and excited, they can even pick their own snacks right out of the garden.

Yesterday we played in the flower beds: turned over the soil with spoons and spade, examined earthworms and sprayed one another with water. We weeded, thinned and transplanted, preparing for this year's colorful surprises.  The red tulips they planted last year bend and weave in a circular embrace.

Two other plots contain a hodge-podge of  prairie plants and grasses, each trying to take over the space.  We learned not to dig up native prairie plants.  Gathered in this manner will also transport other seeds that have been lying dormant in the soil.  When transplanted into good soil with a wind shelter, the hitchhiking seeds germinate too.

The kids used newspaper, then mulch to cover the soil, except for around the plants they wanted to keep.  We have become students, learning how to properly collect seeds from the wild.  It can be tricky as each plant requires collection at the optimum time, under the right conditions. Many of the kids I've worked with require close supervision and simple directions.


Robin, blackbird and meadowlark music, and the smell of damp earth help set the mood. We squeeze a dime's-worth of liquid bandage to protect our hands. One wants to dig. Another wants to plant. One tells a story while another shows his moves.The physical exercise connects them to the earth and its inhabitants. It expends pent-up energy and allows them to express themselves away from TV and video games, and helps them sleep at night.    

The children I've worked with come with a variety of challenges.  Some can't remember directions.  Others have difficulty dealing with strong emotions. Some drink and steal cars while others run away searching. One sits alone watching the others play. Another will destroy or steal possessions.

One time I went out to check the garden and one of the kids had given himself and the rose bush a "haircut."   The rose had been planted in memory of grandma Emma and grew back thicker than ever. All scissors were put in a safe place from then on, as was the knife found buried under the couch.

Training and mentors help us understand many of the children better; but in the end, it's the kids that have been my best teachers.  They have taught me the importance of safety protocols, of back-up plans, of making transitions more of a process rather than sudden announcement.  A nightly song can comfort the toughest teen or a frightened child. Self care and strong supports will help us discover joy among the bumps.

Thanks for visiting.:) 

Photo:  Creative Commons


Tags: Youth mental health; at-risk youth; listen to the kids; children as teachers; children in care; youth in treatment; special kids require creative outlets;

Inadvertently Ignored

Posted by Val Fox on April 10, 2012 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (1)

        For children in the Canadian foster care systems it is about the welfare of kids, yes, but it's also about money and politics - how much a service will cost and who, if anyone, will pay for it.  From a caregiver's perspective, the needs of the child appear to be at the bottom sometimes, especially when dealing with First Nations children in care.  Their needs sometimes become inadvertently ignored.

I've worked with Child Protection Services both in the city and on a First Nations reserve and I've noticed some marked differences between the two.  But in the end we fail ANY child that goes without services due to lack of funding.  They can "fall through the cracks."  It has been frustrating to see some children give up on school, end up in jail, on the streets or having children of their own before they're ready.  I believe the lack of services on many reservations contributes to children not getting their needs met.

Here in Alberta, Child Protection workers on reserves endeavor to follow the Child Welfare Act, using provincial practices and standards as their model.  When I worked in Calgary, a city of one million people, there were more agencies with services designed to assist young people and their families.

Agencies secure funding each year through the province and other means by maintaining a strict level of professionalism and standards.  Agencies also conducted their own fundraising efforts throughout the year and are able to provide teachers, therapists and trained staff to work with youth - the goal being reunification whenever possible.  Case conferences are held consistently with representation from the school, mental health professionals, parents and caregivers, program staff and Child Welfare workers.  Each meeting addresses the educational, health and psycho/social needs of the child.

On a reserve it is sometimes different.  I have seen what a lack of or missing funding can do: programs and staff cuts, a steady turnover of child welfare workers and kids who will not get the assistance available to others.  A child with behavioral difficulties could be a child with learning difficulties. A child could be diagnosed by a pediatrician through information from caregivers and observations during appointments. I've seen it happen where a child with a diagnosis CANNOT receive services from a specialized clinic because there is a waiting list of other kids needing assessment who are not diagnosed yet.  A proper diagnoses takes time, interviews,  testing and money.  Without the money, no testing, no services, no help for a child who could fall further behind and feel more isolated each year.


The Child Welfare systems are imperfect, we know that.  But there are many dedicated, caring workers who leave their jobs, frustrated and burned out.  There is also a lack homes available to place children in care, many who have special needs.  Therapists can only do so much too as they also work within systems with specific mandates and regulations.  If it's not a fit, no services.

In October, 2011, local tribal members voted on this First Nations reserve.  The goal of Chief and Council was to have the tribe assume full responsibility for everything to do with its own Child Welfare and Family Services.  The tribe would continue to get global funding from the federal government.  The people voted and the agreement did NOT pass.

Thanks for visiting.

Today's A to Z April Blog Challenge featured the letter "I."   You can find more information at

Tags:  foster children, Alberta, First Nations, learning disabilities, advocacy, Canadian government, child victims, education, high-risk kids

Living with ADHD

Posted by Val Fox on April 1, 2012 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (2)

  I first learned about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( ADHD) while providing services for a Calgary agency that worked with youth from across Canada.  These kids came into treatment with a myriad of diagnoses, many of them coupled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  

They were the kids who couldn't sit still. Many had difficulty staying focused in school, fidgeted and disrupted the focus of others.  Most were impulsive and hyper-sensitive to stimulating environments. They could also be intelligent, compassionate and creative.

 I learned later that children with ADHD are not always hyperactive.  The acronym has come to be an umbrella term that describes a variation of symptoms from chronic daydreaming to severe hyperactivity plus additional symptoms resulting from the frustration of dealing with the daily stress of feeling overwhelmed (example: depression)

For those readers seeking more clinical information about ADHD, there is a huge amount of material in libraries and on the internet that can answer questions from a medical and research perspective.  My experience has been with the day-to-day challenges of working with youth who often suffer and do not understand why they do what they do. I always encourage others to seek medical direction beginning with their family physician.

On the morning of September 11, 2011 the world watched in horror as two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.  The kids and I were preparing for school.  There were scrambled eggs thrown on the kitchen walls and two of my little sweethearts fought over who would get the last orange.  

Stop a minute, I cried.  Look at this.  I wondered if I was watching a Hollywood movie until I heard the newscaster's voice and saw the first tower fall in a massive cloud of dust and debris.  There were still people in there, I said.  But no one heard me.  One teenaged girl pounded holes in the walls with her fists, screamed I hate it here! before she ran out of the house, slamming the door.  The morning was typically chaotic and noisy as three teenagers with ADHD struggled to get organized.  A fourth child just sat and stared at the coat closet, wondering what he was supposed to be doing.  And the day was still young.

Later that week I'd get a call from a teacher reporting that one of the kids had been injured after jumping off the roof at school.   A second call came in after lunch asking for support as another youth refused to comply and was disrupting the entire classroom.  Nothing the teachers tried had settled this young man so I was asked to come and help or to take him home for the day.  As was often the case, the third child was extra well-behaved for the remainder of that day, and talked about it non-stop during supper.  The fourth trashed his room after receiving a call from his parents.



The usual treatment for many of these children involves giving them medications designed to help them focus, to help improve function and performance.  As each child is different, physicians must supervise and assess, trying different medications until they find the one that works for a particular child.  Stimulants have been successful at helping with many symptoms but they can also have side effects such as weight loss.  

Other treatments include teaching behavior managment methods (working outside the classroom), counselling, teaching organization and how to complete a task.  School involvment helps but not all teachers are able to provide the time and attention these kids require.  And if they haven't been properly diagnosed, then they aren't flagged at school for special help.  It can be challenging for both the ADHD kids and family members.

After working the front lines with many ADHD children I've come to depend on a few strategies that can help everyone get through the days with less noise, less frustration and more laughter.  My goals are to promote safety, coach the most important skills needed for each child, and to search for ways to help each child experience increased success.  Some methods have worked better than others.  But after 16 years and more than 100 kids, these are the ones I've come to use the most.

- Provide clear rules and consequences.  Review them often.  Post them for all to see.

- Re-direct the child's focus on something pleasant such as music and dance.

- Provide a structured environment where kids learn what to expect and when.

- Slow transitions work best.  Give them time to adjust their mindset to a pending change rather than springing change on the child (in 10 minutes you will need to turn the television off...TV off in three minutes...okay, one minute left.)

- I choose my battles carefully, focusing on safety issues first, letting go of many smaller issues that they probably won't remember anyway.

- Pay attention to what triggers each child - and what they love to do.  Use this information wisely.  Knowing ahead what triggers a child can          prevent setting the child up to "fail."  e.g.  I avoid large, noisy crowds with lots of kids running around, as this environment is overstimulating.

- Use fewer words.  I used to talk too much, losing the message in too many words.  Fewer is better and easier for many kids to understand.

- When feeling frustrated I change my own thoughts about the situation.  Re-framing events helps control emotional reactions.  Use this technique for yourself and for the kids.    e.g. Why does she lie to me every day?      Re-frame: Her lies are not about me.  She believes lies will help her avoid trouble with others.  I'll show her some ways that work better and accept it may take longer for her to remember.

- Take regular respite, even if you don't think you need it.  Burn out can creep up before you realize it's happening.

- I like to use a communication notebook to talk daily with teachers.  It helps when the adults are all on the same page, knowing what's occuring at home and at school.

- Teach protocols, especially around safety.  I drill them over and over (in a casual manner but repeatedly) so that children have an idea ahead of time about what they can do (if the door is locked, if they encounter a bully on the walk home etc..)

- I like to involve the kids in planning trips and events so they can learn over time what the steps are and what they need to remember.  A couple of years we planned large yard sales.  We all worked together at: sorting, displaying, pricing and helping customers.  We've also involved the kids in planning trips - what to bring, how far to go, how to get a camping spot etc.

- I encourage lots of fresh air and exercise, and limit TV time to no more than two hours a day.

- Using Brain Gym movements helps kids clear their minds and prepare to focus.  Look up Brain Gym on the internet to learn more.

- Have safety plans already in place for high-risk situations, so the child can have a better chance of feeling safe and empowered.  e.g.  If a teen finds it difficult to resist temptation to steal a car, devise a plan with the youth, as to what he could do first before succumbing.  This can help, depending on the youth's willingness to try.  OR   What can the child do if a family visit starts to get uncomfortable.

- I pay attention to diet, noting what they eat so perhaps I can trace hyperactivity back to a certain food.  Some people advocate a gluten-free, sugar-free or additive-free diet.  Research has not supported the belief around sugar but there does appear to be a link to hyperactivity and food additives and artificial colors.

- My goal each day is to give the kids seven positive, encouraging messages for every one criticism or correction.

- Celebrating success is cruicial for developing a healthy self esteem in any child, but especially in children with disabilities or other challenges.  We give acknowledgment and praise (within reason) and have gone out to celebrate milestones, however small with an ice cream cone, a trip to the beach or having our young person choose his own celebration.

If you find yourself dealing with a child with challenges such as ADHD, remember you are not alone.  Seek support, any services that are available in your area and check often with a pediatrician.  There is a lot of valuable experience out there through clinicians, foster parents, on the internet and members of support groups.  Reach out to others and take care of yourselves too.

For anyone interested, the following link provides information on the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.  Tomorrow's blog will have something to do with the letter B.  Bye for now.

tags: atozchallenge, atozblogging, blogging challenge, blog hop


You Can't Make Me

Posted by Val Fox on November 17, 2011 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

 Some of the children in my life have struggled with oppositional behavior.  While all kids test limits as they develop, some fight them more than others.  For the sake of this blog I'll refer to youth aged 11 and older that I've worked with in a treatment setting. Oppositional behavior can range from refusal to comply with a request to willful and dangerous acts of revenge.

Oppositional behavior often sounded like this:

I didn't do it.  She did. I don't care.    Whatever      It's her fault.

You don't love me.  I hate this place. You don't care about me.

You can't make me.  That's not what I said. Kiss my *****

You don't know what you're talking about. Sooorrreeeee!

                                      No, its...No, I'm...No, you...

Oppositional behavior sometimes looked like this:

Slamming doors Blaming others Excessive Arguing

Ignoring rules/expectations Sulking Rolling the eyes

Making hurtful remarks to get reaction

Sabotaging an event Picking on others Illogical arguments

These are just a few of the things I've seen and heard, and while each child  responds to different tools, I've created a list of some of the interventions I might use while working with oppositional youth.  One tool may help, perhaps a mix of two or more.  As always, requesting the assistance of a clinician recommended, especially if you notice that opposition is extreme, does not make logical sense, and is affecting learning or the family adversely.

Learn to recognize The Hook and be prepared - meaning, know your own buttons and learn some of what triggers your young person.  Example:  A child wandered around the house appearing aggitated.  I recognized this from previous behavior as a sign he was winding up.  I suddenly pushed away from the kitchen table over to the computer and announced, Let's watch pugs!  I searched for funny pug dogs on the internet.  The children gathered around and laughed while watching talking dogs and laughing baby videos.  While the activity appeared natural and unplanned, it was a calculated move to distract my little angel onto a different path.  By bed time he was happy and content instead of trashing his room.

Take a moment to ask yourself, What is the behavior telling me?  Is there a payoff such as attention-getting, diversion from feelings or a need for power.  Here are a few more ideas for you to consider.  At the end of the blog I'll provide a couple of good resources for you.


-I do not argue with kids - period.  If I'm going to get hooked into an argument I say nothing, just nod.

-Keep the child occupied in short blocks of time away from home, if possible. (a class or group)

-Do not bargain or make threats.  It has not worked well for me.  Sounds like: If you do this, I'll do that or If you don't do this, I'll do that.

-The more oppositional a child becomes the more important it is to maintain control, keep calm and stay focused.  Oppositional kids at the extreme end feed off reaction and chaos.

-Time yourself out, if necessary.

-Don't get into discussions when either you or your young person are irrational.  Tell the child you will talk with them later or at a specific time.

-Attend a support group with other parents to get ideas and for a place to talk with others.

-Find creative ways to review social skills often. I've had some good feedback from doing role plays with the kids.

-Nurture the relationship.  Plan fun activities, share affection.

-Provide a healthy, balanced diet.  Reduce or eliminate food coloring and sugar.

-Use aromatherapy and music to create a calming atmosphere.

-Certain colors can be helpful.  I would choose either blue or green to decorate a child's room.

-Use natural and logical consequences.  Examples are:  No coat on a winter day = cold.  If the youth intentionally misses supper, they do not get a new meal, but they can have a cheese sandwich and fruit.

-Remove a privilege such as computer or TV time.  This would fit for a young person that disobeyed rules about computer/TV use.

-Pick your battles.  Focus on the most important things such as safety issues, not whose turn it is to empty garbage.

-Seek assistance from clinicians (physician, therapist, counsellor) and don't quit until you find the right person who hears you.

-Have consequences for certain behaviors already planned.  You can even prepare a manual so when the need arises,  just refer to the manual. (Negotiations should not occur during oppositional behavor, only when calm and in a good space.)

-Provide quick rewards for good behavior.


-Take regular respite even when you don't think you need it.

-Try to separate the child from the behavior with statements such as:  You are a terrific kid.  This isn't really you.

-Eliminate any audience.  Sometimes oppositional behavior increases when others are watching.

-Provide two choices so the young person feels they have some power. Example:  You can go outside and take a walk OR you can listen to some music in your room.

-Give the young person an important task to carry out that he/she may respond to (nature of the task depends on the maturity of the child.)  Examples might be:  Make an important delivery, participate in a shopping purchase with an adult, plan an upcoming menu or event.

All these suggestions are tools I've used to work with oppositional behavior in young people.  I know there are strategies and would welcome additional suggestions from readers.  There are also many good books and videos available in your local library, counselling office and on line.  Below are a couple of good resources that have been helpful to me. Let us know what you think.

*The material in the Children As Teachers blog is based on my front-line experience as a theraputic caregiver, foster parent and material I have learned from others or in training.  I'm only an expert on my own story, having worked with more than 140 young people and their families since 1996, many with moderate to severe behavior and mental health challenges.    Thanks to the mentors, caregivers, clinicians, authors, team leaders and most importantly, the kids.  They continue to be my best teachers.   

When a Stranger Calls You Mom by Katharine Leslie, PhD

How To Deal With Your Acting Up Teenager by Bayard and Bayard.  A survival guide for desperate parents.  Publisher: Evans and Company, New York, NY  1983

tags: parenting, kids, frustration, refusal, expectations, house rules, consequences, discipline




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This is the personal website of writer Val Fox from Alberta, Canada: soon-to-be published author; freelance writer/editor; ghost writer; animal and child advocate; amateur photographer and avid camper.  Welcome!


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