Kids in the foster care system are survivors. Due to no fault of their own, they have faced abuse, neglect or abandonment, often having to learn how to cope on their own at a young age in whatever way they can. In some cases, these children experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, which can produce symptoms such as irritable behavior, angry outbursts, problems with concentration and sleep disturbances, among others. These behaviors can present a challenge for even the most loving and well-intentioned foster parents. That’s why 4KIDS of South Florida has developed a therapeutic model for parenting that is empowering foster parents with the tools needed to create lasting change in the children’s lives and bring peace back into their homes.
Based on cutting-edge research in the field of child development, 4KIDS EPIC Approach uses trust-based relational intervention techniques created by Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. The parenting skills focus on the Emotional (E), Physical (P), Intellectual (I) and Character (C) needs of children, giving caregivers the tools required to better understand the child and address their unique needs.
It is rooted in Luke 2:53, where scriptures tell us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”
Edvardo Archer, LMFT, Director of Clinical Services at 4KIDS, explained that having been through dark times, kids who have experienced trauma sometimes respond out of fear, similar to how you might react if a grizzly bear was approaching: fight, flight or freeze. The behavior is often a bi-product of their survival instincts. 4KIDS EPIC Approach is designed to develop the child’s feeling of belonging and attachment, and empower foster parents with techniques that create more constructive interactions. Skills taught encourage respect and positive behavior, which promotes healing and prevents the need for restrictive behavior management interventions.
“You have to get to the internal identity of the child and learn how they build connections,” he explained.
Families are transformed
Colinda Fake and her husband, Gregory, went through the EPIC Approach program a few years ago, and she said it has completely transformed their parenting. “When we first started fostering, we only took babies, so there weren’t a lot of behavioral issues,” said Colinda. But when the couple took in a 15-month-old girl and her 3-week-old brother four years ago, eventually adopting them from foster care, they began to have parenting issues.
“She has experienced a lot of neglect… They found her home alone wearing a soiled diaper in her crib… With our original parenting style, she could put herself between us and make my husband and I upset with each other. We were not on the same page and our whole family was in turmoil. She was used to chaos and that was what she craved,” said Colinda. “We didn’t understand what was going on, but EPIC put us all on the same page. It makes you ask, ‘why is my child doing this?’”
For example, Colinda said, “Because of the trauma their daughter had experienced, she was all feeling, all emotion and very little impulse control. The EPIC Approach helped us put words to the emotions, which has been a huge help. We started asking why is this happening and giving her space to express herself.”
Another thing that helped was having only three house rules. There’s were…
- Keep your hands to yourself
- Respect your parents, and
- Don’t destroy property.
“These are broad areas, a lot falls under them, so it simplified it for her and she could soon recognize what she was doing on her own and catch herself,” Colinda explained.
“Putting my husband and myself back on the same page is the best thing ever. We both understand it now and that has made a huge difference in our family,” she added.
What is EPIC?
4KIDS EPIC Approach training includes the following concepts:
- Recognizing aggressive and out-of-control behavior, psychosocial issues, medical conditions, and other contributing factors that may lead to a crisis.
- Understanding how foster parent behavior can influence the behavior of children.
- Limiting the use of restrictive interventions.
- Learning ways to manage age-appropriate, but potentially dangerous behavior.
- Practicing methods for de-escalating volatile situations.
The EPIC Approach encourages parents to consider, “what would God say about this child?”
Meeting the emotional needs of the child, deals with their attachment to others. Seeking to make that connection, parents help the child name the emotion, validate it and give them space to express it, while looking for ways to be able to tell them yes and discover things they are doing right.
Meeting physical needs of the child involves an awareness of when they last ate, slept or drank, allowing them to release energy through physical activities and develop self regulation techniques to help them calm down.
Meeting intellectual needs requires unlocking their reasoning skills and walking through cause and effect. Parents are encouraged to give the child choices, allowing them re-dos where they can try that again or allowing them some time to think things through so they learn to self correct.
Developing the character of a child is mostly done by the parent modeling character in the way he or she reacts to the child’s behavior. Remembering that their brains look different because of the trauma they’ve experienced, and avoiding power struggles helps. Parents often have to let go of their pride and take brief breaks if their emotions begin to get raised.
Archer admits that these techniques are sometimes time consuming and parents aren’t expected to have to use them every time. However, understanding the needs of the child can transform any parent’s skills and bring peace back into the home.
The EPIC course is offered every other month by 4KIDS. Parents can register online at www.4kidsofsfl.org.