Connecting Family Activities

The previous explanations of how trauma impacts your child can sound and feel hopeless. Do not despair. Attachment is a healing balm. It is only through relationships that true healing can take place. Never under-estimate the power or true connection to un-do damage and help the brain learn new healthier pathways. Check out some of these activities to connect with your children.

Claiming is a human behavior that says, “you are part of me: I am part of you and we belong together.” Claiming is crucial to maintain and develop connections within families. When claiming is missed, children can feel that they do not belong and can and often do act out. Parents also feel alienated from their children.

Try these CLAIMING ACTIVITIES to help your family feel more connected to each other; to claim each other.

  • Family pictures that include the child.
  • Send out announcements to family & friends.
  • Include the child’s Lifebook with other family albums.
  • Teach the child family traditions, incorporate child’s traditions, develop new traditions.
  • Incorporate recipes of dishes from a child’s birth region into home cooking. 
  • Give family heirlooms/items with sentimental value to a child. 
  • Socialize with other members of adoptive family support groups.
  • Plant a tree or flower bulbs in the yard, with the child, to celebrate the adoption. 
  • Have the child help plan future vacations, activities, holidays, etc. 

THE AFFECTION PRESCRIPTION: This 10-20-10 activity is a great reminder for all parents to really be present with their kids!                  From Bryan Post’s New Family Revolution System, ©2009 Post Institute & Associates 

  • 10: Give your child 10 minutes of quality time and attention first thing in the morning 
  • 20: Give your child 20 minutes in the afternoon right after school or as soon as you get home from work.. 
  • 10: Give your child 10 minutes in the evening before bed. 

FAMILY SCAVENGER HUNT: After all who doesn’t love a Scavenger Hunt?

Family Scavenger Hunts help to develop problem solving and teamwork skills. Gear your clues, locations and prizes to your age group. The idea of a scavenger hunt is to find all the items on the list and return them to the designated place as quickly as possible.  There are many different ways to organize a hunt and many choices along the way. You can play as individuals or teams, inside or outside. Here are some entertaining ideas to get you started:

  • Backyard Hunt: Use things like different color leaves, feather, sticks, etc.
  • Each team or person is given a list of items to find by asking people in your neighborhood.
  • Indoor Hunt: Use common items around the house.
  • Newspaper Hunt: Each person is given a list of words, sentences, ads and/or photos that need to be located in a newspaper or magazine.
  • Art Scavenger Hunt: Each person or team must draw/paint/create the items on the list.

Make sure to give prizes to keep it fun. Draw maps for younger children. Try to keep it from being too competitive: remember the goal is family togetherness and FUN!.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

Nothing is more painful than learning that a child has been abused. No child should ever be subjected to any form of physicalsexual or emotional mistreatment, or be neglected or exploited. What is worrying many experts today is the sharp decline in the number of reported cases of child abuse, nationally and in Central PennsylvaniaAs schools are the primary sources for reports of child abuse, the closure of schools in March of 2020 has led to a 16% drop in reports of abuse and neglect in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Pennsylvania Human Services Department. 

As April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, this is the perfect time to raise awareness to help prevent child abuse. This year’s child abuse prevention month’s theme is “Thriving Children and Families: Prevention With Purpose.” At JFS we are continually working to prevent child abuse.  

Our Adoption and Foster Care team takes care to train our foster parents as to the state’s definition of child abuse including what types of discipline are not permitted in foster home, as a means of preventing re-abuse of children, and that all foster parents are required to complete at least three hours of “mandated reporting” training that includes what is child abuse and how to report and their mandate to do so. Our foster care specialist has maintained bi-monthly visits with her families throughout the pandemic. Sometimes this was just a brief driveway or porch visit and sometimes via zoom. The entire adoption team has maintained regular contact with children and families through zoom and outside visits since Covid. These consistent connections provide support and needed resources during these isolating times. 

JFS has a busy Family Based Mental health team. Family Based Mental Health Services (FBMHS) is a home-based treatment service for families with children and adolescents who have serious mental illness or emotional disturbance who are at risk of psychiatric hospitalization or out-of-home treatment. Often, we are working with highly stressed families that are living at or below the poverty level and face severe financial stresses. Many of our families have a history of intergenerational abuse, alcohol or substance abuse problems, and family histories of mental illness and trauma that puts them at high risk for child abuse. It is well known that child abuse often repeats itself in the next generation. Therefore, a critical component to FBMHS is to reduce child welfare risks and help parents find ways to take care of themselves to reduce family system disruption. In providing an eco-systemic family therapy approach, we work with families to try to better understand their children and have realistic expectations and be reasonable if children fall short. 

All of us at JFSAdoption, Family-Based, and Mental health Therapy Services, concentrate on several crucial areas that encourage families to maintain safe and healthy relationships with each other, especially during the Pandemic. When disciplining a child, get control of yourself and set clear rules so the child knows what to expect. Adults need to remember to take a time-out. Stop if you begin to act out frustration or other emotions physically. Find someone to talk with or watch your kids while you take a walk. Call a child abuse prevention hotline if you are worried you may hit your child. Take regular breaks from your children. And practice daily self-care. These guidelines will give you a release from the real stress of parenting. Lastly, we are always available to support and strengthen our families when they need help or just an ear to listen.  

To learn more about how JFS can help you or your family, contact us at 717-233-1681 or at  




Dear Director

Dear Director,

We welcomed our beautiful daughter into our home as a foster child when she was 3 months old, after her biological mother lost custody due to neglect. We adopted her when she was two.  Now our daughter is in 3rd grade and she seems to be really struggling in school. Her attention span is short and sporadic, she is having trouble remembering her math facts, and she struggles with staying in control of her body, her words, and her feelings. This doesn’t even mention that she really struggles with following directions at school and

at home. Her teacher at school asked if she was exposed to alcohol in utero, but I don’t have the answer.  All I know is she was neglected, and I thought that was enough trauma for one little person. I hate to think she could have the scary diagnoses of FASD, as her teacher suggested. Plus, she doesn’t look like the other kids on the internet who have it. Please advise.

Signed, worried and confused

Dear worried and confused,

The first thing I pick up on is how much you really love this little girl and how much you want her to just be okay, like the other third graders. But I also hear that you know this may never be, and you are already mourning the little girl you thought you adopted and the adult you wanted her to grow up to be. Don’t go too far into the future, because she is still very young and if you can get the real diagnosis, then the interventions recommended will go a long way to helping her reach her goals, become who she can become. And if you fear FASD, know that it can be scary to think about, but there are so many pieces of her puzzle, so don’t give up too soon.

Next, I would always recommend a complete evaluation from someone who is knowledgeable with FASD, along with other neurological disorders and differences. A good evaluation will include many small subtests, rather than what the school might do during an IEP, and these subtests will help the evaluator develop a fuller picture of how your daughter’s neurological system works. This should lead to a list of recommendations for how her school, home, and community interactions can change so that she can function more fully in each setting.  Additionally, she may be recommended for physical, occupational, educational, speech or sensory therapies to help her achieve more.

FASD, or any other neurodiverse diagnosis, is not an on and off switch, where a child “has” or “does not have” something. Rather they are like dimmer switches, where they may have more impairment in one area and more strength in another. We need to tease out what needs to be turned up and what is strong enough for now. And, this being the neurological system, it will change as she develops, so watch out. What is hard now may become easier and visa versa. Also, it means that each child with this diagnosis may look different from any other. Cool!

All of this is to help your daughter learn best and also to give her a sense of competence, to counteract low self-esteem and anxiety. These commonly happen when kids realize they are not understanding what the other kids around them understand. By learning how best to help your daughter, you can also help her teachers and Sunday School playmates and Brownie Scout leader and grandparents and everyone know how to help her succeed.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

One in ten children in foster care and adoption will be diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. If you think about it, that is a huge number, and merely includes those who have been diagnosed. The topic of FASD is crucial because with the proper diagnoses you can markedly improve your child’s life. I have the privilege of learning from my post-perm families and they have inspired me to spread the word of FASD. I dedicate this Newsletter to them.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a brain-based disability. It is a range of conditions effecting a child’s physiology, behavior, and learning that are caused when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. It takes just one drink for a fetus to be adversely effected. The most common myth is that you have to have certain facial features associated with FASD to really have the disorder. This manifestation is only associated with drinking during a certain time of gestation. Less that 20% of children diagnosed with FASD have the common facial characteristics most people associate with the disability.

If you meet one person with FASD, you have met one person with FASD. The disability can appear differently for each person. It is a spectrum. There are however, certain frequent characteristics. Common symptoms include difficulty with math, self-regulation issues, sensory imbalances, trouble managing time and money, difficulty navigating social situations, cognitive processing concerns, and having a tough time following directions. Diagnosing FASD is tricky as there is not one medical test your child can pass or fail. To complicate issues, there are over 400 co-morbid diagnoses associated with FASD. To make matters worse, most pediatricians and other experts including teachers just don’t know enough to ask the right questions. Greater awareness and more consistent screening have made a huge difference in diagnosing children with FASD in the past decade alone. There is still much work to be done.

Once your child is diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, there is a ripple effect of growth and possibility. First, you need to educate and train whoever is in their life: teachers, siblings, grandparents, coaches, and so forth. Once your child feels “seen” and their daily life is appropriately adapted for, they will feel happier and more successful. Next by talking about FASD with your community, you will be breaking down the stigma and shame associated with this invisible disability. Getting a FASD diagnoses can prevent future problems and help support your child to be the best version of themselves. Unfortunately the statistics about people with FASD involved in the justice system are scary and recognizing FASD is the key to preventing this. Finally there is still so much about the brain we do not understand. One thing for sure is that lifelong brain development and growth are possible with proper support and individualized strategies. Hope remains.

What Parents Are Really Saying About FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a brain-based disability. Although you, as a parent, never want your child to have a disability, digging your head in the sand will do more harm then good. As parents, the most important gift you can give your child is to advocate for them. This means that if you wonder if they have FASD, then you must explore further.

Who to turn to? Parents are saying that their doctors and teachers are not always the best resources for finding out if your child has FASD. But it is the first place to start. You can also seek out a Neuropsychologist who specializes in FASD. There are plenty of resources in this newsletter to help you research and advocate.

Since FASD is a brain-based disability, your parenting discipline will have to look different. You cannot discipline away a disability. First step is to learn as much as you can about what FASD is and how your child struggles because of it. Next your parenting discipline paradigm must shift to meet your child where they are. You do not have to tackle this alone as again, there are professionals who and resources that can help you on your FASD parenting journey.

 One terrible but common story families tell themselves pre-FASD diagnoses, is “we thought we were doing something wrong. All of our child’s problems must somehow be our fault.” It is so easy to take your child’s struggles and limitations personally. But remember FASD is an invisible disability. That doesn’t make it any less real. And the best parenting techniques requires you to take your ego out of the equation and focus on your child’s authentic needs.

Last bit of wisdom parents want you to know is that you have to grieve to move on. No one ever asked for a child with a disability. But to deny that your child has FASD is harmful to them and you. You have to grieve the loss of the child you imagined you would have or think you have. There is loss. Once you really move through your grief, which includes feeling sad and takes time, you can actually celebrate the child you have. It’s not simple or easy, but it works.

Oh, and remember there are lots of parents like you out there. You are not alone.  Join us!