Child Abuse Prevention: Are Temper Tantrums a Trigger?

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

Temper, temper!During April, designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month (NCAPM), the LSS “Help, Healing, Hope” blog is summarizing several chapters from the 2014 Prevention Resource Guide, a great source of information about protective factors that help reduce child abuse. The Guide addresses specific parenting issues with tips for parents and caregivers. First up: Dealing with temper tantrums.

Toddler Tantrums & Modeling Calm Behavior

We’ve all seen it … the 2- or 3-year-old in the grocery store getting walloped by his parent while having a melt-down in the cereal aisle or at the heavily populated check-out counter. Is this abusive? Is this just the tip of the iceberg, and the child is going to see much worse once he/she is in a less public place?

What’s happening: Tantrums are common at this age because toddlers are becoming independent and developing their own wants, needs, and ideas. However, they are not yet able to express their wants and feelings with words. So they get agitated and fall apart.

What You Can Do: When your child is having a floor-thumping tantrum, the most important thing you can do is remain calm and wait it out. Do not let your child’s behavior cause you to lose control, too.

Since it is often easier to prevent tantrums than to deal with them after they get going, the Prevention Resource Guide suggests trying these tips:*

• Direct your child’s attention to something else. (“Wow, look at that fire engine!”)

• Give your child a choice in small matters. (“Do you want to eat peas or carrots?”)

• Stick to a daily routine that balances fun activities with enough rest and healthful food.

• Anticipate when your child will be disappointed. (“We are going to buy groceries for dinner. We won’t be buying cookies, but you can help me pick out some fruit for later.”)

• Praise your child when he or she shows self-control and expresses feelings with words.

If you cannot prevent the tantrum, here are some tips for dealing with it:

• Say what you expect from your child and have confidence that your child will behave.

• Remain calm. You are a role model for your child.

• Holding your child during a tantrum may help a younger child feel more secure and calm down more quickly.

• Take your child to a quiet place where he or she can calm down safely. Speak softly or play soft music.

• Some children throw tantrums to seek attention. Try ignoring the tantrum, but pay attention to your child after he or she calms down.

• Resist overreacting to tantrums, and try to keep your sense of humor.

Sound too simple to you? We welcome your comments and wisdom on the subject!


*This tip sheet was created with information from experts in national organizations that work to prevent child maltreatment and promote well-being. You can download this tip sheet and get more parenting tips At,  or call 800.394.3366.


Viva la Onion! FIT Sponsors Onion Fest in Weslaco

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care
Pictured l to r: Michelle Cavazos-Garcia, Unnamed Cat, Mireya Rodriguez

Pictured l to r: Michelle Cavazos-Garcia, Unnamed Cat, Mireya Rodriguez

March 22nd was the 25th anniversary of one of the biggest events in the Rio Grande Valley—and the Foster In Texas (FIT) team from McAllen was right in the middle of it. FIT was one of the corporate sponsors for the 2014 Weslaco Onion Fest, a fun family festival that brings the community together in a celebratory, onion-focused spirit.

The FIT staff, which included Brenda Ramirez, Bernaida Govea, Mireya Rodriguez, and Michelle Cavazos-Garcia, set up a booth where they were available to answer questions and educate interested passersby about foster care in the Valley.

Why Onion Fest? The annual day-long event celebrates the world-famous 1015 onion, which was developed in Weslaco and is exclusive to the Rio Grande Valley soil. It was named for the perfect planting date, October 15. With live music, a performance by the Dancing Horses, game area for the children, arts & crafts booths for shopping, cooking demonstrations, and a lively onion-eating contest, Onion Fest draws large crowds (and more than a few tears). The FIT team said it was a great place for meeting happy family-oriented people out having a good time!

LSS-FIT made many friends and was recognized by the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce, with a nice shout-out on the festival’s facebook page. No matter how you cut it, it was a very good day at Weslaco City Park.  Chocolate-covered onion ice cream anyone?

Onionfest booth Onionfest blooming onion fest cooking demo


FIT Fun in McAllen

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

Mcallen Circus elephant webWhen the circus comes to town … the McAllen Foster In Texas (FIT) families are likely to be there! Free tickets to three recent events—two of them circuses—were generously donated to our McAllen foster families. When FIT family social worker Delia Cedillo contacted the vendors to see if they could provide tickets to the events, she received: 100 tickets for the Vipers Basketball game; free tickets for the kids and half price tickets for the grownups to the Hermanos Vasquez Circus; and 25 tickets admitting five people each to the Kelly Miller Circus.

FIT area director Frank Lopez credits Cedillo with making all these fun events available for the kids. Delia says she is always on the lookout for entertaining and affordable outings for the families. “When I make my home visits, each child has been so excited about having gone to these events and expressed how much fun they had.”

Thank you Delia—Happy foster families are what Foster In Texas is all about!

Mcallen Circus web Mcallen Basketball web


New Clothes for our Kids! Made Possible by the Beaumont Foundation

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care
left to right: Evan Moilan, LSS; Robert Craft, BFA; Betsy Guthrie, LSS; Abby Cochran, LSS

left to right: Evan Moilan, LSS; Betsy Guthrie, LSS; Robert Craft, BFA;  Abby Cochran, LSS

Robert W. Craft, general counsel for the Beaumont Foundation of America (BFA), paid Lutheran Social Services’ Austin headquarters a visit March 12th, to present a check to purchase clothes for the children LSS serves in foster care and residential treatment. The check, in the amount of $259,200, is half the annual sum BFA granted to LSS for 2014 kids’ clothing expenses; a second check for the other half will be distributed in August 2014 for back-to-school clothing/shopping.

Each of the approximately 1,728 children LSS serves annually will receive a stipend of $150 twice a year, to spend on new clothing that they select themselves, with assistance from their grateful foster parents or supervisors. “This is so exciting and important for the children to be able to select their own clothes—and for so many of them these are the only NEW clothes they have ever had,” said Betsy Guthrie, president and chief operations officer of LSS. Robert Craft reaffirmed this point and added, “For children, and especially teens, who have gone without for their entire lives, it’s such a boost to their self-esteem to dress in new clothes and better fit in with their peers.”

Mr. Craft remarked that Wayne A. Reaud, Chair of the BFA Board, encourages everyone at the Beaumont Foundation to follow the biblical outreach as depicted in Matthew 25:35-40: “For I was hungry and you gave me food … I was naked and you clothed me …” Since its creation in 2001, BFA has provided grants and scholarships to a broad range of nonprofit organizations across the United States. As stated in their mission: The Beaumont Foundation is dedicated to enriching the lives and enhancing the futures of less fortunate children and youth, families and the elderly with a focus on improving education, health care and social services.

LSS is delighted and forever grateful to be one of the fortunate recipients.


The Macedonia Project in North Texas

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

NTX macedoniaThe Macedonia Project* is a mission challenge for ELCA churches of the Northern Texas–Northern Louisiana mission area to identify mission opportunities and work together to carry them out. Several North Texas churches, hosted and led by Rejoice Lutheran Church in Frisco, recently collaborated to serve Foster In Texas (FIT) families in North Texas.

The church groups first gathered for a dinner and worship service the night before the big workday, where they met two Foster In Texas families and learned more about why these amazing foster parents do what they do. Rebekah Poling, LSS regional development director, was also there representing LSS-FIT and as a participant in the weekend’s eventful activities.

Meet the Parents

The Ratcliff family of Little Elm shared their passion for giving kids a second chance and inspired everyone in the room with their stories of perseverance and lives changed. The family currently fosters three children and has adopted five. The Ratcliffs have more than 10 years of fostering experience—with more than 140 kids cared for in their home.

The Noe family of McKinney has fostered three girls with LSS-FIT over three years, and plan to adopt their current foster daughter this summer. They shared about the many challenges that come with opening your home to foster children. And also the beautiful and meaningful reward of giving the children—especially the older ones—happy memories, like their first birthday party and their first Christmas celebration.

Volunteer Energy

Prior to the weekend, volunteers from the churches collected the items foster children need most when they are first removed from their biological homes and placed with a FIT family. Fifty bags were stuffed with sheets, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, razors, floss, soap, tweezers, nail clippers, deodorant, journals, stuffed animals and toys. Handmade cards were placed in each bag, and they are now ready and waiting for the children who arrive into care in coming months.

Volunteers also made 20 beautiful wreaths for our North Texas foster families, and 20 fleece blankets for the children. In addition, “off-to-college” care packages were assembled for youth soon “aging out” of foster care.

Work day!

On Saturday, four work crews set out to four different FIT homes for an “Extreme Makeover-Macedonia Edition,” taking on some extensive work projects for the families. Rooms were painted, yard work was completed, shelves and dressers were repaired, and baseboards freshened, among the many other tasks they wrapped up. It took a lot of hard work, organization, and generous hearts—giving back to the deserving foster families who give so much of themselves, nurturing and loving LSS-FIT foster children.

*The Macedonia Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8: 1-7

NTX macedonia2 NTX macedonia3 ntx macedonia4


The BeREAL World – Update on our “aging out” program in New Orleans

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

PrintLots of exciting things have been happening at BeREAL in New Orleans! Christie Kieschnick, director of education and career development, works with transition coach Michael Patrick and a dedicated team of volunteers to provide mentoring, stability, and guidance to foster youth on the cusp of independence, as they approach the critical age of 18. Some high points:

  • BeREAL staff have settled in to their new office at 6305 Elysian Fields, and continue to be centrally located for foster youth who rely on public transit.
  • ALL of BeREAL’s eligible youth in high school got Cs and better on their Fall 2013 report cards.
  • Darrell, the first recipient of BeREAL’s housing initiative—for carefully selected teens 18 and over who haven’t finished high school—has settled into an apartment and some huge honors have come his way recently. After undergoing a rigorous application process, Darrell received a full-tuition POSSE scholarship to Bard College in New York.
  • Word about BeREAL’s good work is getting around! Christie Kieschnick has been invited as a participant or speaker for a number of groups on the subject of aging-out foster youth. These include: A “think tank” of stakeholders for bold visioning for foster care, convened by Senator Mary Landrieu and Judge Madeliene Landrieu; the Children’s Law Committee of the Louisiana Bar Association; the Christian Community Development Association Annual Conference; Country Day High School; and several churches.

LSS is devoting considerable attention to the future of youth aging out of foster care, as part of our mission to end multigenerational child abuse. The bleak statistics for youth who lack a support system or permanent family when they age out speak volumes.

According to various studies across the country:

  • 12-30 percent struggled with homelessness
  • 40-63 percent did not complete high school
  • 25-55 percent were unemployed; those employed had average earnings below the poverty level, and only 38 percent of those employed were still working after one year
  • 30-62 percent had trouble accessing health care due to inadequate finances or lack of insurance
  • 32-40 percent were forced to rely on some form of public assistance and 50 percent experienced extreme financial hardship
  • 31-42 percent had been arrested
  • 18-26 percent were incarcerated


BeREAL always needs and welcomes donations and volunteers, to maintain the momentum and continue the important work they do. Read more about the program, and how you can help, on the BeREAL website.


Think Pink!

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Uncategorized

it's a girl babiesIt’s a girl! And another girl! And another! There were three (count ’em, 3) domestic adoptions facilitated by LSS during the week of January 12-18, 2014. Adoption specialists Tanya Graham and Kristen Ellis covered the state, from Harlingen to Victoria and on to Round Rock, to bring three new families together. Tanya and Kristen were ably assisted in each of these offices by team members Michelle Cavazos, Anabeth Perales, Gretchen Johnson, and Kollette Tolbert who provided crucial backup, and much appreciated boots-on-the-ground support.

While LSS has overseen almost 9,000 adoptions in its history, three in a week is quite remarkable, especially in recent years when the number of domestic adoptions nationwide has been on the decline.

Blessing & Celebration

All three adoptive families were celebrated on Feb. 7th with a party and blessing at LSS headquarters in Austin. The Cross Park staff had the pleasure of attending the event, and everything (and almost everyone) was decked out in PINK, the theme of the day. LSS board members, who happened to be meeting that Friday, were privileged to participate as well, some sporting pink ties or shirts. Many grandparents, relatives, and friends of the families were also on hand to celebrate this happy occasion.

Board member Rev. Michael Newman of San Antonio led the ceremony and prayers, and blessed the families:  Andy and Kaylee and their daughter Finley; Sean and Caydee and baby Ana; Derak and Debbie and daughter Lillian.

Each family told a little of their story of the road to adoption, culminating as grateful parents of these adorable baby girls. Here are a few photos they can add to their family albums.

it's a girl moms it's a girl rev newman it's a girl group it's a girl food it's a girl dads



Making Life Better for Our North Texas Kids

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

NTX diapers etc[stories by Rebekah Poling, Regional Development Director, North Texas]

McKinney Diaper Drive

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) at Our Savior Lutheran Church in McKinney, TX, recently collected diapers, baby items, and the softest stuffed animals in response to the larger number of infants coming into care through LSS-FIT in North Texas in the recent months. Many children come to LSS immediately from the hospital when they are born because their birth mothers test positive for drugs, such as meth and cocaine.

Many toddlers in foster care have been severely neglected because their medical issues prove too much for their birth parents to handle. So we ALWAYS need diapers! The support of groups like the one at Our Savior is such a Godsend!



NTX stuff sacksFlower Mound Donation Drive

Our foster children come into LSS-FIT care with next to nothing. If they are lucky, they might have two or three personal belongings in a grocery bag. These children have endured unimaginable trauma, witnessed more than kids their age should ever see, and are scared to death after being removed from the only homes (albeit unsafe ones) they have ever known. They leave behind friends, neighborhoods, and schools they are familiar with for the unknown – placed with a new family in a strange community, with nothing that once belonged to them.

We shared the harsh reality our kids face with Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Flower Mound. They got busy! They went out and purchased special items for our kids and assembled “admit bags” so each child coming into LSS foster care would have something that is just … theirs.

The church purchased small athletic backpacks and filled them with lots of necessities of life: toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush/comb, towel and washcloth, chapstick, shampoo and conditioner, bar of soap, deodorant, lotion, dental floss, small journal and a pen, and a small soft toy.

These “transition bags,” so generously donated, took hours (and lots of love) to assemble, and will making the difficult life changes just a little bit easier for so many children in 2014.


ADOPTION: A Lutheran Social Services Tradition – Part 2

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Uncategorized

Karalyn&Konnie[Note: a free webinar on International Adoption will be held  TONIGHT, Tuesday January 21, 7-8pm CST to learn about adoption in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Details on]

Konnie & Karalyn Have Seen It All

LSS has its own adoption superstars. Karalyn Heimlich, now retired as the statewide director of adoption for LSS, and Konnie Gregg, current director of international adoption, were in the trenches in past decades as the adoption world adapted to all the trends, legislation, and reform. Heimlich joined LSS in 1975 and her career also included heading up unplanned pregnancy services, and post-adoption programs such as marriage education for adoptive families. “The changes in the world of adoption represent the journey,” Heimlich explained. “The important thing is to keep your eye on the mission: All human beings, especially children, thrive in a loving environment that provides a sense of belonging. That is what adoption is all about.” Gregg, who has also been with LSS since 1975, has worked in all aspects of adoption, and agrees that “It’s a constantly changing, challenging and very satisfying field to be engaged in.”

At the LSS home office in Austin, Tanya Graham oversees domestic adoptions, and confirms that the number of domestic placements is on the upswing. “Couples experiencing infertility are seeking to help others understand that there is truly another option to an unplanned pregnancy. Adoption awareness is about changing people’s perceptions about the option of adoption,” Tanya explained. “When the focus is on ‘what can I provide for my child through adoption?’  as opposed to ‘how could I give my child away,’ it makes the process easier to grasp. Adoption is the joining of two families who basically need each other, and can provide love and support to each other, with the ultimate best interests of the child in mind.  With the options available to biological parents to choose what family they would like to raise their child, and to have continued contact in letters and pictures to follow the growth and progress of the child, they can move forward with their lives knowing that their child is safe and loved, and will ultimately know the love their birth parents had for them by choosing adoption.”



LSS Children’s Services ultimately must meet the needs of the primary client … the child. Because all children, adopted or otherwise, thrive in loving homes, the primary goal for the children we serve is permanency. Through the LSS Foster In Texas (FIT) program, an average of 150 children in foster care are adopted by their foster families each year. For teenagers, who age out of foster care at 18, “Foster-to-Adopt” families provide forever families, a place to call home, and open up opportunities for more secure, productive futures. During National Adoption Month this past November, more than 30 children in Texas were adopted into  loving, forever families through the LSS-FIT foster-to-adopt program.

LSS is in partnership with the Adoption Coalition of Texas and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption®), to place foster children—particularly older children, sibling groups and children with special needs—in permanent adoptive homes.

Because LSS has been counseling individuals about making adoption plans for over 60 years, the adoption workers have a lot of experience to share. Konnie Gregg and Tanya Graham are available to answer any questions about adoption – helping to pave pathways toward making this unique form of family.




ADOPTION: A Lutheran Social Services Tradition – Part 1

Posted by Lonni Swanson || Category(ies): Foster Care

Bethlehem 1931 webThis is the first of a two-part overview of our LSS adoption programs. A lot of history, knowledge, and perspective have combined to make our agency one of the foremost adoption resources in Texas.  

Just two generations ago, the world of adoption was mired in silence and secrecy. Adoption in 2013 is a whole different world than it was in the very earliest days, when orphan trains and foundling homes of the mid-19th century placed orphaned children in positions that were sometimes more indentured than adopted.

Thankfully, adoption practices have changed significantly over the course of the last century. What hasn’t changed is that Lutheran Social Services of the South’s adoption program is still on the leading edge of adoption trends, reform, and quality practices. LSS has facilitated well over 8,000 adoptions over 60 years. Building families through adoption is what we do.

A Short History

The first LSS foray into the world of adoption was in 1881, when the “German Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Orphan Asylum Association” was incorporated in New Orleans, Louisiana, to shelter “orphans and half-orphans.” A plantation house became the home for the first children admitted. The name of the facility changed to “Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Home” in 1941, and it was popularly referred to as the “Bethlehem Orphan Home” for the next 20 years, as it evolved into a residential treatment center for troubled children referred through child welfare.  As a result of extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Bethlehem had to close and the residents were relocated. The campus was converted to a disaster volunteer camp before becoming the home of the BeREAL (Ready, Educated Accomplished, Leaders) LSS program for youth aging out of foster care.

Lutheran charitable work for orphans in Texas commenced in 1929 with the purchase of Trinity Lutheran Home in Round Rock for orphans and the elderly. This program ended in 1958, as the number of children declined. At this time, the “Lutheran Aid and Orphan Society” began helping unwed mothers and their infants, finally changing their agency’s name to Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in 1965.

The Adoption Closet

State legislatures began passing adoption laws in the United States in the 19th century. At that time adoption evoked as much consternation as curiosity – a sensitive subject linked to other sensitive subjects like illegitimacy and infertility. So the trend was to try to keep adoptions hush-hush, to protect children from the pain of being different and to allow adoptive families to “pass” as traditional, biologically related families. A primary barrier to adoption then, and even now, was fear: How will adopted kids turn out? Early in the 20th century children available for adoption were suspected of being “bad seeds” along with the presumption that their birth parents must be morally flawed. Many of the historical problems with adoption came from the desire to shroud it in secrecy.

Since 1970, earlier reforms guaranteeing sealed records and confidentiality have been aggressively criticized. Movements to encourage search, reunion, and “open adoption” have garnered support. Open adoption means there is some contact between the adoptive family and birth parents. The amount and type of contact is individualized and mutually agreed upon. LSS pioneered the open adoption movement in Texas, and was one of the first agencies nationally to welcome, encourage, and facilitate open adoptions.

Today, the adoption closet has been replaced by a vast variety of adoption communities and networks, with extensive communication outlets through daily media and on the internet. Celebrity adoptions have become commonplace and generate intense publicity—solicited or not. But millions of people have experienced the joys of adoption long before it became a media event.

Adoption Goes Global

Adoption history illustrates that ideas and issues surrounding adoption have been shaped by law and public policy as well as cultural change. Adoption became globalized following World War II—from Germany in the 1940s to Korea in the 1950s, and Vietnam in the 1970s.  Since then, growing numbers of adoptions are transracial and/or international, matching parents to children who have been orphaned for various reasons: by war, poverty, and in the case of China, that country’s policy permitting couples to have only one child.

In some countries instances of corruption in the adoption system were rampant. A new set of regulations has been adapted due to the impact of the Hague Adoption Convention, which went into effect in the United States in 2008, with LSS becoming Hague-accredited that same year. The Hague Treaty ensures that countries follow standards that are designed to protect children. This has resulted in a slowing rate of international adoption, as different countries establish new structure and regulatory systems.

LSS has worked in partnership with other international agencies to place children for adoption since 1967, facilitating the adoptive placements of several thousand children from other countries. LSS has inter-agency agreements with approximately 40 primary providers responsible for adoption services in a multitude of countries, most notably: China, Korea, Ethiopia, Colombia, India, Uganda, Ukraine, The Philippines, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Taiwan.

In 2010, LSS began a new partnership with New Beginning Association, a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited by the Bulgarian government, as the primary provider to work together to find loving homes for Bulgaria’s orphaned children. The first finalized adoption of a Bulgarian child took place in Bulgaria in December 2013, with his homecoming scheduled for January 18, 2014. Currently other families are in the process who have committed to adopting waiting children in Bulgaria.

Adoption Reform

The radical change in thinking about adoption since 1970 has also given expression to an array of adoption experiences—including transracial and special needs, and adoption of older children as well.  Search and reunion have become prominent features of adoption reform and activism in recent decades. Many adoptees, plagued by questions about their pasts, turn to agencies like LSS to help long-lost relatives find one another. Paradoxically, domestic adoptions have become rarer during the past several decades.

Revolutionary change in the adoption world has been brought on by:

  • Liberation movements: the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, sexual revolution, adoptee’s liberty movement (ALMA, 1971), and birth fathers’ rights.
  • Birth control methods, reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies.
  • Legalization of abortion, giving women a choice in whether or not to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term.
  • Normalization and support for single parenthood: provided by increased welfare aids and job opportunities for unmarried females, and head of household tax relief.

[reference: Ellen Herman, Department of History, University of Oregon]


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