30 Day Gratitude Journal

Gratitude is an essential ingredient for personal mental health and relational stability. This month, Dr. DeYoung wants to offer you a 30-day prompt for gratitude in your marriage. Each prompt is meant to generate a thought or feeling of gratitude. Don’t be too alarmed by the word “Journal” because the writing expectations are minimal. Each day of this activity, you would not be required to write more than one or two sentences. In fact, each prompt is written in a way that you will just need to complete the thought. If you do this journal as a couple, you can discuss them at the end of each week or the end of the month. Directly below you can click to downlad a PDF of the Gratitude Journal and print for easy access.


Day One

There are many qualities that I love or appreciate about my partner. When I think of one of those qualities I am most grateful for it is…

Day Two

There are many qualities that I love or appreciate about my partner. If I were to list a second quality that I am thankful for, it is…

Day Three

Reflecting on the last month, think of a time your partner gave you emotional support. I am grateful for my partner’s emotional support when I was dealing with…

Day Four

You have probably had some trips or vacations with your partner. One memory from our trips together that I am grateful for is…

Day Five

Change happens in marriages. The change can be good. One change that your partner has made is…

Day Six

Change happens in marriages. The change can be good. Another change that your partner has made is…

Day Seven

Conflict happens in marriages. Can you name a quality your partner has that helps you resolve conflicts? The quality you are thankful for is…

Day Eight

Conflict happens in marriages. Can you think of a recent conflict? What is one thing your partner did in that conflict that was helpful…?

Day Nine

Name one thing that you most admire about your partner…

Day Ten

Name the one favorite way your partner expresses love for you…

Day Eleven

Write down one of your dreams that you are most grateful to share with your partner…

Day Twelve

Write down another dream that you are most grateful to share with your partner…

Day Thirteen

Reflect back on your wedding day. What is one memory from that day that you are most thankful for…

Day Fourteen

Reflect back on your first date. What is one memory from that day that is most special…

Day Fifteen

If you are parenting together, what is one quality that your partner displays as a parent that you value…?
If you are not a parent, what quality do you imagine in your partner that would make them a good parent…?

Day Sixteen

What is one thing your partner did this last week that you are thankful for…?

Day Seventeen

What is one thing you and your spouse have accomplished that you feel proud of…?

Day Eighteen

What is another thing you and your spouse accomplished that you feel proud of…?

Day Nineteen

What is one value that you share…?

Day Twenty

What is a second value that you share…?

Day Twenty-one

Your partner has helped you grow and change. What is one change your partner has helped you make…?

Day Twenty-two

What is a second change your partner has helped you make…?

Day Twenty-three

What is one part of your sexual intimacy that you are thankful for…?

Day Twenty-four

Think of the last time you laughed really hard with your partner. What is your memory of this event…?

Day Twenty-five

What is the most attractive characteristic of your partner…?

Day Twenty-six

Do you have a favorite song, movie, TV show? Why are you thankful to share this with your partner…?

Day Twenty-seven

Sitting quietly, what is the first positive thing about your partner that comes to mind…?

Day Twenty-eight

When you have been married 50 years what is one thing you hope to still appreciate about your partner…?

Day Twenty-nine

Name the one thing that makes you want to come home to your partner every day…?

Day Thirty

Reflect over the past 29 days. What is the most surprising/exciting thing from this gratitude list that you are glad to have discovered…?

Therapy in Bare Feet

We have developed a significant comfort level with telehealth options for our medical and mental health care. My private practice has shifted from providing in-home therapy to meeting with clients solely via encrypted and secure video. Following the pandemic, I found this method highly effective, convenient, safe, and practical for couples and families. 

Doing so much by video has changed many things. And one of those things is what we wear while conducting business by video. Since we only see each other from the chest up, this has lent itself to greater freedom in clothing options from the waist down. This may have created some rather embarrassing moments for some, but I can guarantee that I have consistently maintained a must-be-wearing “jeans” policy for all therapy sessions. But I do have a confession. I am barefoot for nearly 100% of therapy sessions. I even have a small heater for my feet in winter because cold toes can significantly distract me. 

Walking barefoot has many benefits. So many nerve endings in the bottom of the foot are stimulated when freed from shoes. Before you read any further, go outside and stand in the grass while you finish this blog. Imagine walking on the beach, splashing in the water, and enjoying the sand between your toes. When I walk outside to get the mail, my feet on the grass or pavement causes feelings to move up my entire body. If you are in the grass, notice that now. Those nerve endings activate and cause all manner of emotions. New sensations move from the bottom of our feet through our entire body. Feeling new phenomena in the grass, sand, or concrete often brings unique, heightened awareness. We might be more careful with our steps or slow down and experience the sensations deeply. The effect of the new feelings and heightened awareness is that we are more effectively attuned to our environment.

Another benefit to walking barefoot is loosening constraints. Taking your shoes off after a long day can feel so freeing. There is a bit of tension relief. Having your feet free can even be soothing. There is freedom in being barefoot. Now, I am confident the ladies understand this more than we guys do. You ladies have shoes that press and contort your feet in all manner of uncomfortable ways. We do many things for style and having the right image. We often want to “put the best foot forward” (sorry, I couldn’t help it). But all this foot dressing is also limiting. Something we need freedom from. Being barefoot frees us from the superficial coverings that bind and create discomfort.   

I never set out to do therapy in bare feet intentionally. The context of using a home office has made the choice a natural one. And the experience of doing therapy in bare feet has helped connect me with some important values for treatment. 

Heightened awareness of self and our other relationships is necessary for change in therapy. We have to learn to slow down and listen more. We tune into our feelings and reactions to understand their source better. Just as walking barefoot helps us feel new feelings and possibly feel them more deeply, participating in therapy can do the same. Feeling deep and connecting with our inside selves is a part of the therapeutic process. We call this process insight or gaining self-awareness. It requires us to observe, reflect, and draw inferences about our experiences, feelings, and emotions. When working with a couple, individual, or family, I find success in peeling past immediate problem-solving solutions and helping make insightful connections to our inner experiences and feelings. This process is not always comfortable, and it can even be painful. It is like stepping on an unexpected sharp stone when walking through the yard (or a Lego in a dark house). But it is often in these new spaces of awareness we can see, understand, and experience our problems in a way that can facilitate change. 

Just like removing our shoes loosens constraints, we must do similar things in therapy. We must push our boundaries, nudge outside our comfort zones, and challenge our conventional thinking. When we experience problems in life, they are often supported by assumptions, beliefs, and values that can bind us. We may feel compelled to live behind a mask or project a particular identity.  Change is at the center of therapy. Change means many things, including seeing, thinking, feeling, and behaving differently. To experience change, we have to get unstuck; successful therapy helps us to do that. Hopefully, working together in therapy creates a type of freedom. In this space, we can test, challenge, and change those constraints in our lives that have us trapped or stuck.

Therapy in bare feet is a good idea. I encourage you to do the same. Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Feel new things. Feel them more deeply. Find the freedom to explore new feelings, test your assumptions, and challenge yourself to growth and change. Show your therapist your bare feet on the screen or take your shoes off in their office. Tell them you want to do therapy in your bare feet. I don’t think they will mind.

Teen Mental Health Crisis

May is mental health awareness month. And to contribute to our collective awareness of mental health, I want to discuss a current crisis. I honestly don’t use those words flippantly. The mental health of our preadolescent and teenage students in our country is in severe decline. I want to share with you some statistics that show this drastic decline and challenge us to rise as a community to support our most fragile groups.

In February 2023, the CDC released a shocking report about teenage suicide in America. Suicide rates reached an all-time high in 2018, and though there was a slight decline in the next couple of years, in 2021, rates jumped again to reach an all-time high. Of particular concern is the level of hopelessness among our younger generations. Just a few statistics from that report:

  • 60% of teenage girls reported feeling persistently hopeless in 2021
  • 1 in 3 teen girls had seriously considered suicide
  • 1 in 5 teen girls had experienced sexual violence in the past year.
  • 14% reported being forced to have sex. Please stop and ponder that number. Over 1 in 10 girls reported being sexually assaulted. Remember, the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported. Also, boys are the perpetrators of these assaults. What is going on with our young men that this seems to be more of normal behavior and expectation for them?
  • In a global survey of over 400,000 teens, only 22% reported being close to their family. ​


When we see statistics like that, many want to jump to conclusions about the cause. Please don’t be too quick to blame COVID or social media. Most experts in this area say COVID was a stressor that split open cracks already well formed in our society. However, some fair blame can be directed toward smartphones, screens, and social media.

Jonothan Haidt, a psychologist, has begun publishing data that strongly implicates social media with the rise of anxiety and depression in teenagers, specifically teen girls. His work is extensive, and I would point you to this website for a deeper review. But, the most significant conclusion from his work is a definitive turn in mental health among our teenagers with the introduction of the front-facing camera on smartphones (we can now take endless selfies) and the rise of Instagram. These both happened around 2012. The data is obvious, and though Dr. Haidt has faced pushback on his data analysis (this is part of science), the skeptics need more stable ground in their arguments.

So, we can put some blame on screens and social media. But from my perspective as a therapist, we continue to mishandle this problem. Our first mistake has been that we adults have drowned ourselves in social media as adults. We could have been better examples. Our kids witness us scrolling, posting, and commenting as frequently or even more than they are engaged with their social media apps. Children learn from watching their parents. No child development expert would disagree with that statement. And we need to be honest. We have been bad examples. We should work on setting better boundaries with our use of social media. I would love for such a cultural movement to abandon social media so dramatically that the billions these companies are raking in from selling us as a product dries up. It is a bit of a pipe dream, but I can dream, can’t I?

Secondly, as parents, we have attempted to manage the phone, screen time, and social media through a punishment/reward system. My bias is that punishments/rewards as a primary form of parenting are ineffective. They can have short-term value, but there are far more effective ways to parent. We need to stop taking phones or relying on router parental controls as the sole means to manage our child’s screen time. Instead, we need to be having conversations about screen time. It starts with a relationship. Why does your kid like TikTok? What videos do they enjoy on social media? Do you watch them together? Do you have a relationship with your child outside of TV and other screens? Do you go on walks or eat meals without screens? Do you play games (not video games) together? If you want to read a classic about this kind of relational parenting, read Dr. Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child.

Let me suggest a bit more controversial source of this mental health crisis. GUNS. School shootings have significantly increased.* In the 1970s, there were approximately 60s deaths nationwide from school-related shooting incidents. We are currently on track to have over 400 school-related shooting deaths this decade. These numbers have only increased since the 1970s. Lockdown drills are common practice for all ages in public schools. Young elementary children know that lockdown drills are designed to keep them safe from an active shooter on their campus. Many express significant fears and anxiety, knowing this is a constant reality.

My wife is a public school teacher. If I had the time and space to explain the procedures, rules, and expectations they must keep in mind for these lockdown drills, it would overwhelm all of us. Teachers are evaluated in their handling of lockdown drills. During drills, people go around wiggling locked doors. Children hear what it will sound like if a gunman is walking the halls. This is practiced stress and trauma. Now look, we used to have fire drills in school. The fire alarm would go off, and we would celebrate a break from our work while we walked outside. But during those drills, we were not walking through simulated smoke, seeing fire trucks, or feeling the heat of an actual fire. But in gunman lockdown drills, children are pressed to “remain silent” so they are not heard, and then in the silence, a door is wiggled, attempted to open. For all children, this is stressful, but for a sensitive child, this repeated lived-out terror.

As I write this blog, I feel inclined to write a much longer blog about guns and mental health. That will come in July 2023. But let me say for this post that our cultural obsession with firearms harms us. The late game theorist Anatol Rapoport illustrated that conflict will always escalate in games where there must be a winner and loser (we call them zero-sum games). We are witnessing this before our very eyes. Exercising your right of gun ownership to keep an arsenal of weapons in your home only contributes to the cultural escalation of violence. Weaponry reduction and inviting whole communities into conversations for creating safe and peaceful spaces in our cities is the right direction.

Our children witness this escalation. They genuinely fear that their school is next. I fear that the school down the street is next. This is not a far-off problem we can dismiss as “their problem.” Our children see it, and their mental health is suffering.

So what do we need to do?

  1. We need to stop doubling down on solutions of the past. Stop saying this worked for me in my family or growing up. The world has fundamentally changed. It is time for new and creative solutions, even if they make us uncomfortable.
  2. Stop pointing fingers of blame. Instead, engage in dialogue with those in your community. Talk to people who look different from you, are in another generation than you, vote differently, and go to another church of faith. We are better united than divided.
  3. Connect with a young person. Love them. Please support them. Encourage them. Listen to them. Don’t worry about correcting or fixing it.
  4. If you want a Christian faith view of mental health. Check out this YouTube channel from The Hills Church. Pastor Rick Atchley is doing a multi-week series on mental health. It started a few weeks back, but all the messages are titled “Let’s Talk about Mental Health.”
  5. I did a podcast for The Hills Children and Youth Next Gen program on Mind Body connection and mental health. You can find that on this link.

Data from
*Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, https://www.chds.us/sssc/charts-graphs/

50 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’

February is the month of Valentine’s Day. You may love this day or have some dislike for the greeting card industry creation, but it is a reality that it can put some tension in even the best of marriages. What are we going to do – eating out or staying home? Are we buying a gift, exchanging cards, or will a handwritten note be the most meaningful? Regardless of what happens in your home, this day reminds us of the diversity of ways to say ‘I Love You!’

I would sure encourage everyone reading this blog to not go into the day of Valentine’s blindly. Discuss it early. And I am sure what you decide to do will be good for your relationship. But, we need to be saying ‘I love you’ on more days and in more ways than what we do on Valentine’s day. Expressing love is a way of life in marriage and it should be there air that we breathe. So I want to offer you a list of 50 ways to say ‘I Love You’. 

  1. Give a hug (for at least a minute).
  2. Kiss your spouse good morning. 
  3. Compliment your spouse.
  4. Mail a card to your spouse’s work.
  5. Make your spouse’s favorite meal.
  6. Write a poem for your spouse.
  7. Initiate sex.
  8. Unload the dishwasher.
  9. Fold and put away the laundry. 
  10. Go to your spouse’s favorite restaurant. 
  11. Look at the stars while laying on a blanket
  12. Sit by the fire together.
  13. Make them a playlist of favorite songs. 
  14. Empathy.
  15. Take a road trip to find a new place to eat.
  16. Serve them breakfast in bed.
  17. Email them a video telling them 10 things you love about them.
  18. Go for a long walk.
  19. Take a class together. 
  20. Watch their favorite movie. 
  21. Draw them a picture.
  22. Massage their neck and back.
  23. Chocolate.
  24. Make a video of telling a joke and send it to them by text.
  25. Frame a favorite picture of the two of you together. 
  26. Send a romantic GIF.
  27. Practice and become a great listener.
  28. Forgive your spouse when they disappoint you. Tell them you forgive them.
  29. Write them a note (handwritten).
  30. Give them their favorite snack.
  31. Tell them about your favorite memories that you have shared. 
  32. Pray for them (with them).
  33. Cuddle in bed in the morning.
  34. Make them a favorite dessert.
  35. Hold hands.
  36. Tell them something about them that you are proud of.
  37. Care for them when they are sick.
  38. Give your spouse a foot massage.
  39. Plan a weekend away together. 
  40. Take ownership when you have hurt them.
  41. Exercise together – go to the gym. 
  42. Ask them about their day? – Listen.
  43. Look at their eyes for more than five seconds – say ‘I love you’ just with your eyes. 
  44. Share a dream about your future with them – ask them to share a dream with you.
  45. Go to the store with $10 each. Buy a gift for each other that is less than $10. Go home and exchange your gifts.
  46. Massage their scalp. 
  47. Scratch their back.
  48. Brag about your spouse to others/friends.
  49. Put loving messages on sticky notes throughout the house.
  50. Speak life into them by encouraging them.

Mental Health and Technology

The statistics are quite staggering. The rapid rise in depression, anxiety and suicide are evident when we look at changes of mental heaIth in the past 20 years.

  • Between 2009 and 2017 rates of depression among 14 to 17  year olds increase 60%
  • The suicide rate per 100,000 people has risen steadily from 11.75 in 2009 to  14.2 in 2018.
  • Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34
  • The suicide rate has increased 35% since 1999.
  • Nearly one-third of adolescents will meet the criteria for anxiety disorder before the age of 18.
  • Teens today are twice as likely to see a mental health professional than in the 1980s. 

We need to respond to these changes with careful evaluation and realistic adjustments. Technology is here to stay. We can’t throw out our iPhones and return to simpler forms of communication. We need to learn to adapt and help our youth develop adaptive skills. There is even some evidence that younger generations are already adapting and demonstrating better boundaries with technology that those much older. There is hope. 

There seems to be two significant factors that contribute to increased mood disorders when it comes to technology. 

1. Increased information and therefore social comparison.

Social media and the internet gives us access to vast amounts of information with easy access. This information can come so quickly that we struggle with processing and testing it truthfulness. This is an obvious problem with conspiracy theories that abound on the internet, but it is also a problem when we read of our neighbor’s party down the street. Seeing pictures of neighbors gathered together at an event that we were not invited to can lead to all manner of assumptions and reactions. Without social media we would not have even been aware of the gathering other than maybe seeing a few cars. Now we see their smiling faces and can’t help but think everybody has more fun and is more likable than ourselves. There is some information that it is better not to have. 

2. False sense of connection/relationship and limited use of social graces in expression.

Engaging in comments on a social media post gives us a false sense of having a true dialogue. We have to infer tone of voice and meaning of certain words without the facial expression behind them. Research shows that all of us are far more prone to type things that we would never say to someone’s face. These two limits on social interaction just lead to escalating conflicts. Rather than being more connected, we feel increasingly polarized. 

We can improve our management of technology and eventually our personal mental health if we learn to set some limits and change our use of technology. Here are just a few recommendations that might offer some help. 

Recommendations 
Set time limits on your use of social media and devices. All of the social media companies have admitted that they are designed to get and keep your attention so that you will keep scrolling and clicking. Take back your power over the app by setting clear time limits for your use. Notice your emotions as your scroll. The moment your shift into a negative space, stop. Leave the app. Allow yourself time to recover. Never reply to someone’s post in anger. Keep that off the internet.

Intentionally create opportunities for meaningful face to face contact. Remove technology from those spaces. Be present. Listen. Be vulnerable. Real face to face engagement is necessary for our overall health. 

Intentionally have times to quiet your mind. Meditate. Allow your mind to process all the information you are having to manage. Don’t feel pressured to make immediate decisions. You need at least 15 minutes of quiet a day. That is a minimum. 

Set boundaries around the people you engage on social media. You have the option to “hide” or even block certain individuals. Boundaries on social media apps can help you filter the type of information that is presented to you. Don’t let the social media companies be the filter. You take charge of filtering your own exposure.

That being said, engage with people that are diverse and different from you. If at all possible make those engagements personal and face to face. Don’t block or set limits to the point that you are only hearing and seeing a narrow part of the world. Social media has a way of funneling us that direction. The world is a beautiful place that you can only discover if you open yourself to its diversity of humanity. Do not engage across a distant screen where assumptions are easily made. Engage someone different from you in a real face-to-face relationship.

Accept vs. Alleviate

​The mental health arena is rich with references to the stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced us to way back in 1969. The final phase of her model is acceptance. When bad stuff happens, we deny, get angry, bargain, become depressed, and according to the model ideally reach a point of acceptance. Yet increasingly much of our culture refuses to accept grief and pain. We choose to alleviate our pain-loss-disappointment with various strategies. Acceptance (as defined by Kubler-Ross) is unfortunately an important emotional skill our culture seems to have abandoned. We have become addicted to making ourselves feel better. We don’t like hurts, and in fact we do our very best to avoid it. 

Why has this happened? Can we really do anything about it? How do we develop a culture of Acceptance versus the need to alleviate or avoid pain? Attachment theory and its perspective on early childhood development might offer some insights.

In attachment theory we talk about how an infant protests and tantrums to express a need. Things don’t feel right, and the child is uncomfortable with their circumstances (hungry, tired, hurting, gassy, etc.). Their expression of discomfort is a cue that the parent needs to respond. In an ideal world this happens almost perfectly, but the world is not really ideal. As much as parents (even the best parents) diligently attempts to understand their child’s needs they sometimes fail. When this happens in the context of a healthy parent child relationship, the child actually learns to develop a sense of acceptance (grace, benefit of the doubt) of their parent’s failure. Though they may not feel great about the parent’s lack of responsiveness and they may actually be disappointed, they accept it. They even develop a resilience and tolerance for waiting the next time there is a need. Ultimately leading to an ability to recall times past when the parent was responsive and met their needs and so the occasional failure can be endured.

The problem comes in our culture’s obsession with alleviating pain. We want so bad to be free of discomfort that when frustrations, losses, or disappointments occur we scramble as quick as possible to respond and escape the pain. We don’t want for ourselves or for others to hurt, so we rush in to fix.

Parents overprotect their kids. 
Legislators curry favor with disadvantaged groups. 
Therapists entitle rather than empower. 
Corporations peddle pleasure to solve your woes. 

The results are people who take wide swaths to avoid challenge and engage in tirades rather than tolerance.

If we don’t like something we protest, we boycott, or we belittle.

If we see something upsetting, we post about it on Facebook or write a blog – we passionately believe the lie that the world is really going to hear our voice if we put it on a public forum.

If an employee of a company treats us disrespectfully we quickly fire off an often contemptuous email to corporate headquarters.

We soothe our hurts with all manner of drugs, bad habits, and sugary carbohydrates. We spend more money than we have. We gorge our stomachs. We inject our bodies with toxins.

We use social media to self-promote our “best life” so we can convince ourselves that things are not that bad. We obsess with “likes” and emojis believing the falsity that the more “thumbs up” we acquire, the more consensus we have from our online friends.

Using attachment thinking, if the parent were perfectly responsive the child would never develop perseverance. So our culture, refuses to accept that a better day is coming. We cry out and hope our outburst will alleviate our suffering and disappointment. The child survives the parent’s slight by recognizing and accepting that circumstances will improve. The secondary benefit is that the child might come to empathize with the parent’s failure. The parent never intended harm by their oversight. The child can develop a sense of grace in their misfortune. 

Maybe there is value to a quiet reserved acceptance of our stance in life. Look – bad stuff happens. No one has the ability to escape all difficulty. There seems to be a value to suffering. Seems like our culture needs a little toughening up, rather than persistently tantruming like two-year olds. We could shoulder the weight of some discomfort, and possible help ourselves become stronger. Acceptance does not make the pain go away, but it clarifies what is important and helps us develop empathy for others. So grow your tolerance muscle. Accept your sorrow. It is likely your next door neighbor knows something about what you are dealing with.

Note: Severe failure by a parent is neglect and we would identify such a mismatch in the parent child relationship as abusive and for the sake of this discussion, it is not a type of failure I am referencing. Rather I would suggest that a normal part of relationships means there are going to be mismatches and disappointments in the meeting of needs. Please remember I am not referencing overt situations of assault or abuse that cause pain. Those are completely different circumstances that require swift and clear boundaries to protect the innocent parties from any injury.

Crisis for Children – Texas CPS must Change

The news stories are happening way too often. Children in the protective custody of the state of Texas are placed in foster homes only to be abused by their foster parents. Victims of maltreatment are revictimized by the system that is supposed to keep them safe. 

The data on this problem is disturbing. 

​From 2010 until 2013 the likelihood for a child to be abused in the state of Texas ranged from 9-9.4 per 1000 children. This rate remains pretty steady and is slightly less than 1%. During the same period the likelihood for a child in the foster care system to be abused by caregivers tripled. This means that in 2013 children placed in foster care only had a 66% reduction in the likelihood of being revictimized. This is completely unacceptable. This means a child that is a confirmed victim of abuse should have a reasonable expectation of placement in a safe living environment and only improves their chances for safety by 66% compared to the general population of children. An improvement for sure but the chances for abuse in the foster care system should be much closer to zero. Recently a judge in Texas has ruled the CPS system in Texas to be unconstitutional due to the rampant problems in the system.

If you read news stories about foster care problems, inevitably it will be reported that caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. This has been the report for all the years that I have been involved in the foster care system (over 20 years). Some the current complaints include:

  • More than 30 percent of investigators — the ones on the front lines of protecting children from abuse — leave each year.
  • One out of every six new hires quits within the first six months.
  • Caseworker salaries have barely moved. In 2007, entry-level investigators earned about $34,600. Today it’s $36,700.
  • State officials say investigators generally juggle about 20 cases at a time, but a state-commissioned study recently showed that the real numbers vary wildly. At one point during the last year, investigators in South Texas averaged as many as 85 cases each. The Child Welfare League of America recommends that investigators carry no more than 12 cases at one time.
  • Caseworkers are so bombarded with paperwork that they spend just 26 percent of their time with children and families.

These problems are just a small sample, but they highlight the primary issues of high turnover and lack of contact with children/caregivers. 

As a consultant I have worked with many foster care agencies in the North Texas region. I currently collect outcomes for some of those agencies and have been doing so for close to 10 years. The non-profits are institutional group homes, a model considered by most in the child welfare industry to be an outdated dinosaur that should be eliminated. A fact highlighted by the statistic that less than 5% of foster children in the state of Texas are placed in institutional placement.

The interesting finding is that in all my years of collecting data with these agencies (on over 1000 children) there has never been a report of child maltreatment. This difference compared to the .29% abuse rate in foster care is what we would call statistically significant. It is time for the state of Texas, the media, and professionals in the child welfare arena to stop using the same old tired excuses for the problems in foster care. Stop telling our communities and children that the problem will be solved by throwing more money at it. It is time for a complete reevaluation and overhaul of the system as it exists. It is time for the state of Texas to be courageous, as it has in many other political arenas, and reject the policies and practices that are being promoted from the federal government in the area of child welfare. The citizens and caregivers in Texas know what is best for the children in Texas.

Maybe it is time to reconsider this long held belief that institutional group homes are bad for children. Let me offer three reasons.

1. Accountability
Most of the institutional group homes providing foster care are faith based. Though religious values are not a guarantee against abuses, they offer a protective factor. Many of these programs are operated by administration and oversight boards that maintain a standard for program values and treatment of clients. The good that faith based programs have offered western society far outweigh the problems that have occurred.

2. Stability
Many children placed in institutional group care live in one home for their entire placement. Many experts agree that frequent placement changes are a significant problem in the foster care system. Currently in foster homes only half of children have 2 or fewer homes they they live in while in foster care. This compares to one home for many institutional programs during the 1-2 years a child lives with them. 

3. Community
Institutional group homes form a community or network of relationships. Many talk about the virtues of it “taking a village” and institutional group homes embody this concept. Children in these programs not only have a stable set of caregivers, but other caregivers living in close proximity, and administrative staff (caseworkers, counselors, spiritual mentors, etc.) that see them on an almost daily basis.

Helicopter Parents

I​t’s time to retire the term “helicopter parents”. Depending on your source, the term was coined by one of two individuals. The psychologist, Haim Ginott, wrote about a child/teen sharing that their parent hovered over them like a helicopter. It then seems that the parenting expert, Jim Fay and Foster Cline wrote about “helicopter parents” in their discussions of parenting with love and logic. It seems the work of Cline and Fay brought popularity to the concept and is how is has spread throughout the school systems as the Love and Logic model is promoted by many schools. The popular interpretation of the term is referencing parents who “hover” and over manage the lives of their children. This can obviously be a concern. It is not productive for a parent to be in the habit of over controlling a child’s decisions or rescuing them from the consequences of their choices.

As I counsel families I have become increasingly concerned that the interpretation of being a helicopter parent is leading to problems. The two biggest problems I see are increased disconnection between parents and kids, and decreased engagement with teachers/schools. I have had parents say they are afraid of being too involved in their kids life, because they don’t want to be a helicopter parent. And though we should keep this in check, our fear of being labeled as a helicopter parent should not excuse our engagement in our kids lives and their decision making. We are our kids best coach, conscience, and connection. Distancing ourselves increases the risk of them floundering around with decisions that they are ill equipped to handle. A greater fear of parents is to be labeled by the community or by teachers as a helicopter parent. Unfortunately I have witnessed school personnel throw this label around flippantly with little consideration of a parents real motives. It is important to give the benefit of the doubt prior evaluating a parent’s decisions. An inquiry email or a request for a meeting are not examples of being helicopter parents. The research is clear that a child’s education is much more effective when parents and schools collaborate together. 

1. Mentor before Moving away
Many Native American cultures had a view of child development that involved extensive periods of adult engagement and apprenticeship before granting children independence and freedom. The attitude was one of walking along beside children, teaching, coaching, correcting, and even a little praising as children learned new skills. Unfortunately in our culture we often hand tasks or responsibilities off to kids without really teaching/mentoring our kids in the actual skills necessary for being successful. This may sound way to simple but I honestly hear often that kids (even teens) are not adequately brushing their teeth. And even though this may not apply in all situations, many times parents have not taught simple brushing techniques and supervised the activity until it is clear that the child has the skills. Mentoring does not mean controlling. Mentoring involves being a supportive presence while the child develops or grows their skills. We don’t move away from the mentor role until the child has the skills to function independently.

2. Ally rather than Assume
Teachers and parents please read these next two statements carefully:
Parents – Most (the vast majority) of teachers are talented professionals, who choose to be with students because they want the best for the children in their classrooms. They don’t just teach for a paycheck. They enjoy the rewards of seeing the children they teach grow, succeed, and conquer challenges.
Teachers – Most (the vast majority) of parents of the kids you teach love their children. They love deeply and want the very best for their children. They enjoy seeing their children be successful, grow, and conquer challenges.
Throwing around terms like “helicopter parent” causes us to label rather than solve problems. Our goal should be to collaborate together to solve the problems our children/students face. That might mean some differences in philosophical approaches. Differences can be resolved when both parties bring their ideas to the table and assume the best about the other. 

Our biggest concern as a culture should be much more related to the relationship disconnection caused by media and technology. We need to be less concerned about “helicopter parents” and maybe more concerned about “social media” parenting. The adults in a child’s world need to model healthy relationships, so that our kids are prepared for families, work and their future.​