Zach was one of the almost 500,000 children in the US Foster Care System and one of over 10,000 children who are in Foster Care in Oregon on any given day. That changed in 2012, when Anne and Ron adopted him. When he toddled through their door at just under two years old, he’d had no stable family life, and the impact on him was clear.
Zach didn’t talk, didn’t look his parents in the eye or, most concerning, didn’t eat. Despite that, he was 35lbs – 10lbs over what he should have been for his age. The only thing he would eat was a mixture of yogurt and milk in a sippy cup. And when he drank that, he would almost immediately vomit it up.
As foster parents, Anne and Ron had been trained in how to deal with tantrums and emotional fallout. Neither they, their caseworker nor their pediatrician had any training or experience in handling feeding difficulties or nutrition.
One day when Anne was running late, she grabbed bagels from a coffee shop for herself and the kids; she reflexively got one for Zach, though she knew he wouldn’t eat it. As soon as she started passing the bagged bagels to the other children, Zach started to grunt…he was only satisfied when she handed him a bag with a bagel. Amazed, Anne watched as Zach ate his bagel; still stunned, she handed him her own bagel when he continued to grunt and point.
This was an ‘aha moment.’ Zach’s parents realized that, until then, he had only ever been fed fast food. Over the next six months, they put all sorts of food in paper bags – apples, chicken, spaghetti. By doing so, they slowly helped Zach to learn that food comes from other places, such as the refrigerator and the stove. They were able to shift him toward a healthy diet for the first time in his two years.
And the difference was tangible. Zach’s health improved. He moved toward a weight and height appropriate to his age. His cognitive development took off. He started kindergarten along with other children his age. And this year, he learned how to read his first book.
SPOON is now partnering with local authorities in Oregon to develop a standardized training curriculum so that foster families and professionals, as well as families who are reuniting with their children, will have the knowledge and skills they need to nourish these children. Starting with a pilot project in Lane County, this project will quickly scale to reach all children in Oregon’s foster care – and beyond.
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