Thursday, August 03, 2006

Asked to help train

Andrew and I have been asked to help do a session at a series of foster parent conferences on fostering children. It is not yet precisely clear how it will be focused.

I have done a lot of research on my own, and the social worker gave me some materials that have been used in multiple session trainings for fostering children. There were some things about the trainings that I really liked and some that I did not like at all. No that's is not fair...some things were left out.

The Good:
1. Lots of emphasis on teaching children how the system works, who are all of the people involved, and, most importantly, why kids are in foster care to begin with. My research indicates that that last lessoon is likely to have to be repeated a lot for kids under 10, and maybe older.

It is surprising, or maybe it is not, that foster parents do not explain why kids are in foster care. Partly it is because of the need to keep information about any specific child confidential, but also we are reluctant for our children to know how bad things can be.

2. Information about how to maintain confidentiality (e.g. saying to friends, "____ is staying with our family for a awhile because her parents need to deal with some problems, but I can't tell you about those problems.")

3. Information about how to be helpful to foster kids. This included a session asking kids to imagine how they would feel if they were suddenly taken away from their parents, and then listing all the emotions that kids might be feeling. It included some listening skills, how to be supportive of visits to birth family, understanding that kids can come back acting out because they miss their parents. There was also discussion about the kids life books and adding pages to them about yourself.

So not easy stuff, but good. Fostering children can suffer a lot of anxiety, but it is reassuring to know that children who can give accurate answers to question like, "why are kids in foster care" have less anxiety than those who cannot. We want to save our children from the ugly truth, but they fill in the blanks with uglier fantasies (children being given away because they were bad). The training seemed to be geared to helping fostering children understand and feel like they were part of the team.

What was left out was this: taking care of yourself. There was not enough about it being okay to want time alone, or have your parents to yourself for a while, or who in the system you can call if things are stressful, or what to do when they fostered child is raging and your parents are dealing with them.

Of course what Andrew and I will be participating in will be a seminar for the parents, and it will only be a couple of hours long. So we will be in the position of trying to communicate the importance of fostering children understanding.

Now how to deal with this:
Children do best when they have a clear understanding of how people fit into the family or don't fit. In other words, children in families who only do respite care or temporary care do fairly well. They understand that foster children are visitors who are to be treated like members of the family even though they are not members of the family. And they do well when there is a commitment of permanency and can accept that this child really is a new brother or sister (although if they don't get along that does make it harder). The point is that the kids who have the clearest answer to "how do the foster children fit into your family?" are the ones who have the fewest problems with it.

Then of course there is how to deal with sibling rivalry. None of the foster parent trainings discuss it. Whenever you go to a session on how to deal with any sort of behavioral issue, there always seems to be the assumption that this is the only child you have.

But you don't. But this post is long enough. I think I will save that for another.

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