Foster Classes: Training and Understanding


Back in September I shared a quick post about a training course that Rent-a-Dad and I were looking forward to taking at our first DCS Foster Parent Conference. The class was titled “Loving and Letting Go” and our post Never Letting Go was a little bit about a hope that we never really want to let go of our foster children if we don’t have to. What we know as foster parents is there is a difference between what you hope will happen and what takes place. The classes we take as foster parents are there to teach us what we don’t know and to help bridge that gap.

The first year we were foster parents we attended an adoption day conference given in our county. Our first DCS Foster Parent Conference had a similar feeling for us: educational and re-affirming.

The conference in our state takes place over three days. While there were a variety of classes available due to our own time constraints we were limited we could take. When we arrived at the conference we found out that one of our requirement classes for the year was being given in the slot of the class we most looked forward to. That meant we were unable to take “Loving and Letting Go” that day. We have already looked at the class schedule for our county and found another session for that class will be given soon.

Even though what excited us the most about our training that day changed we still learned new terminology, met some new people, and had an enjoyable afternoon. Since we are required to do 14 hours of training each year, we were very happy to get 8.5 of those hours completed in one day.

Some years the 14 hours of training seems to go by quickly while other years it feels like an insurmountable task. This year we only have two classes yet to take and seven months left to take them. Other years we have been down to the wire as life and circumstances are not always kind to any of us.

So why is there a need for on-going training for foster parents? After all don’t foster parents go through enough? Aren’t they already on the front lines? Why burden them with more classes when they have court dates, review boards, home visits, doctor appointments… and so on, to deal with?

I can’t answer that question from a DCS or legal standpoint. Honestly I am not sure if you asked every DCS employee that you would hear the same answer twice. What I can tell you is that legally we are required to take refresher courses every two years for medication administration and CPR. Nurses and other health care professionals have similar on-going training. It is true that we don’t need that kind of training to raise our own kids but we aren’t raising our own kids.

It is true that as foster parents we are more liable for the children in our care than regular parents. Truthfully we should be. We have the life of someone else’s child in our hands. Life is precious and should never be taken for granted. Sometimes we get caught up in the minutiae of a case. We are keenly aware that we are responsible for these lives but we can forget how we would feel if these were our children in someone else’s care.

That points out the need for those two courses. Why do foster parents need to take other courses each year?

Again this is just my opinion but rules and regulations change over the years. Even if they didn’t the changes the world sees can be reason enough. There are classes every year that help address theses changes as well as classes to help give foster parents new ideas and techniques for any number of topics from discipline to finding hope while raising traumatized children.

We have seen topics come up from “creating teachable moments” to “stress relief & self care”. Each topic has merit and value on its own. When thrust into the world of foster care it is not just about taking another class but throwing out a life-line to foster parents who may be struggling with the system, birth families, etc.

A recent class we took was going over new terminology for new born babies that are opiate dependent. The class was to help teach understanding as much as terminology. A common thread through the class is that not all babies born dependant on opiates come from bad situations. Our interest in the class was two-fold; we want to stay current with new care options for opiate dependent children and we hoped to learn what medical science can teach us about what to expect once they are no longer babies such as verbal or physical delays.

As medical and health professionals are becoming more aware of the needs of foster care there is new terminology and new ways to approach old cases. Taking these classes will only prove to help those who honestly want to help the children in their care. The classes should also help the foster parents deal with situations they feel unprepared for.

Case in point, police brutality is not new but how socially aware of it we are as a society might feel new to a lot of people. In recent months I have been advocating for more classes that help foster parents of different races help relate to the needs of their foster children. At the conference there was at least one class set up to help with this topic.

Sometimes I might grumble that I have to arrange for childcare so I can take a DCS mandated class. Even though I am grumbly I understand the need for the classes. Truthfully I look forward to interacting with other foster parents and learning what I can do to help better myself and help those in my care.

Overall the DCS Foster Parent Conference was a success in our books. At the end of the day as we were wrapping up our classes and preparing to head home when we spotted a beautiful rainbow in the distance. As a symbol of hope and new beginnings it seemed a fitting end to our training that day.

eco map

One of my favorite training exercises was creating a Family Eco Map. The link provided describes this process as it related to the foster children and their family. When performing this training exercise in the PATH classes, the Family Eco Map created pertains to the foster parents and their resources. This exercise is meant to show prospective foster parents two things:

  • Who they consider to be their resources and how effective they consider their resources to be, and
  • What the process looks like for DCS as they create the same Eco Map for the child in care. Developing an Eco Map for a child in care can take time and birth families sometimes do not respond well to this process. Remember Eco Maps represent a snap shot in time as Eco Maps evolve and change over time.

What I loved about this exercise was that it gave Rent-a-Dad and I an idea of who our support network would be. When we completed the exercise we had to give a copy to our PATH Trainer so a copy would be in our file. Essentially DCS wants an idea of the type of resources that prospective foster parents have. My take-away has always been that DCS wants to make sure foster parents have resources so that when it feels like the world is falling down around us we have people we can turn to.

The first time we drew an Eco Map for our family we felt a little timid not quite knowing who we should include and how we should describe our relationships with friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances. As we drew the Eco Map we found out something about ourselves and the relationships we had with our family. It showed us that we weren’t sure how our extended family members would take our journey into the foster care system. This realization made us both eager to bring the topic up with our family members so we had a better answer. By the time we developed our second Eco Map we not only had answers to those questions but had a better sense of who and what our resources really were.

When we went through our home study process we discussed our second Eco Map with the DCS Home Study Evaluator. She wanted to know why our Eco Map was laid out in the manner we drew it. For us it was about relationships we could count on, family members that cared but may not be ready or able to help, our relationship with my faith, etc. The evaluator was impressed that we had a good idea of our extended resources and so were we. By this time we really knew how many people in our lives were willing to be apart of this journey.

It is good to keep in mind how people move into and out of our lives over the years. Eco Maps change for a reason. As you journey through life you develop a sense of who will be helpful in your journey and who is really only there to be a spectator. Knowing the difference between the two means you have the knowledge of who will be there for you as the road gets bumpy. Our Eco Map today is just as bountiful as it was 3+ years ago. Some people have moved on and other relationships have grown stronger.