My foster care training classes were three hours long, twice a week, and lasted nine sessions. I was part of a pretty small group - just nine of us which dwindled to seven by the end.
Four participants were two married couples. The other five of us were single women. I was the second youngest, and the only Caucasian in the group. Only two of us (me and one of the married couples) wanted to foster younger children. One wanted teenagers, the rest wanted grade school through middle school aged kids. Most were not looking to adopt, but few understood the dynamics of reunification. I found this puzzling until a few sessions in when it became clear just how little the general public knows about foster care!
So, I'll start with some of my criticisms. First, could those videos be any more outdated?? They were no more recent than the eighties from the haircuts and clothes. The early eighties.
It's not just I think people don't take things seriously if they can't relate to them. It's also that child welfare has changed a lot in the last thirty years! The curriculum reflected those changes, but the use of outdated videos undermine the message.
For example, to their credit they did show what it looks like for foster and biological families to work together. But they undermined that by showing a meeting between a parent and child where the parent explains that their rights are going to be terminated, so they won't see them ever again.
Um, no thanks?
Then they showed another clip of the child being told that, since they weren't returning home, they would be meeting a new pre-adoptive family.
I've rarely see the first scenario play out. I mean, if a parent is appropriate enough to have that rational of a conversation about their rights being terminated, why can't hey have continued contact?? And in my state, the judge won't even change the goal away from reunification unless the child is already in a pre-adoptive home.
But at least I better understand why most of my classmates thought kids just stayed in the system forever without reunification or permanency.
Other falsehoods that had to be addressed:
* Children are not grateful to be away from their biological families.
* Children aren't just one day removed and sent back home without notice.
* Biological parents will not try to hunt you down and steal their children back.
* Foster parents are not allowed to keep a child in their home without committing to permanency after reunification is rule out.
* Social workers aren't all homely and have bad haircuts.
(Ok, that last one was just for my benefit.)
Overall, I found training to be pretty eye opening. Not because any of the information was new to me per se, but because I really never knew what foster parents were being told/taught in my state! So, it was really interesting to see that reunification is being discussed, at length, in training. Collaboration between foster parents and biological families is being encouraged. And the idea that reunification is the number one priority of foster care is being emphasized.
This knowledge is something that I have used quite a bit in my job as a social worker. No more pretending that you didn't know you'd have to at least meet the bio parents! No more acting like you can't believe we'd consider sending this child back home! Nope, I know what you were told in the beginning, even if you want to forget it.
But back to training:
I did my fair share of interjecting with tidbits of information, personal stories, and some real honesty on the occasion where I felt our trainer was beating around the bush. (Don't worry, I told him after my second class that he could just tell me to shut up at any time.) And I actually got some good stuff out of training too.
We did a very eye opening excersize about our childhoods and what we had internalized about things such as support, discipline, education, and emotions. It was eye opening to see how my responses were similar and different from my peers. I was really grateful, once again, for my wonderful childhood, supportive family, and overall awesome life. We also did an exercise about how different parts of our life would change with the introduction of a foster child. For people who already had kids (which was the better part of the class) there were a few changes, but nothing as dramatic as my answers. The reality is that I have lived alone, only responsible for myself, for the last ten years. Every single thing about my life. is about to change.
But I feel totally ready.