As I approach this training I am thinking about our goals in training foster parents. It is a different situation than training staff. These parents are interacting with these children in their homes. Many of them have successfully raised their own children. They have friends and family around them who are free with advice on how to parent (“Why are you letting her get away with that behavior?!?!”). There are limits to how much the parent may be willing to change.I have come to believe that our fundamental goal is to help the parent keep the child. There are many styles of parenting that are comp[lately fine. I do not really care if the parent grounds the child when he acts up or if she doesn't If the parent sees the good in the child, cares about him or her, enjoys being with him or her- how can we help that parent not give up? What our children need most of all is to stay somewhere. It can be an imperfect somewhere- as long as it is not abusive, safe, and caring- how can we support the parent in perseverance? What role does training play in this?
I would suggest that we have two fundamental goals in training. One is to redefine the parent’s understanding of why the child acts the way he does. We would like to use trauma theory to help the parent to use trauma theory to understand the adaptive nature of the child’s actions. Three important concept in achieving this are: biological changes from trauma, lack of learned skills, and using behaviors to help you feel better in the moment (since we all do this). In other words, move away from words like “disobedient” and “disrespectful” and towards words like “frightened” or “confused”. We hope that the foster parent can see behaviors as less about them.
Here’s an example. Marci is a wonderful foster parent in many ways. Yet she is really annoyed by her foster son Rob’s constant negativity. When Marci tells Rob that there is spaghetti for dinner, something she has made because she knows he loves it, she responds by saying “oh no I hate spaghetti!” Marci answers him by saying it is very good spaghetti and she is a good cook. In telling this story, she indignantly reports that he has eaten her spaghetti before, that others seem to like it, that she follows a good recipe, etc. She is defensive and has taken Rob’s comments personally. When asked if Rob would have responded the same way if she had announced chicken or steak, she said “of course. He is always that way.” So it’s not about the spaghetti. It’s about Rob protecting himself against the disappointment that has been such a feature of his life. When she is out of the situation, Marci understands this. And yet, shortly afterwards she tells Rob that the are going to the park tomorrow. He says that he has always hated that park and doesn't want to go there. Immediately Marci begin defend herself and her choice of park. We suggested that we were going to write on her hand in indelible ink: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!!!!!The foster parent doesn't have to completely buy this. But any progress they can make along this continuum will be powerful in preserving the placement.
The other crucial continuum concerns what it will take for the youth to heal. Through trauma theory, we hope to lead the foster parent to understand that children act better when they feel better. When their child feels safe, connected, noticed and cared about she will be able to relax and have more fun. When through every day acts of caring the child begins to consider a new view of other people, the child will begin to trust, to come to the parent with their worries and concerns, and to ask for help.
Again, we can’t expect the parent to re-learn everything society has taught him about the value of punishment. But if through training wecan accomplish any movement on this continuum, we help preserve the placement:
So, can we do this? Is our training effective in preserving placements? If you are an RC Associate Trainer, come to my training on Feb. 2 and find out!