Why do foster parents have to complete so much training?
Imagine that a child falls and breaks an arm and is taken to the hospital. The nurse gently assures the child that everything will be fine, because the child is now at the safe, clean hospital, where the child won’t break any more bones. The nurses and doctors don’t take an x-ray or do anything to set or heal the arm, but they are very warm and loving and supportive. When the child expresses discomfort, the doctors and nurses remind the child that the hospital is a safe place and the broken arm happened in the past.
How will the broken arm heal?
When we became foster parents, we thought we had a pretty good handle on this parenting thing. We had four biological children who were turning out pretty great. We knew that our hearts and home were big enough to bring in additional children and share the love and safety of our family. We attended the 33 hours of required training, feeling pretty smug about how much of that “basic” level parent training we already knew. Or did we?
Perhaps our confidence got in the way of us really listening to what the trainers were trying to teach us. Parenting children is a learning process for everyone, but parenting children who have experienced trauma, requires training! It requires so much more than relying on the methods of, “the way we were raised” or “parenting 101” articles from magazines in the pediatrician’s waiting room.
Just like taking a child to a hospital for a broken arm requires skilled medical practitioners, children who have experienced trauma require skilled foster care providers and therapists. It is not enough to simply comfort them and explain that they are safe now. They have suffered the deepest broken hearts and broken trust. These don’t just heal on their own, even if the child is in a safe, warm, and loving place.
How will these broken hearts and trust heal?
Doctors and nurses have to study for years to learn to mend broken bodies; foster parents only have to take training for 15-30 hours. That simply isn’t enough training to learn the skills to heal a broken heart and broken trust. That is why there is so much on-going training required for foster families. It can feel burdensome to have to find babysitters and to block out the time for training classes. It can even feel like a waste of time because you already know everything the trainer is teaching, but do you really?
New research and techniques are always being developed. Many professions require annual on-going training to keep practitioners up to date on emerging innovations and best practices. Foster parents need the same thing. When we began foster parenting, Trauma Informed Care was just being researched. If that training had been available years ago, it could have completely changed the way we parented our children in foster care. Unfortunately, we might have just focused on the imposition of more required training hours and not really listened. However, now that we are ready to open our home to children in care, again, we are eager to learn all that we can to help mend these broken hearts. We have questions, our notebooks, and open minds. Bring on the training!