So, yesterday afternoon I drove the 25 miles to Mr. Something’s office with a car picnic tucked safely in the backseat. Car picnics are an actual thing in the Something household. In our early days they manifested out of necessity. The first (correct me, Mr. Something, if my memory fails me) was the time we stopped for pizza but the restaurant was closed. They were still taking orders for take-out so we took-it-out to the car and ate it in the parking lot. Ta da! The birth of the car picnic! Another memorable one was a birthday picnic that I had planned for Mr. Something’s birthday at our favorite park. Unfortunately, having an early May birthday in the midwest doesn’t always guarantee picnic weather. Blustery winds forced us to picnic in the car, parked with a decent view of the pond. Calling it a car picnic makes it seem far less pathetic than what it really is, eating in the car.
We wanted to make an early start to the city last night, not knowing exactly where we were going for the first of our licensing classes, the event called for a car picnic. As we unwrapped our sandwiches (Boar’s Head lunch meat, fresh French bread… we don’t mess around) there were mixed feelings between us. We trade off having the “What the f- are we doing?” feeling and Mr. Something was there last night but, despite the feeling, was looking forward to taking another actual step in this journey. I was excited and ready for information. When I shared that sentiment, we came to the realization that we have never been students together. In our 13 years of knowing each other we have spent more than half of those years as students; high school, college, grad school, traffic school… 😉 Educational careers paralleling each other, but never have we sat in a classroom together. Suddenly the ridiculous contrast between Mr. Something as a student and myself as a student became humorous.
Since completing college, I love being a student. As a teacher I am afforded professional development opportunities every year and, as crazy busy as it was, I thrived in grad school. I was the one that showed up to class with the new pack of pens and a pristine notebook, ready to write every important word down. I actually enjoy the activities that others might be “too cool” for. I’m a teacher, what I teach and how I teach has layers of purpose. I optimistically like to assume that the instructors of my classes have a similar agenda. Like there’s something bigger going on and I better play along or I might not get it. It’s okay, I’ll proudly fly my nerdy student flag.
I’m realizing now that this portrait of myself as a student might lead one to believe that Mr. Something is less than a good student but that couldn’t be more wrong. He did great in school and has lasting memories and connections with teachers that I’ve never known the likes of. We are simply different types of learners and embarking once again into studenthood side-by-side was a first for us that I’d never considered. I was suddenly looking forward to the experience for all new reasons.
Another 30 miles… this time into the city… during rush hour… sitting… on the expressway…
There was more traffic than we thought but we had planned for extra time and arrived early, after going to the wrong building first, to the meeting room where our classes would be held. A mix of people began to file in and fill up the places at the tables. There were perhaps 20 of us and two instructors. The instructors are two straight-forward, no-nonsense women that share over three decades of foster parenting and case working between them. They keep it real, no sugar coating, and both have a fabulous sense of humor which I know will help with our twice weekly, late night sessions.
Once papers were passed out, internet connections established, and class expectations defined, we began to introduce ourselves. For some reason, when thinking about these classes, I never once considered the other people that would be taking them with me. All at once I looked around and realized that I was, for the first time, sitting among 20ish like-minded future foster parents. We shared our reasons for wanting to foster/adopt but no one had to justify their choice. One woman sought to foster pregnant teenage girls to help teach them how to care for their children, another only wanted teenage boys because they are most likely passed over in the system, a couple at our table were hoping to foster babies 0-18 months, some only wanted girls, some just boys, some had young children of their own, one empty-nest grandmother was feeling the emptiness of the rooms in her home and wanted to fill them once again. A few had more personal connections with foster care, a parent that had aged out of the system, or siblings that were shuffled through the system. People nodded, smiled, and agreed. It was an incredible feeling and I understand now the importance and value of foster parent support groups. We were all hopeful, nervous, and feeling our hearts overflowing in our chests with the desire to do something more in this world.
The evening went quickly. We watched a video that was perhaps 20 years old and reminded me of the health videos that we used to watch in high school, complete with bad acting and dangerous soundtracks when the little foster boy acted out because of his “big feelings.” Most of the evening was just outlining what the training was going to be. A lot felt like common sense and Mr. Something and I both walked the line of feeling like it was a waste of time. However, looking on the flip side of things, we have 16 months of foster care/adoption research under our belts. I’m a nerdy student, remember? I’ve been reading any bit of literature I can get my hands on, in addition to reaching out to blogs. Yes, we knew much of the information that was shared last night; What is foster care? Why might a child be taken into custody? What is the difference between foster care and adoption? But at one point I didn’t have the answers to these questions and sought the answers for myself. Had we attended this class a month or two after our initial idea to pursue foster care adoption, much of the information would have been new. So, instead of being annoyed at the lack of new information, we patted ourselves on the backs for being the nerdy students that did homework before the first class.
So, for my fellow nerdy students out there, here are the competencies, or the knowledge and skills we need to become foster/adoptive parents, we have after session one…
- Understand the factors that contribute to neglect, emotional maltreatment, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.
- Know the conditions and experiences that may cause developmental delays and affect attachment.
- Understand the concept of permanence for children and why children in family foster care are at a risk for not being connected to lifetime relationships.
- Know how adoption is a legal and social process that transfers parental rights to adoptive parents.
- Know the needs of specific children awaiting adoption.
- Know the implications of adoption for children at different stages of their development and can provide appropriate information and support.
- Know the roles, rights, and responsibilities of foster parents and adoptive parents.
Our learning objectives:
- Define family foster care and adoption.
- Explain how family foster care and adoption fit into the larger child welfare picture.
- Explain how the agency uses foster care and adoption services to carry out its mission to protect children and strengthen families.
- Describe why children and families need family foster care servies and adoption services.
- Identify the value of helping children and youth stay part of their families and culture, because strengthening families is the first goal of child welfare services.
- Identify what foster parents and adoptive parents are expected to know and do as members of a professional team whose goal is to protect children and strengthen families.
- Identify the benefits of family foster care and adoption for children and families.
- Describe the rewards of fostering and adopting for foster families adoptive families.
- Describe the special situations and needs of the various types of children who receive foster care and adoption services.
Our homework included an opinion survey about our original conceptions about foster care/adoption and 17 pages of reading about the history of foster care and adoption in the United States, the highlights of which will have to wait for another post. For now, I am looking forward to Session 2: Teamwork toward Permanence tomorrow night, and continuing to connect with our fellow classmates. I have found myself as a part of a new community and, so far, I like what I see.