Foster Care Pre-Service Training
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably already read that we’re becoming foster parents and why we chose that path to adoption. Now let’s get into the tough stuff, the barriers to entry when it comes to foster care. Surveys suggest that close to 50% of people have considered foster care and adoption at some point, but less than 1% actually follow through. Why is that? Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons, but probably the first barrier to entry is the mandatory foster care pre-service training.
Cuyahoga County Foster Care Pre-Service Training
In order to become a licensed foster parent, you must first be trained on the state requirements of foster parents. This is required by law, so every state has a pre-service training requirement. Some states have more hours of mandated training than others, but as far as I know all states require pre-service training to be attended in-person (this is also true for the continuing education for the first several years of your license, which we’ll cover later). Ohio requires 36 hours of pre-service training, one of the highest hours requirements in the US. In theory this is a very good thing – it prevents people from walking blindly into this world with the best of intentions but often the worst of practices – but in reality it serves as a massive deterring force.
Making the time for mandatory in-person pre-service training was not easy. Cuyahoga County does a good job of offering lots of different timing options – Friday evenings & Saturday all day, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Fridays all day, etc (you can check them out here if you’re interested) – but each session is arranged a little differently and it’s best to familiarize yourself with the options. The first time I looked into this was about this time last year when only one session was remaining in 2017 and it was completely infeasible for us. That gave me a few months to really think about things & make sure this was really the path we wanted to head down.
I checked back in February of 2018 to see what our options were. I figured out quickly that Tuesday and Thursday evenings would never work. With two little kids, reliable childcare during the week is a crap shoot, even with family. Neither my husband nor I were all that excited about the prospect of giving up our family’s Saturdays, so we opted for the session that ran from the beginning of August through the second weekend in September on Fridays. We had to take the equivalent of 6 days off work to pull this off. But, by taking these classes on Fridays during the day, we didn’t have to spend a fortune on babysitters or give up our Saturdays together as a family. It still cost us, but for us, losing vacation was the best of the bad options. I booked our calendars in March for the August session. That gave us both plenty of time to do a whole lot of unnecessary and unproductive internet research on what we were getting ourselves into. We were as informed and prepared as we could be, given the complete and utter lack of resources.
Registering for Pre-Service Training
Here’s some information you might appreciate if you ever decide to take pre-service training through the Cuyahoga County – things I really wished people told us (or that I could have found online):
1 – When taken through the county, this class is free.
We learned IN CLASS that you get reimbursed for your time spent in training after you’re licensed, so technically, you get paid to attend!
2 – Registering for this class is extremely challenging.
There’s no way to do it online, so you have to call. I’m pretty sure that most people register for this class through a case worker or an agency, but we had neither. The process is not set up for individuals & it is a challenge to find information.
3 – It is virtually impossible to get anyone on the phone.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Cuyahoga County has one of those automated phone services is an infinite loop. If you select the option for pre-service training, you will, with 100% certainty, end up with a recorded voice asking you to leave a message. I left a message. To their credit, they did call me back within 48 hours. This time, they left me a message to confirm they had us registered, and that was it.
4 – You don’t have to take all the classes in one session.
We learned this fun fact because life gets in the way of even the best laid plans. As luck would have it, we had a death in the family just before our first class and had to travel to DC for the memorial service. Because of the aforementioned phone circularity issues, figuring out what to do about our missed classes while dealing with grief & last minute family travel was more stressful than it needed to be. I finally managed to get someone on the phone (pro tip- I did not follow the pre-service training option when prompted) who told me to just make up the classes we missed in the next session.
5 – DCFS had no record of our registration when we showed up for our first class.
Despite the headache I went through to secure our registration, we were walk-ins. Sigh.
6 – The people attending with you will surprise you.
Our Friday-only session had about 20 people in it, total, and most of them were there for kinship care (this is becoming a licensed foster parent to care for a relative). Our Friday evening/Saturday morning make-up class was so full they needed a double session. Our section had no fewer than 60 people in it and the room was packed with prospective foster and foster-to-adopt parents. It really is a mixed bag, this foster care thing.
When you show up for training, you have to sign in at the front desk, sign in again in your classroom, and sign out for each session. Remember how I talked about excessive the paperwork is for becoming a licensed foster parent? It begins with pre-service training – the county’s burden of proof to show you took these classes and that you were there the WHOLE TIME is no joke. If you miss more than 15 minute of any session, it will not count (so don’t be late!). This is also why you can’t take them from home. Again, this is not DCFS’s fault – the people who work for this agency are solid gold. Thank your legislators for this, guys.
The Foster Parent Application
Half of the first session is dedicated to teaching you how to fill out the formal foster parent application. Again with the paperwork – a simple application filled out incorrectly can cause endless frustration to social workers and prospective foster parents, so they take a LOT of time explaining exactly what has to be on there. Even with that training, 70% of applications submitted need revisions before they can be formally submitted. Almost every prospective foster parent submits their application during training because there are social workers available to go over it with you. Here’s why: if you choose to submit the application before or after training, you will have to make an appointment with DCFS to submit it, and you will have to travel to their offices to do it.
Your application becomes a legal document once it’s formally received. At the time you submit it, you must show two forms of identification and be fingerprinted. The application itself is notarized. We had no idea that we were supposed to bring our Social Security cards, but they let me pull up a back tax return on my phone to show proof of identity, so that was a nice surprise.
Cuyahoga County Pre-Service Training
The training itself consists of 12 3-hour modules. If you come to it with some knowledge of foster care or you’ve done obsessive and mostly unhelpful internet searches, it is pretty straightforward. Each session has a different focus, but from my perspective all the sessions have two basic goals in mind: inform prospective foster parents & protect foster children from undue harm in placement.
Here are each of the sessions and the goals associated, for anyone interested (as far as I know, these are posted exactly NOWHERE ELSE online!):
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 1 – Orientation to Foster Care, Kinship Care, and Adoption
- Identify the goals of child welfare (safety, permanency, well-being)
- explain the difference between foster care, kinship care, and adoption
- determine whether or not to continue exploring foster care, kinship care, or adoption
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 2 – The Child Protection Team
- identify the members of the child welfare team and the role of those members in serving a child
- identify advantages and challenges to teaming
- describe the life of a child welfare case from allegation to permanency (reunification, legal custody, adoption)
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 3 – Child Development
- identify three primary social and emotional developmental tasks of young children
- describe what is meant by brain plasticity
- identify factors that can enhance child development and promote well-being
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 4 – Trauma and its Effects
- identify childhood traumas
- describe how attachment can be impacted by complex trauma
- describe the possible behavioral indicators of a child who is experiencing toxic stress
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 5 – Child Sexual Abuse (this is a tough one)
- explain why children placed in foster care may have experienced sexual abuse they have not yet disclosed
- discuss potential indicators that a child has been sexually abused or exposed to a highly sexualized environment
- identify ways to modify home environment and house rules to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in the home
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 6 – Minimizing the Trauma of Placement
- explain strategies you can use to help a child feel emotionally safe
- explain how helping the child maintain connections with important people from his past minimizes the trauma of placement
- describe the kind of information from a child’s history that can help determine appropriate parenting strategies
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 7 – Transcending the Differences in Placement
- explain how flexibility in care giving and adoptive parenting contributes to respecting differences
- identify ways a family can help a child feel welcomed and respected for who they are
- identify ways a child who looks like the care-giving or adoptive family can still be different from that family
- explain how a caregiver or adoptive parent can help prepare their community for a new child
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 8 – Helping the Child Manage Emotions and Behaviors
- Identify a child’s behavior as their primary communication tool
- Identify interventions that promote positive development (attachment, self-regulation, and initiative_
- explain why physical punishment is not allowed to be used on foster children
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 9 – Understanding Primary Families
- discuss common reactions to loss the primary parents may experience when their children are in out-of-home care
- discuss the advantages to the child when there is positive interaction between primary parents and care-givers or adoptive parents
- discuss ways care-givers or adoptive parents can involve the primary parents in decisions regarding the care or his or her child
- explain the importance of maintaining strong sibling connections
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 10 – The Effects of Care-giving on the Care-givers Family
- Identify common stressors for foster and kinship caregivers and adoptive parents
- describe realistic expectations about care-giving and parenting
- identify at least two self-care strategies
- discuss the potential consequences of foster and kinship care-giving and adoptive parenting on family relationships
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 11 – Long-term Separation from Birth Parents
- Identify the benefits of permanecy for children
- identify issues that could result from long-term separation from birth parents and other important people in the life of a child
- descrribe situations or events that might trigger difficult to manage emotions resulting from long-term separation from birth parents and other important people in the child’s life
Foster Care Pre-Service Training Module 12 – Post-Adoption Issues for Families
- Identiy long-term issues impacting parents who adopt children from foster care
- identify reasons why children need to understand their histories
- explain different types of post adoption support for adoptive families
Overall, we found the training valuable but a bit long. We came away from it with some really helpful tips for how to deal with our obstinate and incredibly opinionated 4-year-old, so that was a huge win that made it completely worthwhile. My husband’s relationship with him improved dramatically after this training, largely because he dropped the assumption that our child should just behave when we tell him to.
I’ll leave you today with the most powerful thing we saw in the training. This video is worth 15 minutes of your time. Have tissues handy.
If you’re up for it, watch Part 2 as well.
Until next time …
Did you miss our previous post? Access it (and other related posts) below!
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