Trauma-Informed Training Helps Foster Parents Feel More Prepared
The right training can equip new foster parents and kin caregivers with essential information about caring for children and teens, including youth who have experienced significant trauma. Such preparation is critical, according to foster parent Kim Palmer, of Lincoln County, North Carolina. That’s because, until a child is living in your home, “you don’t know what foster parenting is like,” Palmer says.
Cue a new training curriculum called ARC Reflections, which child welfare agencies are using to teach foster parents about the effects of trauma. The tool also gives caregivers, like Palmer, problem-solving strategies that can help children and teens regulate their emotions, connect with others and build life skills.
“ARC Reflections doesn’t just focus on how to decrease the hard times,” says Margaret Blaustein, who co-authored the curriculum with Kristine Kinniburgh. “It provides tools that help caregivers increase the positive times.”
Jointly developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Justice Resource Institute, ARC Reflections includes everything that a child welfare agency needs to conduct the training, including an implementation guide, PowerPoint presentations, facilitator guides and handouts.
Throughout the program, participants learn how to manage their own responses to caring for children. The curriculum emphasizes techniques for self-care, advising foster parents to do as adult airline travelers do: “Put on your oxygen mask” before trying to help children. Frequent check-ins also allow adults to pay attention to their energy levels and emotional states, strengthening their ability to be thoughtful, engaged caregivers.
Keith Wong, program manager for Foster Care and Adoption, Resource and Support, in Fairfax County, Virginia, points to a particularly compelling exchange he had with a foster parent about the curriculum’s effectiveness: “When asked, ‘Do you think ARC Reflections has changed you or how you parent?’ she choked up, saying: ‘It changed my life. It changed my relationship with my child.’”
The optimal training team for ARC Reflections includes agency staff with training experience plus a foster parent who can relate to peers. Foster parent Palmer, who served as one of the trainers in North Carolina, was a valuable resource for Lincoln County’s Department of Social Services: “I could say from my experiences, ‘How many of you have dealt with this? Let’s talk about how we handle it,’” she recalls. “We could give very specific examples to foster parents since I had those experiences.”
The training spans nine interactive sessions, which allow caregivers ample opportunity to share stories, offer suggestions and develop an informal support network of peers. Each session also utilizes a composite case study — called Olivia’s Story — that explores a child’s experiences at different ages and developmental stages. In addition to reinforcing key themes, Olivia’s Story illustrates strategies for helping children manage their emotions and behavior. It’s a resource that hits close to home, according to Blaustein. “Quite a few caregivers said that they identified with Olivia’s foster parents and recognized their own experiences,” she says.