I have been through two rounds of the certification course. The first time my partner and I thought about fostering, we were 21 and wanted to know more about it. We signed up for the 8-week course at the local DHS office. It was rough. Just like any class, you get out of it what you put in. Also like any class, the instructor’s likeability is a large factor in your level of engagement. Each week we spent two nights in a small crowded “classroom” with the same group of prospective parents, each having their own reason for being there. Some wanted to adopt and some just wanted to foster. All of us were bored by our monotoned instructor who seemed hardened by the nature of her work. I was fortunate to miss a couple of the more emotionally draining days where sexual traumas were discussed. My partner, who signed in for me, was less fortunate and reminded me about it for months. We didn’t end up pursuing a home study at that time, which I think was the right move for us. As I’m sure you’re aware, this class has a shelf life, meaning six years later we were back at it again.
Skip forward to 2020. Deeply settled, and financially stable we decided it was time to adopt. We were ready to start the journey and had a much better feel for the process, or so we thought. When we made the decision to pursue adoption we also decided to try a different resource for the foundations class. This time we went with a private adoption agency that offered a free class that was conducted over the course of a weekend. I can’t express enough how much better this class was. I don’t know if it’s because the instructors had less pressure working for a private agency, or if it was just a better group, but I felt way more prepared than I did after the DHS class. We did an exercise where half of the group went to the front and the other half stayed seated. The instructor took one precious valuable from each of us, and while we were faced the other way, he distributed it to the group. After he was finished, he had us turn around and asked one by one how we felt. I was in the group at the front, and the item I gave away was my wedding ring. Something that many of us pointed out was that the anxiety we were feeling wasn’t so much the seperation from our object, but the not knowing where it was and if we’d get it back. That was exactly the feeling the exercise was meant to display to help empathize with these children who are constantly having important people and things torn away without knowing where they were going and if it was permanent. Having been in foster care, this hit home.
Whether you go through the state’s course or through a private agency, it’s important to reflect on why you’re there. It’s not about learning how to handle these children, a misconception many people have, and how to react with empathy and understanding. Do these kids need special handling? Yes! I hear from parents with birth children that their kids act up to it, it’s normal for kids, and there is no reason to treat them differently. Wrong. These children are constantly testing us because, unlike birth children in healthy and safe families, permanency is something they actually think about. These classes are mandatory, but if you go into them intending to understand these complex emotions foster kids feel, then I promise it will make you a better home for your future child. Lead with empathy.