Our keynote speaker for the Foster Learning, Building Bridges Conference at the Provo Marriott was author, trainer, and former foster parent, Donna Foster, of North Carolina.
I think everyone in attendance at the conference would agree that Donna’s warm and welcoming personality as well as her delightful Southern accent and sense of humor made listening to her a pleasure. Seriously- watching Donna Foster speak and engage with her audience was like watching a stand-up comedian- she was an absolute hoot!
Donna’s address was entitled “Celebrating the Challenge: Keeping the Child’s Connections”. Although the words “celebrating” and “challenge” used together might seem like an oxymoron, Donna was able to offer a balanced perspective of addressing the very real challenges foster families face while offering practical solutions of ways to decrease stress while fostering. For example, Donna shared a handout with foster parents with suggestions for self care, including the acronym QTIP, which stands for “Quit Taking It Personally” in regards to the children in our care or the birth parents we work with.
Donna Foster had the ability to help her audience see things from the perspective of both foster children and birth parents. One way she was able to do this was including a brief overview of the loss and grief process that children and their parents experience. She also discussed some of the common fears foster parents may have.
Donna was very candid in sharing how her thinking about fostering has evolved over the years. When she first began fostering, she felt there were 2 Golden Rules which every foster parent should live by:
- Don’t get too attached to the child or we’ll remove’em. (Ha! Every foster parent knows that NOT getting attached to the children in our care is next to impossible.)
- Take care of the children but don’t get involved with the birth parents.
For those who have fears or resistance to building a good working relationship with birth parents, Donna Foster shared these words of wisdom:
“Birth parents are more than what happened to them.”
“If you love the child, find a way to love the parents.”
In conjunction with the “Building Bridges” theme of the conference, Donna Foster focused the bulk of her address on ways foster parents can work effectively with birth parents in their unique relationship of “shared parenting.”
Because every situation is different and everybody’s personal preferences will vary, Donna included two handouts with her presentation with suggestions of what foster parents can do to build a relationship with birth parents. If you’ll notice, some of these suggestions apply to face-to-face, ongoing contact while other suggestions are things you can do with limited contact.
Donna clarified some of the goals and responsibilities that foster parents should have when working with birth parents. While it is not a foster parent’s family to “fix” a child’s birth family, we do have the responsibility to give them the chance to parent. “If I love the child I’ll give that family every opportunity to parent.” is the kind of attitude which is most beneficial to a child.
To learn more about Donna Foster and her work, refer here.