The decision to become a foster parent completely changed Anna Brown’s life. The experience tested her in ways she never imagined, made her love deeper than she thought possible, and changed her perspective on her own childhood and the concept of parenting. The experience was so fulfilling, she decided to become a foster parent trainer through the nonprofit Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBC).
Every year, there are between 9,000 and 10,000 children in Florida who are removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse at the hands of a family member. Sometimes they will be able to go home again. Sometimes they won’t.
“The children who are served by CBC often come from very painful, broken backgrounds, and you can’t expect them to be appreciative of warm to their foster families,” Anna explains. “You can’t expect them to be thankful, because they miss their mommy and daddy.”
One of Anna’s foster children told her that she didn’t want to be part of Anna’s family. She only wanted to go back to her biological parents. She told Anna that she was testing her out and wasn’t going to stay with Anna.
“But after six month with me, she started using the F-word, and that Family,” Anna recalls with tears welling. “On mother’s Day, she woke me up because she wanted to be the first person to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. She tells me that when she has kids, she wants to parent them the way I parented her.”
To help prospective foster parents prepare for their new role, CBC hosts a 10-week training and preparation course called Parent Resource for information, Development, and Education – or PRIDE for short.
“The classes are like the traditional foster parent classes except that they have more of a focus on the child, and less of a focus on bureaucracy,” says Joe Durso, vice president of community relations for CBC (and the current mayor of Longwood). “In the past, a lot of the state-run system was focused on checking boxes and making sure that everything was filled out correctly, whereas we at CBC are much more focused on the benefit and welfare of a child.”
The trainers at CBC, like Anna, have all graduated from the course themselves.”The trainers are incredibly energetic, informative, and some of them are foster parent, as well,” Joe says. “They are just unbelievable people.”
The PRIDE program has several competencies that foster parents must master. The first is to protect and nurture the children, an obvious necessity. The second is the ability to meet children’s developmental needs and address their developmental delays on an everyday basis. The third is to support relationships with the children and their birth families.
“That is really over-the-top important for us because that’s what they’ve been lacking in the system of care for so long,” says foster parent trainer Jeissie Mederos. “We want foster parents who are going to be engaged in the reunification effort, who are going to be present for the children as well as the parent, if the circumstances allow.”
Also, CBC is looking for an unconditional commitment to the child and the foster or adoption experience.
“This is not something that you ‘try.’ We want people who are going to be in it to win it every minute of the day,” Jeissie adds.
For trainers like Jeissie and Anna, it’s a rewarding experience teaching the course and seeing the transformation of the foster families. By the end of the course, many of the families say the class should be something all parents take.
So what qualities make a good foster parent? Anna says that foster parents must be flexible, open-minded, loving, and non-judgmental. You may be surprised to learn that you don’t have to be married, own your own home, or be rich in order to be a foster parent.
“I think that if everyone would commit to just one child, we wouldn’t have so many children in the situation that they are in,” Anna says. “You don’t have to do this for years, but commit to one child. I know that we can all make a difference.
1. (From left to right) Seminole County foster parent recruiter Wendi Hogan, recruitment manager Rhonda Murphy, and PRIDE instructor Anna Brown
2. PRIDE foster care course instructor Anna Brown
3. PRIDE instructor Anna Brown leading one of her classes
For more information on how you can become a foster parent, call CBC at 866.90.CHILD (24453).
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.