Foster Parent College: Interactive Multimedia Training for Foster Parents

By Pacifici, Caesar; Delaney, Richard et al. | Social Work Research, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Foster Parent College: Interactive Multimedia Training for Foster Parents


Pacifici, Caesar, Delaney, Richard, White, Lee, Cummings, Kelli, Nelson, Carol, Social Work Research


Children are entering the child care system with increasingly serious physical, behavioral, and emotional problems (Barth, Freundlich, & Brodzinsky, 2000; Crase et al., 2000; Fees et al., 1998; Zukoski, 1999). Foster parents, with high hopes and little or no specialized training, are unexpectedly confronted by children who explode with anger, set fires, lie, steal, are cruel to animals, mutilate themselves, have severe eating disorders, or act out sexually (Crase et al.; Delaney, 1997; McNamara & McNamara, 1990). Up to 40% of new foster parents drop out of the system during their first year (Rhodes, Orme, Cox, & Buehler, 2003), with some agencies losing between 30% and 50% of their foster parents every year (Christian, 2002; Crase et al.).

Stanching the dropout rate, in part, will require changes in foster parent training. Parent training has been an essential feature of the foster care system since the mid-1970s (Zukoski, 1999). Today, most states require 12 to 30 hours of preservice training for licensure and six to 20 hours of in-service training annually (National Foster Parent Association, Inc., 2004). Much of the training, however, does not adequately address individual parenting needs and makes unrealistic demands on parents' time and budgets (Grimm, 2003).

BENEFITS OF FOSTER PARENT TRAINING

Research studies have long demonstrated the benefits of training for foster parents, children, and agencies. Early landmark studies showed that training produced key changes within the family unit, such as improved parent attitudes, parent-child interactions, and a reduction of child problem behavior (Hampson & Tavormina, 1980), and that it also increased the stability of placement and foster parent retention (Boyd & Remy, 1978; Simon & Simon, 1982).

More recent studies continue to support these conclusions (see Cuddeback & Orme, 2002; Fees et al., 1998; Puddy & Jackson, 2003; Zukoski, 1999). A comprehensive review of treatment foster care by Reddy and Pfeiffer (1997) showed that specialized training led to increases in placement permanency, as well as improvements in children's social skills and psychological adjustment. According to Sanchirico and Jablonka (2000), parent training was associated with increased foster parent involvement in keeping foster children connected to their biological parents, an important indicator of the children's well-being.

LIMITATIONS OF CURRENT TRAINING PROGRAMS

Parent training activities today are a wide mix of programs that vary from state to state, and often from county to county (Zukoski, 1999). Some programs, such as PRIDE (Deluca & Spring, 1993), MAPP (Lillie, 1991), and PATH (Jackson & Wasserman, 1997), are nationally known and widely used, but the great majority are developed by individual agencies and use many different formats and methods (Zukoski).The quality and scope of these training programs vary widely, and their delivery depends largely on the ability and experience of individual trainers (Grimm, 2003; Puddy & Jackson, 2003).

Training programs also need to be updated to reflect the changing nature of foster care. For example, recently there has been a marked rise in placements with relatives. In some states, such as California, Illinois, and New York, nearly 50% of new placements are with kin (Berrick, 1998). Nationwide, about 36% of children placed in family foster homes are placed in the homes of relatives (Cuddeback & Orme, 2002). However, programs have scarcely begun to address the unique challenges these families face (Grimm, 2003).

There are also a host of very practical problems with current training programs. Foster parents frequently lack the transportation, time, or child care services to attend continuing education courses away from home (Grimm, 2003; Kerman, 2000). Parents in rural areas are further inconvenienced by having to travel greater distances to get to the training and have fewer classes from which to choose (Delaney, 2000). …

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