Vol. 13, No. 2 • May 2009

Foster Parenting Through the Years

by Becky Burmester

A quarter of a century ago when Joe and I began our journey as foster parents, child welfare practices were very, very different.

Then and Now
When we decided to give fostering a try in 1984, the minimal training we received was focused almost entirely on following the agency rules about paperwork. We received no information about the circumstances under which the infants we cared for had come into care. We never, ever met birth parents under any circumstances. Nor did we meet the adoptive families of the babies that were adopted. We were encouraged to take pictures of the babies but only of the babies—no toys or people allowed!

Fast forward to 1998. At long last we participated in MAPP training. What great training. How great it would have been to always have had that training!

A Seismic Change
A seismic change in the world of foster care has begun.

Now the stated position in North Carolina is that foster and birth parents will share in parenting children in foster care. Now it is more than OK to take photos of the children as they participate in the life of their foster family. Phone contact between birth parents, foster parents, and kids in care is encouraged.

The days of the “all or nothing” approach are falling by the wayside. Much more information about the child and the situation that led to removal is available to help foster parents meet the child’s needs.

No longer do policies make contact with siblings difficult if not impossible. The importance of continued contact with extended birth family is recognized.

Children in care are encouraged to own their past experiences rather than pretending their lives became blank slates when they entered foster care.

Today, state law mandates ongoing training. While training opportunities vary greatly from county to county and among private agencies, the NC Foster and Adoptive Parent Association provides diverse learning opportunities led by excellent presenters.

When friends who know of our long history as foster parents learn that Joe and I are attending a training event they are often incredulous. However, our experience is the precise reason we take advantage of every training opportunity that comes our way. We know that training adds to our parenting bag of tricks, puts us in touch with others walking in our shoes, and rekindles our enthusiasm for the work that we do as foster parents.

We’ve lived through many changes in the system and plan to live through many more!

Becky Burmester and her husband Joe live in Wake County, NC.

Copyright 2009 Jordan Institute for Families