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Zoomed-In Foster Care: Are Online Trainings Falling Short?


In New York City, becoming a foster parent requires mandatory training. But during the pandemic those trainings were shortened  and moved onto Zoom. Now  critics say they no longer cover enough and don’t provide the practical skills you need to deal with kids in real life.   Tommaso Baronio reports. 

BARONIO Abby is a  mom in New York City. Her son is young which can make holding meeting from home tough- especially on the phone. 

So a lot of it just wasn't easily applicable. I'm so sorry. One second. What happened?

[CHILD CRYING]Give me a second because I’m on the phoneSorry

BARONIO I’m not using her full name because Abby is a foster parent. She’s critical of the foster training system and she’s worried that if she speaks out her son could be taken away.

ABBYYeah, the trainings that I've been to, or at least that first initial training was, it was just like, rushed. It felt like they were trying to get through it just to get it done. Like sharing a lot of information. But it wasn't very interactive. 


Like all foster parents in New York City, Abby needed to get certified. Fifteen mandatory hours of parenting basics and twenty four hours focused on childhood trauma - all on Zoom. But Abby says she would have appreciated more hands-on training. She thinks that role-playing different scenarios and bringing in former foster children and foster parents could have been more helpful. 


And it wasn't at all helpful, like the person who was training and I felt like I've never met a child or human child. And it just wasn't very helpful.


These concerns are shared by many foster parents I've had the chance to talk with. During the pandemic, the training moved to Zoom and they were shortened from thirty to ten hours, and apparently the parents like Abby say they are not learning enough. Emily Sherman, another foster mom in New York is grateful that the online trainings allowed her to get certified, she works in the film industry and had been too busy to attend in person… until the pandemic hit


I talked with agencies we tried but every time a job came up. So when the pandemic happens, they called me and they said, We're doing our first zoom class, do you want to do it? And I was like, yes, absolutely. 

BARONIOSherman says that on one hand zoom opens up opportunities for people to get certified but on the other she’s skeptical about the content of the classes.

EMILY SHERMANBut I also think that the nature of being a foster parent is really boots on the ground with kids, you know, whether it's bath time changing, feeding a baby, or helping a 12 year old with homework, or, you know, cooking dinner for your family and all of the kids. And so zoom training is not designed for people that already have a very full plate to give 100% of their attention. 


John Landsverk is the founding director of the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (CASRC) at Children’s Hospital in San Diego. He says the training is focused on explaining  roles to foster parents - like that their job is to prepare the kids for a potential reunion with their birth families. And he’s worried that the trainings don’t include enough practical experience. 


Now, it's not that agencies don't give training. They do. But it's mostly kind of operational training and much Much less was there training on how to deal with these children that were coming into their home.

BARONIOBut what if the children you foster have behavioral issues? During my reporting I encountered stories of foster kids who’d set fires and even attacked their foster parents. But remember, foster parents receive only twenty four hours of trauma focused training. Landsverk says he doesn’t have a problem with the length of the training but the content.

JOHN LANDSVERKA high proportion of kids in child welfare have some kind of mental health problems. So those but trauma focused is not necessarily training a parent foster parent, on how to deal with the child. 


Landsverk says one solution is providing trainings after foster kids arrive …in their new homes.  When asked about parents’ and experts’ concerns the Administration for Children's Services, the agency that oversees children’s services in the City,  didn’t respond to our request for comment.

Tommaso Baronio, Columbia Radio News.


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