Imagine you’re a new foster parent or kinship caregiver, and if you’re being honest, it’s nerve-wracking. No matter how prepared you are, once a child walks into your home, it can feel overwhelming. You ultimately need someone who understands; just ask Jenny Knecht.
“Often, foster parents feel alone. They have questions and fears and don’t know who to turn to.” Knecht understands, because she began her foster care journey nearly 10 years ago. Today, she is a mom of five. Three of her children are adopted, and Knecht is not ashamed to admit, being a caregiver is challenging.
“The need for foster parents is so great and we cannot afford to lose good families for reasons that can be avoided, such as providing support,” Knecht continued. “Even those that have experience with parenting will face challenges in their foster care journey. No one can go through this process alone. Not successfully.”
Undoubtedly, being a foster or kinship parent can be demanding. Research indicates that caregivers often struggle to find support. Moreover, the number of children entering foster care in the Commonwealth continues to increase. In response to these challenges, the College of Social Work Training Resource Center (TRC) has expanded its Foster Parent Mentor Program.
In existence for more than 20 years, the Foster Parent Mentor Program specializes in one-on-one, intensive coaching relationships for newly approved foster parents and kinship care providers. Mentees receive encouragement, skill reinforcement, and information on parenting strategies unique to providing out-of-home care. The program matches newly approved foster parents (mentees) with veteran foster parents (mentors) to provide hands on assistance with application of skills learned during training, help identifying resources, providing emotional support, and sharing practical parenting strategies.
Jeff Damron and Tamikia Dumas are Program Coordinators for the program and administer all aspects of the program statewide. From recruiting and training new mentors to helping facilitate the perfect match of mentor and mentee, Damron and Dumas ensure foster and kinship families are receiving the support they need to be successful in their foster care journey.
“Peer mentoring is an innovative approach to providing support to foster and kinship caregivers across the state. What’s more is that the program is specifically designed to reach caregivers that night not otherwise be served,” said College of Social Work Dean Jay Miller. “Given the rising numbers of youth in out-of-home care, programs like the Foster Parent Mentor Program will be integral to ensuring the well-being of children and families. The program is an initiative rooted in a common purpose; aimed at a common good; and, for the Commonwealth.”
“I have seen families isolate themselves and then fail in their journey. With added supports, we can make sure our families feel supported and get their questions answered,” Knecht, added. “Simply connecting with others that are going through the same things can often fill a void and rejuvenate foster parents, so they are able to continue positively impacting the lives of children.”