Pairing the new with the experienced in foster parent mentoring programs has many benefits.
In the foster care community, mentors are commonly thought of as adult role models and companions for foster children and teens. However, other types of mentors are also in demand. Seasoned foster parents are increasingly being called upon to become mentors for their less experienced counterparts.
Foster parent mentoring programs are available throughout the United States. The purpose of these programs is twofold: to support and encourage new foster parents and to keep experienced foster parents engaged and active.
Both purposes encourage stability for foster parents, as well as foster children.
New foster parents dealing with a challenging child, an angry biological parent or an unresponsive caseworker can easily become overwhelmed and decide that fostering isn’t for them. When that happens, the child in their care must be moved to another home. This upheaval, especially after being removed from their biological family, often hits foster children hard.
The effects of multiple placements impacts foster children throughout their lives. According to the study Predictors of Outpatient Mental Health Service Use : The Role of Foster Care Placement Change published by Springer International Publishing and excerpted on childwelfare.gov, “… an increase in the number of placement changes predicted a greater rate of outpatient mental health visits.”
Mentors offer novice foster parents the emotional support they need to continue. By sharing their experiences and coping strategies, mentors help their mentees feel less alone and better equipped to handle the unique challenges that come with fostering children. With someone to vent to when a child acts out or a caseworker doesn’t return their calls, new foster parents become less likely to request that a child be moved or to close their home.
Foster parent mentoring programs vary by state. Florida’s Community Partnership for Children offers a foster parent mentoring program that includes at least one in-home visit and a three month minimum commitment.
Foster Forward in Rhode Island established their mentoring program in 1992 to address the needs of first-year foster parents. As they explain on their website, “Mentors understand how difficult it is to care for someone else’s children in your home, and this ability to empathize and share their own foster care experiences is what makes them uniquely effective. “
In New Jersey, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) offers foster parents the opportunity to form these vital relationships.
“FAFS’ Heart to Heart Mentoring Program is wonderful way for newly licensed resource parents to connect with veteran resource parents to bounce ideas off of and share experiences with,” said Corissa Kazar, FAFS’ Support Services Manager.
“It is a remarkable way for resource parents to help and lean on each other through the good times and bad. It is the foundation of how all resource parents in the state can come together as one strong community and build lasting relationships.”
When a situation arises that requires more than an empathetic ear, FAFS’ Heart to Heart mentors have the ability to refer their mentees to a Family Advocate who can offer more in depth advice and provide helpful resources. New Jersey foster, adoptive and kinship parents interested in participating in FAFS’ Heart to Heart Mentoring Program as a mentor or mentee can visit their website or call 800.222.0047.
To learn more about foster parent mentoring programs in your area, please contact your local child welfare agency.