In June, Foster and Adoptive Family Services’ Trainer Lisa Johnson had the opportunity to be a session presenter at the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) Conference. This was an exciting and invaluable experience, as she was able to meet, engage and network with resource parents, professionals and vendors from across the country.
This is her story.
I presented two topics, Supporting Children Exposed to Domestic Violence and Dealing with Loss and Separation. Both sessions were 90 minutes and attended by 50 participants, including parents and professional workers. Each session was very interactive, as many parents shared their experiences and challenges and posed interesting questions and concerns.
In the Supporting Children Exposed to Domestic Violence session, I discussed the different types of intimate partner abuse, the impact domestic violence can have on children, factors that contribute to children’s resiliency and strategies that resource parents can use to help children heal. This was a very emotional subject and many parents in the room could relate to noticing the behavioral signs of a child who was exposed to domestic violence. A couple shared that they noticed signs of trauma and abuse in a child they cared for because she would always hide food and it took her a long while to warm up to them. They expressed that the presentation helped them better understand some of the behaviors they noticed in the child and gave them insight into how they can further help her.
In the Loss and Separation session, I discussed the stages and different types of grief, how to recognize when a person may need help and strategies for dealing with grief. Many parents in the group shared that they grieved when a child left their home, and they talked about different coping mechanisms they used that were effective. Some ideas included creating a Lifebook for themselves as well as the child, prayer, physical activity and music and art therapy.
I learned from other presenters by attending their sessions, Understanding the Impact of Sexual Abuse on Foster Families, Angry Kids and Raising Children to Thrive. These presentations were very informative The course on Raising Children to Thrive covered BioSocial Cognition and how traumatic experiences impact children’s brain development. The presenter, Thomas Rector, emphasized that the mission of parenting is to “develop an adult who has positive self-esteem and the tools to achieve their potential.”
I interacted with participants during breaks. I was approached by several parents who told me how much they enjoyed attending my sessions. While having dinner, I struck up a conversation with a parent who shared with me the story of a young boy he fostered who he grieved for because he made a special connection with him. He said this young man eventually, years later, invited him to his wedding, and that really touched his heart.
I met a variety of vendors that had a significant amount of resource information for foster parents. For example, I spoke with a representative from the Child Welfare Information Gateway who shared factsheets on topics such as Social Media: Tips for Youth in Foster Care and Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused: A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents. She also shared a list of factsheet publications that are available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. The magazine KinCare Today provided its May 2017 edition of its publication, which is an excellent resource for kinship caregivers. The Social Security Administration provided information on SSI benefits for disabled or blind youth in foster care. I also met vendors who were selling greeting cards and jewelry. There was even a raffle for nice gifts such as designer pocketbooks!
I attended the luncheon, where I met parents and the NFPA presented a beautiful quilt to a lucky winner. I participated one evening in the Walk Me Home event to raise awareness about foster care in the United States.
The NFPA Conference was an excellent and rewarding opportunity to present, learn and have fun with the extraordinary, dedicated and giving people of the foster care community!