Updated: Apr 10
PSU NSSLHA is currently holding a donation drive benefitting Every Child PDX, a Portland non-profit dedicated to helping foster children. Learn more about this project here. As students and future professionals, we want to both serve our community now and educate ourselves about diverse populations. Foster children have a higher risk of speech and language issues and are deserving of understanding and compassion. How much do you know about foster kids and the unique process of foster care?
I caught up with Morgan Palm, a Speech Language Pathology graduate student at PSU and a resource parent to get some inside information about what it's like to be a resource parent. We are thankful to her for sharing her insights. We hope you enjoy this very meaningful interview.
What does the term "resource parent" mean?
There is a current shift within the Oregon Child Welfare system to replace the term "foster parent" with "resource parent" (it's not widely used, so if you ask another foster parent and their reaction is "huh?" don't be surprised!). I prefer to use this because I get to be a resource not just for children, but their families and community well.
Are there any skills you've learned in grad school that you apply as a foster parent?
Yes! For example, I became a resource parent in the middle of the same term in which I was
taking pediatric dysphagia, and it just so happened that the child placed in our home had had pediatric reflux issues. He was also teething and transitioning to more complex types of solid foods, so everything I was learning in the class was directly relevant to this little one's stage of development. More broadly, the classes that I've taken in childhood speech/language development have been really helpful, and my ability to consider the fact that communication truly is a science has been great - because honestly and unfortunately, the foster care system is incredibly complex and requires a LOT of communication.
Is there anything you've learned from being a foster parent that you'll use as a clinician?
Absolutely. The very first and most important thing I have learned is that children are so incredibly resilient. I've watched so many developmental milestones happen for a little person who had a really rough start to life, and it amazes me. I want to work with adults, but I believe that this applies to us as well - people are resilient. We can change, we can learn, and it is amazing what can happen with the right support system; even just one good communication partner can make a huge difference!
What is a misconception about foster kids or foster care that you want to dispel?
It's so hard to pick one…! So I'm going to choose two:
1. There is a misconception that when a child enters foster care, it is because their family does not want them/has stopped trying to care for them. That is not true, at least certainly not in most situations. The first goal (in almost all cases) when a child is placed into foster care is to work toward getting them back to their biological parent(s)/caregivers. The biological parent(s) have to meet a lot of requirements to show that they can once again provide care that is safe and sufficient, and to do this they have to work through a complicated system of rules and requirements, sometimes with very few resources to do so. Actually, right now in Oregon over half of children who are involved in the foster care system are receiving services within their own homes. These are situations in which instead of the state just removing the kids from their home, the state is attempting to provide resources and implement a safety plan so that the family can stay together.
2. Going off of the first answer: there is a misconception that someone can be "fostering to adopt," meaning fostering children with the option or plan to adopt them. Many of us know people who have adopted children that were initially placed in their home as a foster child. However, a resource parent has little direct power in whether a child will be adoptable. It's not a choice of whether you are "going to adopt" or "not going to adopt" in most cases - even if the child's plan does end up being adoption, if there are other family or kin in the child's life who are interested in adopting then the state may reach out to them first, even if the resource parent would like to adopt the child. So, two things: (1) if you are interested in building a family by adopting and that is your ultimate goal, then fostering may not be right for you - but the good news is, there are ways to directly adopt through your state, and you should check that out! And (2): one of the most uncomfortable questions I get asked when I share that I'm a resource parent is "so are you going to adopt [him/her/them]?" As you can see from the above answers, this is a really well-meaning question that can be incredibly painful to answer, and it also forces the parent to determine how much information they should share about a child's plan for reunification. Instead, my suggestion is to let the resource parent decide if they want to share (because there are also plenty of other amazing questions you could ask, like "could I bring you dinner?" or "what is your favorite thing about this sweet person you are caring for?")
What are your favorite things about being a resource parent?
I have just passed my one-year anniversary of becoming a resource parent, so I'm still fairly new. But thus far, my favorite thing about being a resource parent is that I get to be involved in a child's life in a way that is so unique. When we talk about foster care, the focus is usually on the kids - as it should be! But it's important to remember that my role is also to support that child's entire family, regardless of whether that family is biological, potentially adoptive, previous foster homes, etc. For example, I have parented a child who has a ton of family in a Spanish-speaking country, so I've experienced months of facilitating inter-country video visits using my (very rusty) Spanish language skills. How cool is that?
What are some of the challenges unique to being a resource parent?
Being a resource parent is a roller coaster of emotions. My husband and I did our best to prepare ourselves ahead of time with training, talking to people who are also resource parents, reading things, but there is nothing like getting a call from your certifier who asks "could you take a 14 month old who is medically fragile?" or "could you take a 2- and 3-year-old sibling set" or "could a 17 year old sleep on your couch for the weekend?" And (at least for me) my heart beats fast and my immediate reaction is: I don't know, CAN I? Once a child is in your home, you have daily reminders of the losses they and their circle have suffered as well as the successes they are having - sometimes I cry, and other times there is so much laughter!
Get involved with the Foster Care Welcome Box drive. Check out this flier to get all the details: