Q&A with Missy Parker-Miller, Licensing and Recruitment Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Madison Heights
Grandparents can play an important role for both a child in foster care and for you as foster parents. It can make such a difference to know your parents are on board. As we train foster parents, we encourage them to speak with their immediate and extended family members and ask for their involvement and support—you’re going to need it.
What’s the most common role for grandparents in a foster family?
In most foster families, extended family members are a key part of the support network, often watching the children as substitute caregivers. Some foster families only feel comfortable leaving children with grandparents. The grandparents’ home is usually a place where the children feel comfortable, and most foster parents have talked with extended family members in-depth about early childhood trauma and strategies to deal with difficult behaviors.
Talking with grandparents about trauma is important, but it’s essential to do so in a balanced way. Be careful about how you talk with your parents about a child’s difficult, fear-based behaviors. If you call your mother to vent and share only negative stories about “the crazy things this child is doing,” your mother may become reluctant to visit or engage with the child. Talk with your family members about how trauma affects children and invite them to join you for training.
What kind of training would be beneficial for grandparents?
I recommend any of Bethany’s training on trauma-informed parenting. If grandparents are unable to attend training in person, they can go online and watch a variety of videos by Dr. Karyn Purvis to better understand why children who have experienced trauma often have difficult behaviors. Responding to those behaviors by yelling or punishing isn’t helpful, for the grandparent or the child. The training can teach coping skills such as speaking to the child in a calm voice at their eye level.
It’s important for grandparents to understand that parenting strategies that worked with their children likely won’t work with children in foster care. Appropriate training can provide new, more effective tools. Most grandparents love children and enjoyed raising their own children. But parenting children who have experienced trauma requires a different approach. That’s why Bethany equip parents and caregivers with training to help children heal—grandparents can play an important role in that.
Families come to Bethany hoping to adopt a child for many reasons. We work closely with these families to identify their strengths and the child they are most able to parent and we help place children of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds in the safety of a loving home.