SUPPORT FOR FOSTER PARENTS
WITH THE PLS REGULATION SUPPORT MODEL
Interview with Astrid Svendsen
Astrid has extensive experience as a foster parent and participated in Famlab’s PLS trainer training because she has a strong commitment to foster children, foster families, and children and parents in general.
She wanted to learn more about how she can better support children and parents both in her everyday life and in her role as a supervisor, coach and trainer.
Here she shares some of her experiences from using the PLS regulation support model as a foster parent and the training.
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Hi Astrid, and thank you for wanting to share your experiences from the PLS training!
First, can you tell us a bit about your background to start with?
I have been a foster parent for a number of years. It started over 30 years ago, when offered to foster three boys – a pair of twins and an older brother. At the time I had two children of my own, as well as the three other children.
When the children got older, I started a new kindergarten because there were few kindergartens locally. I then trained in the management of family kindergartens. I continued to do so for 10 years, and also had two new children. So those were busy days!
I have had several foster children who have lived with me during these years. These kids are still my family and I’ve got grandchildren too! In 2003, I stopped with the kindergarten, and started working as the leader of the County Association of the Norwegian Foster Home Association in Oppland for 7 years. I was also on the main board for 4 years.
In connection with the work in the Foster Home Association, I supervised foster parents in many different situations and have also continued with this after I left the association.
Can you share a few things that you have learned over the years?
I’m happy to do that! I have wanted to share a bit of my knowledge and my experiences with others, and there is a lot I have learned through time.
One of the most important principles and values for me is that all children have equal value, and should be given the same opportunities to develop, learn, and succeed. I myself have felt the agony of having children with a vulnerable starting point, with two premature babies with subsequent complications. But it is not the case that children who have different starting points than the average must fail and end up with fewer opportunities than other children.
When we adults are able to see opportunities and resources in a child, facilitate them, give them security, and adapt learning to their interests, level, and pace, it is fantastic to see what they can achieve!
I have also been concerned about the foster children, or if they need an emergency home, which comes to the family to be able to get a fresh start and be seen with new eyes. These children have usually been through several examinations from various agencies and come to the foster home with large piles of documents.
I have tried to put those papers aside a bit, and the moment the children have come over the doorstep here at home, my first thought is, “Now you can start again”.
Everyone who is observed and documented for something is often observed at the worst time in their life. I have many times thought that it is problematic, when their files are beeing created when they are in their worst crisis, somewhere other than where they should be, and then you should start working from that documentation?
It became very clear to me that I had to put a lot of this aside and rather focus on creating new opportunities for the child in a new environment, see who the child is now, see and support the child’s resources and focus on the future.
I have a had a lot of opportunities for conducting observations when it comes to children, both in relation to the kindergarten I ran, foster homes and the like. And I think interpersonal understanding and relational compentency is so important – it’s about listening to each other, respecting each other, and taking care of each other.
What has been your experience with the PLS trainer program?
For me, the trainer training and learning about the PLS Regulation Support Model has been a very enriching experience. I have taken many courses and have been through a lot as a foster parent but the PLS training program has been very special to me. I feel that what I have learned in the program has been very useful for me in my everyday life.
I have become even more aware of myself and my way of dealing with challenging situations. I have been able to put a lot of the knowledge and experience I have from before more in place and organize it better. The PLS regulation support model provides a very good overview of both the situations, the learning process and puts much of the experiential knowledge I have from before into a visible and understandable picture.
It has also helped me to become much more attuned to the emotional states and moods, where the children and I find ourselves mentally, emotionally and in the relational actions. For example, when kids give up, I’m now more aware so that I do not give up. It is easier to calm situations, and that has helped us to feel calmer in the house. The sound level with us is lower now than it was before, so that way I use a lot of what I have learned in the course 24/7.
I have used the models a lot and have also had good conversations with the children about this. It has become easier to talk about how we communicate with each other, about why certain things are difficult, the different levels in the escalation curve and what happens to our body when we are stressed.
I think the layout of the PLS Regulation Support Model is professionally good, clear, and practically oriented, easy to understand and I have used it a lot.
In what way do you feel that the training has helped you?
The training program worked very well for me both due to the concrete and practical content, teaching with a practical focus, and also the composition of the participants with different backgrounds and experience, as well as the focus on sharing experiences with the use of the model.
I have had the opportunity to get an external view on what I have been doing for many years. I have previously also created good results but have not had a clear conceptual framework and models to describe and understand it. Seeing this from an external perspective has made it easier to take things in, and it has been easier to place things.
Now I can do even more, and it is also easier to pass knowledge on to others, in the guidance of parents, dialogues with schools, municipalities and so on. I feel that I am stronger and more secure now and feel better about myself in relation to passing this on to others.
It is also easier to go into observation situations, easier to give advice to others about what they can do, and what opportunities they have. I feel that I now have more strings to play on and that it is now easier for me to advise the parents I work with.
Can you give some examples of how you have used the PLS model in practice?
I like to do that, and I have many examples I can give.
One thing I occasionally felt was quite demanding was to work on the relationships and conflicts between the children and to be an adult leader when the whole gang is together. The typical everyday example is around the dinner table. Nowadays we are at least four present – three boys and me. In the past, there could easily be a lot of noise, humour of the type that easily crosses lines and irritates one of them – usually the youngest, leading to escalations between them.
I think such situations are easier to solve now. One of the things I have improved on is setting boundaries in a more thorough way, being clearer about my expectations and frameworks for the situation and explaining them better. In addition, I help them to understand each other better, and include them in finding new and better ways to have fun together. It is still lively around the dinner table but in a more pleasant and inclusive way.
I have also used both the PLS regulation support model, Perspective Spiral and Response funnel models as conversation tools to talk with the children about different challenges and how they experience different situations. It has made it easier for them to find words to describe and speak.
As an example, I have a child in the house who is not so fond of school and we have used the models to talk about the child’s experience and feelings in connection with school. It also makes it easier for the child to describe their own experience, and we can communicate better together.
When I hear in conversations with the child that he feels an escape or a fight reaction in a situation at school, and that he thinks that it means that he does not get much out of everyday school life, it gives me a completely different insight into his school day than I would have otherwise received. It makes it easier to understand the child, and we can continue to work on solving this together.
It was also used when my youngest son told me one morning that he was terrified of going swimming in the public pool. We could then use this model as a guide for a good conversation about what was behind his negative feelings about swimming. We talked about why he did not like swimming – was it because he was scared or insecure, or if he simply hated to shower or struggled with something else in relation to that situation?
In both of these examples, we have come several steps forward and it is easier to find solutions.
I also feel much more confident in using much more perspective-taking and appreciative communication in my daily life now. And I feel better equipped to handle demanding situations and manage to keep myself calm and have a clear focus even in challenging situations.
I also provide guidance to other parents and have used what I have learned on the PLS course a lot in connection with that. I have worked a lot with families where one parent is alone with the children and child welfare services are involved.
In such situations, I have benefited greatly from the training, and the parent has benefited greatly from this in turn. One parent actually works with children , and also begins to use this in their daily work.
A very challenging situation arose in connection with a parent being told by child welfare services to pick up the child by force from the other parent, because the child was resisting and acting up. If the parent did not do it within an hour, the police would be called and pick up the child.
The parent then called me and wondered how to handle this. I feel that what I have learned in the training made it possible for me to support the parent in the best possible way even in such a demanding and sharpened situation – and I felt a sense of security in myself in the situation.
The training has also helped me in my personal life – when my father died, I used a lot of what I have learned here to stay calm and achieve good communication with my siblings. I feel better in my own shoes now.
I have been on many courses regarding trauma, how the brain works and much more, but I have been looking for something more, which more connects this with the practical, and which says something concrete about difficult and challenging situations and creating learning processes. This training and the PLS regulation support model make a fantastic combination of the practical and the theoretical – they go hand in hand, and it works very well.
It is clear that you have a special commitment to foster children and foster parents. Do you want to tell us a little about this?
I experience that many foster parents are a little stuck and think that only the caseworker in child welfare services can help them – but in fact there is more help to get out there. I think that a specific model such as the PLS regulation support model can contribute to raising awareness when it comes to foster parents who struggle with the system.
What I see is that there are very many who know a lot and do a lot right, but it can be difficult for them to see this for themselves. With a little help, support, and explanation, it becomes possible to see that what you are doing is right – and then it becomes easier to do more of it, even when it is extra demanding, and you need that reassurance the most.
Reflecting on my own behaviour and reactions is important, and one of the things that has driven me through many years is that I have had a lot of pleasure from seeing that I have performed well at different points. I have worked a lot with myself and looked carefully at what I have done in different situations and what made something work well.
Here I feel that the training and the PLS regulation support model have helped me to make this process, with self-reflection and learning, even clearer and more effective.
It is my driving force – to be able to convey this to foster parents, especially, who will do their best with the children, and also with the system around.
How do you think the PLS regulation support model can be useful and used by foster parents and by those who guide and support foster parents and foster children?
There are very many people involved in this system. Child welfare, caseworkers, supervisors, BUP, experts, spokespersons, kindergarten, school, the parents and so on – and the best thing would have been if everyone spoke the same language and have some good and common practical models. I think this will make it easier to work with and around the child. But unfortunately, they collide on many levels.
At the political level, I strongly believe that foster parents should be employed in the municipality, as part of the child welfare service, so that foster parents can receive support in the social work we do, and so that we can benefit from each other. There are too many situations where the collaboration does not work well and where both children and foster parents receive too little relevant support, and it is related to culture, attitudes, and competence.
Being in this situation is something that breaks a lot of people. Therefore, I think that this training is very useful for both caseworkers and foster parents, so that everyone gets an equal understanding of what we are doing – we are partners. I feel that a lot fell into place for me with this program.
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