When Alysha Kelly found out her husband Colin had orders to move to Key West, she was already thinking about being a foster parent. Alysha reached out to Meghan Burgess at Wesley House about the PRIDE program, which stands for Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education. The program is a vehicle to prepare and educate families interested in fostering or becoming adoptive homes for kids in the foster care system.

While Alysha had been frustrated in her attempts to coordinate with foster care agencies in Virginia, she had a different experience in the Keys.

“The communication was great, and they were very helpful,” she said. “We got here, and within two months, we started the training. Foster care is always something I’ve wanted to do.” Alysha’s husband Colin was a bit more hesitant, with consideration of their young children — now 3 and 5 — heavy on their minds. “I just asked him to sit through the training with me, and said, ‘If you are still unsure, we don’t have to do it.’” Colin was on board after the first training.

The training helped prepare the Kellys for their new family adventure, and it allayed anxieties about some common misconceptions of fostering: the difficulty of case workers or the dangers to a family’s biological children.

“You hear misconceptions about foster care and the support systems not being there, but Wesley House has been so amazing. Beth the CEO to Meghan to the caseworkers — they are there to help you.” Alysha comes from a background in social work that piqued her interest in being a foster parent. In fact, she received her bachelor’s in social work in May, and did an internship at Wesley House shortly after their PRIDE training. While she was prepared, there was still a lot to learn.

“You do a lot of learning about the traumas that kids coming into the foster care system might have experienced and behaviors to expect,” said Alysha. “There is a lot of conversation about the goal being reunification with the parent, and about how to co-parent with the biological parent, working on how they can get their child back.” Thus far, the Kellys have exclusively fostered infants — four baby boys in the last year and a half. Their placements have ranged from two weeks to their current foster child, who has been with them over a year. 

Alysha recommends that families make considerations before committing to being a foster family. Chiefly, measuring availability if both parents are working, since you may need to be there at short notice or be home during the day to receive placement of a child. She also recommends considering biological children: “Are they resilient enough for children to come into the home and leave, or would it be too traumatic for them?” The Kellys’ older daughter, 5, understands the temporary nature of foster care, and they prepare her for the inevitable loss each time a new baby enters their home.

“It is difficult having younger children and having to say goodbye,” said Alysha. “Our 5-year-old will get sad, and we explain to her at the beginning that these babies have to go back to their mommies and daddies, and she understands that.” (I’m not crying; you’re crying.)

It’s not just the children who have trouble saying goodbye. Alysha admits it will be “devastating” to have to give back the baby they’ve parented like their own biological children for over a year, but “you know that’s the goal.” She also discusses friends who shy away from foster parenting because of the pain of giving children back to their parents or another permanent home.

“One of the biggest fears of getting into foster care is knowing that you have to say goodbye to a child. Even though it’s completely reasonable, if everyone felt that way, who is there to care for the child?” she said. “The type of people that would have trouble giving the children back are the very ones that should be fostering.”

Wesley House’s PRIDE training classes begin Wednesday, Sept. 18 in Key West and are held each Wednesday night for six weeks, with one Saturday class. Registration is required. To register or for more information call Megan Burgess at 305-809-5020 or e-mail [email protected].

PRIDE is a competency-based model and is based on the belief that resource families need to have special strengths, knowledge and skills, as well as a community of supports in order to be successful as foster care or adoptive families. The PRIDE curriculum is based on five competencies that promote the need not only to understand how to best help children who have been abused and neglected, but also to strengthen all families (birth, foster, or adoptive).

The five PRIDE competencies include the following skills:

1. Foster and adoptive families need to know how to best help a child to feel safe and nurtured.

2. Foster and adoptive families need to know how to work to best meet a child’s needs and how to help a child overcome developmental delays.

3. Resource families need to know how to best help children build relationships with their birth family.

4. Families need to know how to help children build other connections that will sustain them through life.

5. Foster and adoptive parents need to understand how to be part of a team that has the goal of helping children and families.

Sarah Thomas is the Editor of Key West Weekly and moved down from her second-favorite island, Manhattan. She has worn many hats: publicist, tour guide, bartender, teacher, and cat wrangler, but this one seems to fit the best.