Nurture. Thrive. Repeat.
Meet Abbey Cowan, our Family Recruitment Specialist. Abbey runs our prospective parent orientations and training classes, and guides families through their journey to becoming certified foster parents. Her passion for social justice and working with underserved communities led her to the field of foster care and adoption.
Introduce yourself. Tell us about Abbey Cowan and how you came to work at Extraordinary Families?
I began my journey with Extraordinary Families in October 2019 after working in the specialty coffee industry and as a nanny. I’ve always had a great passion for social justice and working with underserved communities – that’s why I majored in Sociology. I believe there is always more we can do to help address our social problems, and this really relates to the work of Extraordinary Families. Beyond that, I enjoy writing and singing for an LA based licensing company. I care for an adopted cat and I love traveling with my fiancé.
Tell me about your role with Extraordinary Families.
My role plays within many aspects of the foster process, but on the recruitment side, I am the person people reach out to when they are interested in learning more about fostering a child. People come to me wondering how to get started – what does it really mean to foster, what makes Extraordinary Families unique, among other things. I get to showcase what makes us, us, learn more about what led these parents to the decision to start a foster journey, and answer a lot of those first step questions. My role also entails running our prospective parent orientations and the PRIDE training program, getting parents connected to Foster Parent College (the online training portion of the program), and supporting them through the paperwork and certification process. In that, I check-in with families as often as I can to keep them motivated and encouraged, because the training can be heavy. It takes a lot of time for parents to process, so having a point person like me, to call after a session and ask ‘what did this mean’ or to talk about ‘I am really scared about this part’ is really important. This is why I also oversee and run our prospective parent support groups and help manage the Ambassador program. Prospective parent support groups are for parents who have started training and are set on going through the certification process with Extraordinary Families. And our Ambassador program, which I work with our Program Director (Kayla Wright) on, is for parents who are currently certified or have been certified with us in the past. Ambassadors help us with recruitment, getting our name out there, and are a support system for new parents through the mentor matching program.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your work?
Every time I get off a phone call with someone who is inquiring about Extraordinary Families, it often leads into a pretty deep conversation about what has brought them to this point. A lot of the time, families come from hurt and pain when they think of trying to grow a family. Other times, people just really want to serve our children and provide a safe space for kids to be kids. In both kind of conversations, I leave feeling so lucky. They chose to call us, to talk with me, and bring me and us into their journey. I really value it. I think making that initial call is probably really hard for them and really scary – it’s taking that first step into the unknown – and they are trusting me to help guide them. The other really rewarding part is seeing those families turn in applications and making it happen. For me, seeing parents super motivated is super rewarding.
What are some common challenges you hear from our prospective parents?
Probably the most common challenge I hear is ‘there is so much to do.’ A lot of the time, parents (in the certification process) start to feel exhausted and overwhelmed with how much there is left to check off on their to-do list. There is a lot of paperwork and expectations to become certified, but we try to normalize this in our support groups. Because the support groups are for parents in different stages (of the certification process), we often talk about those questions and give clarification, but also support them on this journey. Parents will ask each other ‘how was your home study’ – which is great because they learn and help each other prepare. But I also think this type of sharing helps (prepare them) emotionally because we can talk about how they are feeling with what was shared or how the paperwork is affecting their day-to-day as a human being.
From what you have told us, it sounds like we ask our prospective parents a lot of questions. Why do we do that and why is it so important?
We want to understand their experiences – childhood experiences, parenting experiences, views of authority, or how they deal with life being thrown at them – so that we can better join them with a child. I think going deep right off the bat kind of forces a person going through this process to look beyond the obvious joy of having a child. It makes them shine light on how important of a role they will play in a kid’s life. It forces them to look back on what has shaped them and determine what positive things they want to take forward into a child’s life. It comes down to how we can help them parent, encourage relationships in a child’s life, and support what is best for them and the child. Beyond us getting to know the people that will have kids in their care, there is a lot of personal value in someone assessing what has impacted them. Honestly, when it comes down to it, we are really just trying to bring out a person’s strengths. Our intention is to have them discover more about how they want to parent so that we can join a child in a home where they can really grow from the parent’s strengths.
Some people may be thinking ‘why are foster parents held to a standard while birth parents would never have to answer these types of questions.’ Can you tell me more about this?
Children in foster care have already experienced loss and trauma to an unimaginable degree – whether that is from birth when they are separated from their birth family or whether they are separated for other reasons. And these children are coming into this (foster situation) with so much more than children who stay with their biological families will ever know. I think to help the parents we are certifying to understand that is such a huge deal. We want to help (foster parents) see that this child needs them to safeguard and protect them. These children have already taken on so much burden that a child of their age, or children in general, should never have to, and as adults, we have a better grasp of our emotions. As adults, we have a rearview mirror perspective, and we can learn from past experiences. These kids haven’t had a chance to do that yet. These kids have had to grow up so fast and experience so many losses, and to have (a foster parent) that has explored these areas and has a trauma informed lens is irreplaceable for a child.
Thank you for speaking with me about your role with Extraordinary Families. Is there anything you would like to add?
This is a cool job. I continuously get to learn and grow as a person, and I just feel really lucky do it. Thank you for this opportunity to share.
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