Foster parents log on for training

Washington is using the Web to create electronic classrooms for foster parents across the state.

The State's Department of Social and Health Services (www.wa.gov/dshs) is launching a series of virtual classes to help foster families deal with the concerns they face when caring for children with special needs.

DSHS, in conjunction with the Department of Information Services (www.state.wa.us/dis), has chosen 23 sites to conduct weekly lessons covering topics such as behavioral modification, fetal alcohol syndrome and infant brain development.

The sites will be made into computer-equipped classrooms where parents without computers can attend the classes. Lessons from an instructor will be broadcast live on a central screen, and parents will be able to interact through the computers in the classrooms.

Participants can pose questions directly by e-mail and participate in discussions with an expert moderator contracted by the state. Lessons will be broadcast via satellite for simulcast on the Web (www.wa.gov/dshs/fosterparents), enabling foster parents who have Internet access to attend classes, virtually, from home.

"What's really great about this program is not only that the foster parents are able to interact with the experts but also with each other," said Renee Klosterman, multimedia production manager for the DIS. "At the previous class on fetal alcohol syndrome, we had parents asking questions and sharing experiences with each other in real time during the class."

Carolyn Morrison, program manager for the DSHS, said foster parents are required to undergo some general training, but the classes aren't mandatory.

"This was just one more way to remove barriers to crucial training for foster parents," Morrison said. "This is one of those cases where knowledge truly is power, and if we can help share this information, then the better it is for everyone involved in the foster care process."

Space in the workshops is limited and held to a first-come/first-served basis, but the classes are free for foster parents. Lessons will be archived for those not able to attend the classes.

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