A team of UGA faculty, staff and students from FACS and the School of Social Work recently led a free retreat for foster caregiver couples to assist them in developing skills to better handle stress and conflict while improving their relationships.
Participants in the weekend retreat at Lake Lanier Islands received instruction from the “Elevate” curriculum, a relationship and marriage education (RME) program presented as part of the federally-funded Project F.R.E.E. (Fostering Relationship and Economic Enrichment), aimed at promoting stable homes and brighter futures for children.
The Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) Project partnered with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to put on the retreat.
“We know that foster parenting is something that is a really big gift that our foster parents give,” said DFCS Region V director Mary Havick said. “They give of themselves, they give of their relationship and to be able to have some time to just focus on themselves and how to strengthen their relationship is something that we are thrilled to be able to give them as a support.”
The main goal of the retreat was to teach couples about the core principles of healthy relationships.
From making intentional relationship choices to engaging in a positive social network of support to managing stress and conflict, the principles help foster parents put more focus on their relationship and create a solid foundation for their family.
Fifty couples from 13 counties in northeast Georgia attended the retreat.
“We also want to reinforce the importance of connecting with others, that it not only takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help families maintain stability,” said FACS faculty member and Project F.R.E.E. director Ted Futris.
At the retreat, foster parents had ample opportunity to interact with other foster parents and get to know each other, allowing couples time to share their experiences.
Teaching or reminding couples of ways they can remain connected was at the forefront of the program’s aims, Futris said.
“If our relationship isn’t right, then the relationship with the foster kids or our biological kids is stressed as well, so something like this (retreat) will bring awareness to that,” said foster parent Larry Patterson, a native of Walton County.
Couples stated they came away from the retreat much more aware of just how important their relationship foundation is in connecting with and providing for foster children.
“I think family is the core of everything and people don’t understand that strong relationships, strong family - the two tie together,” said Evelyn Cooksey, a foster parent and retreat participant from Rockdale County. “So if our stuff is not together it’s going to roll down, because kids learn what they live, they watch us, and that's what I told (her husband). We’re on display every day.”
Project F.R.E.E. offers “Elevate” classes throughout the year for unmarried and married couples, including foster caregivers as well as expecting and new parents, to strengthen their relationship as well as to help couples transition smoothly into parenthood.
The project also offers another program, “Together We Can,” which is designed to assist unmarried, single parents in establishing or maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship with their child’s other parent as well as developing future healthy relationships.
More information can be found at http://www.ugaprojectfree.com
To see photos from the retreat, click here.
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