We had the good fortune of connecting with Renee Bernhard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renee, every day, we talk about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
My husband and I were foster parents in Adams County. When we closed our home after three years of fostering we understood all too well why the majority of foster parents in Colorado quit within the first 1-2 years. Foster parenting is very hard. It is an emotional roller coaster that no training in the world can compare one for. We knew that we wanted to provide services to foster parents to help them better understand and manage the secondary trauma they experience. We also wanted to help them understand how to more appropriately parent children from trauma backgrounds. We formed Foster Source in the summer of 2016 and have grown very quickly.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Foster Sources offers the following services to foster parents statewide in Colorado: 1. The Learning Source: The Learning Source is our continuing education programming for foster parents. When we are able to meet in person, our classes are held on Saturday mornings from 9:30-11:30am throughout Colorado. The classes are always free for foster parents and always include free childcare, giving foster parents personal time of respite and kids time to spend with other children who have experienced similar displacement issues. Our Learning Source classes are taught from a trauma-informed approach – helping foster parents learn new skills in order to meet children where they are and begin the healing process. Our classes help make the foster parenting experience a community effort. Through our Learning Source program, we help foster children and their foster parents create positive family dynamics by building trusting relationships and offering essential tools to navigate difficulties. Training topics include: trauma, navigating the special education system, attachment, the Indian Child Welfare Act, unconscious bias, various therapy options, disorders, behaviors, LGBTQ support group and expert panels. Our expert panels have included a child welfare alumni panel, judicial panels, appellate courts panels and elected officials panels. 2. Foster Source Relief Services: In order to nurture foster parents so that they can foster better and foster longer, Foster Source will provide any item that a foster family identifies that would soften the foster care experience for the family and/or the child in care. When foster parents are valued, children in care begin to heal sooner. The four items that are requested most often are weighted items, car seats, mattresses and bunk beds. We often help supply diapers as well as gift cards for items or experiences. 3. Foster Source Therapeutic Services: Mental health services for foster parents are a critical tool to keep foster parents fostering. In early 2020 we began sponsoring virtual mental health sessions for foster parents. When our feedback showed that these services prevented foster parents from disrupting placements, even during the pandemic, we knew this program needed to continue. By the summer of 2020, we added an equine-assisted parenting workshop for our foster parents as well. CHAMPS: Launched in May 2020 in partnership with Foster Source, CHAMPS Colorado is part of a national campaign to ensure quality parenting for all children in foster care. CHAMPS Colorado strives to ensure vulnerable kids are safe and thriving by promoting foster and kin families as a vital component of the child welfare system. Most foster care non-profits focus on services that go directly to the child in care. Those services are so important, and we are happy to be able to partner with such agencies and refer clients to them. Our mission focuses on pouring services into the foster parents so that they can foster better and foster longer. This was a new focus in the child welfare world. We have grown very quickly in our first four years, partly because there were so few (if any) services for foster parents. The need was there so the growth and support came quickly, particularly from the very people we were serving – foster parents. The challenge has been in helping others (think funders) understand why it’s so important to provide services to foster parents instead of buying something directly for the child. When a child receives a toy, he or she has instant gratification. That joy lasts for awhile and then slowly fades. When foster parents are trained properly in trauma-informed parenting, they parent children differently. They are able to help children heal sooner. It changes the trajectory of the child’s life. Every additional child that comes into the foster parent’s care benefits as well. When you learn a technique, the benefits ripple for generations. The child welfare community often suffers from stereotypes and myths. When there are stories covered in the press, they are often stories showing foster homes that are abusive. Sometimes people think foster parents do it for the money ($36 per day for 24 hours of trauma parenting). Others have the attitude that this is what foster parents signed up for so they shouldn’t be receiving services. Sometime people say that foster parents are heroes. Nope. They are ordinary folks doing really hard things. They need and deserve our support.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We would go on a whirlwind tour of Denver, taking in all the sites, including all of the stadiums, RedRocks and downtown Denver. Additionally, we would swing by some extra special spots like Augustana Lutheran Church with the hopes that there would be a great Augustana Arts concert and the Denver Center of Performing Arts to take in a show. We would then take off for Boulder, get a haircut and/or color at Bishops Superior along the way. After a nice lunch at Salt, we would stroll along Pearl Street for some of the best people watching in Colorado! Onward we would go to Estes Park to stroll around the town and take in some of the sites. After spending the night at the Stanley Hotel, we’d head to my home town of Eaton to see how much it has changed since our friends had been there last. It wouldn’t be a trip to northern Colorado if we didn’t stop at the greatest restaurant of all – Fat Albert’s. Maybe we’ll order fish n chips or a monte cristo or better yet the infamous Canadian torpedo followed by the best pie in the world – Sue Albert’s peanutbutter supreme!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Oh my goodness, yes! There are so many. This is dedicated to: -Colorado’s foster families and children. -our amazing board of directors whose support helps guide us and our programming. -our college student interns from both Metro State University and CSU. -our additional advisors and team members who donate countless hours of time and expertise. -Herb Covey, Deputy Director of Adams County Human Services, who has supported us and welcomed us into the county’s community partner program. -Adams County Commissioner Charles “Chaz” Tedesco, whose support for our mission has opened up endless opportunities for us.