Leslie Ponciano

[(social worker + foster parent) x educator] = RESILIENCE

Dr. Leslie Ponciano is a faculty member and Program Director for the Early Childhood Education MA Program at Loyola Marymount University. Prior to becoming a professor, Leslie was a social worker for foster children in Los Angeles County, a behavioral specialist for adolescents at a psychiatric facility in Orange County, a counselor for adolescents at a juvenile detention center in Australia, and a foster parent.

QUESTION: Why is serving the foster care community important to you?

ANSWER: I've spent my adult life and career serving youth in foster care and trying to improve their outcomes. As a social worker I was struck by how limited the supportive resources were. This problem was intensified when I became a foster parent, which was the hardest job I have ever had.

QUESTION: What makes foster parenting such a tough job?

ANSWER: We really loved our foster daughter as if she was our own child. We were willing to make her a permanent member of our family but the courts decided that reunification was the priority. Soon after she returned to her biological mother, she ended up back in the system and at home again with us. At this point I could no longer support reunification as I saw the impact it was having on this child that I loved. Advocating for this position put me at odds with the courts goals and so we lost the privilege of being a part of her life. I still think about her everyday though which is what makes it so tough.

QUESTION: It seems like you were very committed to helping foster youth find the perfect home and family. Was it the experience with your foster daughter that caused you to stop serving as a foster parent and social worker?

ANSWER: Actually, being a professor and educator is my way of making the largest impact on foster care that I could possibly have. By teaching students about the unique needs of youth in foster care, I hope to increase the number of qualified social workers, foster parents, counselors, and other supportive service providers. At some point I recognized that I could not meet the needs of all the children I wanted to without the help of others.

QUESTION: Is that what the research project is about?

ANSWER: Absolutely! If we can identify the adaptive strategies and strengths that foster youth develop as a result of being in the system then we could effectively change the way child welfare delivers it services. If we succeed we can foster a greater sense of pride for everybody who has ever been impacted by foster care and increase the likelihood that their outcomes will improve over time.

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