Foster parents play a critical role in helping build the bridge to permanent families for youth in foster care.
We’re happy to share this blog post from our friends at the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), an organization committed to making sure every child has a permanent, loving, and culturally competent family.
Foster parents do more than offer children a safe home to grow before returning to their birth family or finding permanency with adoptive or kinship families. Often, they work alongside birth parents to minimize a child’s trauma, increase the chance of reunification, and ensure brighter futures for all involved. Foster parents are a bridge for reunification, helping engage birth families, model effective parenting, and assist children in navigating complex relationships.
So, what do foster parents do to encourage reunification?
1. They develop a trusting relationship with the birth family. Foster parents start at the very beginning to develop relationships with birth families whenever possible, establishing routine visits and maintaining positive communication on all sides. Much of this work involves engaging birth parents in day-to-day activities by keeping journals about the child’s life, taking pictures of the child and sharing them with the birth family, and including the birth family in school activities, parents’ nights, athletic events, and medical or dental appointments. Giving birth parents the opportunity to feel engaged in their child’s life and developing a relationship with them will help them to view foster parents as a resource – it can also show birth parents that their child is in a safe, nurturing, and stable home.
2. They build the relationship between the birth family and the child. In addition to developing a relationship between themselves and the birth family, foster parents work hard to continue building the relationship between the birth family and the child in care. Foster parents facilitate and encourage phone calls, visits, and additional activities with the child and their birth family, in addition to allowing family interactions to take place in their home. When a visit with the birth family causes a child to feel triggered or overwhelmed by additional stress, foster parents have to help that child cope with these complex emotions while maintaining positive and encouraging discussions about the birth family.
3. Model effective parenting for the birth family. By involving the birth family in day-to-day activities and inviting birth families into their home, foster families offer birth families the opportunity to learn effective parenting skills. During visits, birth families may be exposed to tasks such as bathing, feeding, reading stories, or tucking into bed. Witnessing this routine can help birth families understand what their child needs. At doctors’ appointments, conferences, and school events, birth families can see foster parents practice effective skills and learn how to maintain a supportive role for their child.
4. Provide ongoing support. After a child returns to their home, foster families often stay in touch – providing ongoing support for birth families to turn to when they’re confused, overwhelmed, or unsure.
Foster parents have two main goals: reuniting the child with the birth family whenever possible and minimizing trauma that could result from instability. By doing this challenging and rewarding work, foster parents ensure that the child in their care can maintain a better, brighter future.
Child welfare policies and practices need to prioritize foster parents who can actively support reunification when it is the best permanency option. This means developing recruitment efforts and building training and support networks that can allow trained, high-quality foster parents to continue to open their homes to children and youth – and their birth families – in need of care.
Learn more about how you can better support the amazing work foster parents do by visiting fosteringCHAMPS.org!