Think of your foster child as having a family forest rather than a family tree. They have a birth family with their parents and siblings and an extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They may have very close connections with godparents and other important adults. By the time they enter foster care, they may have lived with and been parented by a number of these people. Before joining your family, they may have lived in other foster homes and in group homes or residential programs. This is their family forest. It can be very complicated to navigate, but it can also be a great source of support for a youth in care.
Foster children need to maintain connections with the people in their family forests. Moving to a new family shouldn’t be at the price of losing ties with other important people. Figuring out who can remain in a child’s life typically involves the combined efforts of the child’s case worker, the foster parent and the youth. It’s essential to think broadly, and to include as many people as possible, including them for the things they CAN do rather than excluding them due to the things they can’t.
For example, a birth parent coping with mental health issues may still be able to attend a child’s school events and medical appointments. A grandparent unable to provide a full-time home may be able to spend a weekend afternoon with a child. An out-of-state relative may be willing to keep in touch through occasional phone calls. A former foster parent may help a youth find a part-time job.
Helping a foster youth stay connected to important people can be complicated, but it’s almost always worth the effort. It can provide support for the youth and the foster family. It can show a child that they can be loved by many of the people in their family forest. And, that being part of a new family doesn’t have to come at the price of losing other important people.
Written by Diane Kindler