Birth family visits are important for children in foster care. They allow family connections to stay strong. They can reassure both children and adults that the people they care about are still part of their lives even if they aren’t living together. Children and youth in foster care who have regular contact with their birth families have fewer fantasies about the families they have been separated from and may be better able to understand that they can care for both birth and foster families.
At the same time, birth family visits can be a source of stress. Birth parents may feel that a scheduled visit is a test of their ability to care for their child. Foster children may worry about their birth families and feel guilty about the things available to them in their foster home. Foster parents may worry about how their foster child will handle the pressure of a birth family visit and if the experience will make it harder for their child to thrive in their foster family.
As a foster parent, there are things you can do to help make these visits easier. Begin with the understanding that although your foster son or daughter may not be able to talk about it, he or she may struggle with feelings of being caught between two families. These feelings may get worse before or after birth family contact. You can gently acknowledge these feeling by telling your foster child that you know it can be hard for him or her to go back and forth between families.
Also, be openly supportive of the birth family contact. Let your foster child know you are glad he or she is going to spend time with birth family. Help your foster child prepare for the visit and send him or her off with your encouragement. Let them know what will be happening in your home after their return.
Some kids need a quiet transition time after returning from a birth family visit. They may need to “chill” in their room and rejoin the family after some time has passed. Others may want to fill you in on the details of their visit right away. Ask older kids directly what is helpful for them.
In any case, give them some time to unwind and understand that feelings and thoughts about their birth families are never far away. Your ongoing respect of their birth family connections is one of the many things you can do to make birth family contact a positive experience for everyone involved.