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Reunification and Birth Parents: A Guide for Foster Carers

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For many children in foster care, the end goal is to reunite them with their families. It’s vital that foster parents like you are supportive of this, to make sure that when reunification happens, it’s a smooth transition. Even if the goal of reunification is not currently attainable, your foster child’s birth parents are likely to still be involved in their lives in some capacity, and this may be difficult to navigate. In this guide, we’ll explain what to expect during the reunification process and provide you with strategies to deal with the reunification process and birth parents.

Although we use the term “Birth Parents and Birth Family” in this guide, we understand that families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can in this case we use it to also reference adoptive parents, grandparents or other guardians.

What is the reunification process in foster care?

Reunification is the desired outcome for most children in foster care. Essentially, reunification is when a child in foster care returns to live with their birth parents or guardians. Usually, when a child is taken into care, a reunification plan is created and worked towards for the length of time that the child is in care.

What’s involved in the reunification process?

The child’s best interests are always at the forefront of any decisions that are made in regard to reunification. The reunification process generally consists of the following steps, which are designed to make sure your foster child is safe and happy when they return to their birth family.  

  • The assessment process: During this process, your foster child’s needs will be assessed by their social worker to determine whether reunification with the birth parents is viable and in your foster child’s best interests.
  • Establishing a care plan: Together with your social worker, we’ll work with you to develop a care plan that outlines the conditions needed for reunification to take place. It’ll also help you to prepare your foster child for a potential reunification with their birth parents and will be reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Support for birth parents: While your foster child is in your care, and reunification is viable, the birth parents will work with social services to help them to prepare for reunification.
  • Support for your foster child: As a foster parent, it’s important that you work with the child to maintain a relationship with their birth family where possible and prepare them as much as you can for reunification.
  • Monitoring and reviewing the reunification: Once your foster child has been reunited with their birth family, their social worker will monitor the situation to make sure that the child is safe, and the birth parents are able to meet their responsibilities. This situation will be reviewed to see if any additional support is needed.This will continue post-reunification to make sure the child is safe and well cared for.

The reunification process can be challenging, not only due to the bond between you and your foster child but also due to any unresolved trauma or issues that need to be addressed before your foster child reunites with their birth family. Here at Capstone, we’re with you every step of the way as we provide a wealth of support throughout your fostering journey.  

Birth parents’ right in foster care

As part of the 1989 Children Act, both local authorities and independent foster agencies, like Capstone, are required to support contact with your foster child’s biological family, unless it’s not in the best interest of the child. The amount of interaction between the birth families and the child will depend on a number of factors including;

  • Age of the child: Younger children might need more contact to maintain a relationship, whereas teenagers may require less.
  • Reasons that the child has been taken into care: The reasons for the child being taken into care will have a impact on the child’s contact with their parents. For example, if a child is abandoned they may not have any contact with their birth parents.

Supporting contact with birth parents

Continued contact with birth parents can help foster children develop their own sense of identity and self. Regular contact can also help stability, security and continue to help your foster child to build a relationship with their birth family.

Building a relationship with birth parents

Building a relationship with the birth family is a good way to show that you support the reunification. It might be beneficial to send them updates about what your foster child has been up to, this might include any schoolwork that they’re proud of or other achievements.

Try to learn about your foster child’s biological family. Find out what their family tree looks like and the relationships your foster child has with them. Your foster child might have enjoyed cooking with a grandparent or enjoyed playing a video game with their cousins. Make the effort to learn about this and connect with your foster child.  

Although the majority of birth parents are likely to feel gratitude towards the foster parents looking after their children, it can sometimes be challenging for biological parents, and they can feel jealousy or resentment. It’s important to ensure any negative feelings or interactions are not reflected onto the child, support and training are available for you to make sure that both you and the birth family understand that you are on the same team, with the child’s best interests at heart.   

Communication and collaboration

Creating a clear and open line of communication is valuable in supporting contact with your foster child’s birth family. When talking to your foster child about their family, it’s important to make sure that you speak about them in a positive way to help your foster child develop stronger bonds with their birth family.

Together with social services and the team here at Capstone, you’ll be working with the birth family in order to make sure reunification goes smoothly. If you have any concerns or worries about reunification you can report these to the care team. Working together as team, ensuring you’re on time to appointments and having an approachable demeanour will show the birth family that you’re all on the same side.     

Managing expectations

Depending on type of foster care you provide, you’ll need to manage the expectations of your foster child. Children in short term or emergency foster care are likely to be reunited with their biological parents relatively quickly. However, in long term foster placements, fostering can often be a permanent solution.

It’s also important to make sure that you acknowledge the effect that reunification might have on yourself and your foster family and understand it might be a difficult process - especially if you’ve developed a meaningful bond with your foster child. However, it’s important to remember the difference you’ve made to your foster child’s life. There is support available for you when foster placements end and by fostering you belong to a community that helps to protect children.

What support is available?

Continuous training and support are always available to you from Capstone when you become a foster parent. And with that, we’ll provide you with everything you need to navigate reunification.

Some of the topics we cover in training include helping children deal with change. We also provide a Multi-disciplinary Assessment Treatment & Therapy Service (MATTS), which provides bespoke mental health support to children at the point of need and includes access to social workers, child psychotherapists and support workers, meaning your foster child never feels alone in navigating their relationship with their birth family.

We also have regular visits and calls from social workers to support you, along with regular group meetings with other foster parents, to help you develop a support network with other carers.

Interested in becoming a foster carer yourself? Or need more information on reunification? Get in touch with a member of our helpful team for more support and advice today.

Thinking of fostering?

If you’ve got any questions or would like to find out more about fostering with Capstone, fill out the form below.
An experienced fostering advisor from your local area will then be in touch.

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