In nearly all fostering placements, foster children will have contact with their birth parents. By having regular contact, this provides children and young people with an ongoing sense of identity, as well as feelings of stability and security. However, as a foster parent, this can often pose challenges.
Our guide helps foster parents to support the relationships between foster children and their birth family, as well as tips on how to protect yourself, too.
One of the most important ways to support a foster child’s contact with their birth family is by speaking positively about them. There may have been circumstances that have led to your foster child being placed in the care system which you don’t agree with – however, as a foster parent, it’s your job to protect the child in your care from these events and focus on the positives.
This will help to strengthen the bond between the child or young person and their family, and it could help to work towards reunification, if this is the goal.
Make a conscious effort to learn about your foster child’s family. What are their interests? What is the family tree – who is a cousin, who is an uncle, etc? What type of music do they like? By knowing some of these things, not only will this allow you more opportunities for conversation topics at scheduled meetings, but you can relate to your foster child more, too.
For example, if their birth parents enjoy musicals, it’s likely your foster child has been exposed to musicals, or songs from musicals before, so playing musical soundtracks could be a good way to connect with them and bond.
It’s common for foster children to exhibit behaviour changes after visits with their birth parents. Not only can these visits leave them with feelings of disappointment, sadness or loss, but they can also provoke feelings of anger and confusion as to why they are separated.
It’s important that these behaviour changes are reported to social workers and are managed carefully. The child's feelings following birth family visits should always be validated whilst supporting ways to appropriately express these feelings.
Opening up the lines of communication before visits is important, so the foster child can address their wishes and feelings beforehand. A good piece of advice is to not assume you know what your foster child is feeling – and be aware that their emotions may change over time.
However, preparing for visits will differ for each child – for example, they may find value in knowing the date of the meeting in advance so they can prepare, but they could also become anxious about this if they know too far in advance.
In many fostering placements, the end goal is reunification. This refers to when the foster child is placed back into the care of the birth parents, family or guardians, and is typically more common in emergency placements or short-term placements. For both the foster child and the foster parent, reunification can present mixed emotions. Your foster child may have reservations about being reunited with their birth parents, and you may find it difficult to say goodbye.
Our guide on tips to support reunification in foster care provides detailed advice for how to cope with reunification.
Although there is a large number of birth parents who would feel gratitude and respect towards foster parents for looking after their children, there could also be birth families who experience difficulties which may manifest in resentment and jealousy.
As a foster parent, you’re trained to understand how to manage these interactions, and ensure that these are not reflected onto the foster child. They need to view both their foster family and their birth family on the same team with no division, and by seeing any hostility could result in them feeling compelled to choose a side.
As part of the 1989 Children Act, this requires local authorities and, in turn, independent foster agencies, to support and promote contact with birth families, unless it is not in the best interest of the child. Birth parents benefit from the reassurance that their child is being taken care of, so maintaining contact throughout the foster placement allows them to continue and develop their relationship.
However, the amount of interaction birth families will have with their child in foster care will vary case by case. For younger children, the level of contact may be higher to maintain the attachment relationship, whereas a teenager may require less contact. This will be decided based on recommendations from the local authority and social workers. The reasons the child is taken into care initially will need to be considered closely to determine the level of contact.
For more information about how to support foster care contact with birth families, our team of experts is always on hand to help. Get in touch with us today.
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