The Benefits of Building Relationships: Part 1: Getting to Know Your Foster Child’s Family
Foster children’s families may have made some poor choices, but they usually truly love their children and worry about their wellbeing. Like any parent, they want to know who is taking care of their children and how the kids are doing. All three of the families we have gotten to know have thanked us for taking good care of their children and said that meeting us and getting to know us a little bit made them feel a little bit better about their children being in foster care. The parents have certainly heard the negative news stories of foster families harming children, and are understandably worried about who is taking care of their child. Of course the parents still missed their children immensely, but knowing we loved their children and took good care of them was a huge relief.
Building relationships with the children’s parents may not always be possible or safe, but when it is, you should do your best to try to have a good relationship with them. You can not only let them know that you love their child, but also assure them that you are not in foster care to steal children and that you believe in reunification when it is in the child’s best interest. (If you do not believe in reunification, foster care is probably not a good fit for you because it is the first goal and most frequent outcome for child welfare cases). Knowing you are not the enemy and you are not trying to separate them from their child can go a long way in building a good relationship.
For children, seeing their foster parents and biological parents on friendly terms can be a big comfort. It can be especially helpful when children have conflicted feelings about loving their foster family because they are afraid it would mean they were betraying their first family.
Knowing that you care about their family and are supportive of their efforts to reunite can also help children feel safe enough to share their own feelings about visits and reunification with you.
Not only is it good for the children and their family to build a positive relationship, it can also be good for you and your family. We have had a much easier time getting parental permission to travel with our little guy than many foster families seem to. We were able to build a good relationship with his Mom early on and she always gave us permission to take the little guy on vacations and to celebrate holidays with family out of town.
A false child abuse report is every foster parent’s worst nightmare. Sadly, I know more than one foster family who has gone through this. Though they couldn’t prove it, they were fairly certain the report came from a disgruntled family member of their foster child. Families whose children are taken into foster care are often in a desperate place. Sometimes they may not fully understand how the child welfare system works and/or take their anger out on foster parents by calling in anonymous false reports. Having a good relationship with the child’s parents can help reduce this risk. I know that my level of anxiety when a foster child gets a bruise or scrape while playing is directly related to the level of trust I have with that child’s parent.