It’s no surprise that foster children can find it incredibly difficult to be separated from their families and everything they knew. But it can also be just as hard for their biological parents. That means it’s up to you as the foster parent to bridge the gap and help them stay in touch as they work through their issues.
Follow our tips to help maintain healthy contact, and remember you can always talk to your Supervising Social Worker if you have any questions. Of course, if it has been decided that contact is not in the best interests of a foster child, respect the decision.
A few important things to remember
The ultimate goal of fostering is usually to get both parent and child back together again, so continued contact is very important.
Parents may be working through issues of their own so, even if they’ve acted irresponsibly in the past, give them a chance.
Don’t forget to arrange contact with siblings too, who could be staying in another foster home.
6 do and don'ts of contact with families
Do be a role model: Not only can foster children learn from you, biological parents can too. Because of your training and professionality, you’ll likely be seen as a model parent. Live up to it and help make life easier when parent and child come back together.
Do be honest: Biological parents are bound to have questions about their child’s behaviour, well-being and living arrangements. Tell the truth politely and patiently. Be prepared for hostility because of the traumatic circumstances and show the parents their child is in safe hands.
Do ask questions: You’ll be meeting people who know your foster child better than anyone, so don’t miss the chance to get to know them better. Prepare questions about the child beforehand to show their family you’re interested and care.
Don’t pass judgement: You may disagree when it comes to parenting styles and life choices, but it’s vital that you don’t prejudge biological parents before you meet them. Stay positive and treat them with dignity – you don’t know what they may have been through.
Don’t ignore them: Biological families will rightfully be very curious about the family their child’s living with. The best way to reassure them is to be open and attentive, not distant and protective. Forming a healthy relationship is good for the child.
Don’t be unprepared: If your foster child is unclean, unhealthy or shabbily dressed, it could imply that they’re not well looked after. Remove any possible causes of tension to make the meetings go as smoothly as possible. They’re incredibly important for improving a foster child’s self-worth and sense of abandonment.
Understanding how biological parents feel
Most parents experience a grief cycle much like their children do when the two are separated. If you understand why they feel and act a particular way, it’ll be easier to help them progress their relationship.
Stage 1: Shock
When their child first goes into care, parents may be overwhelmed and full of worry. They could be in denial that their child is due to return, or make promises they don’t understand.
When talking for the first time, start the conversation by explaining who you are, that their child misses them, and that they’re safe. Don’t say you understand how they’re feeling and be prepared to be met by anger.
Stage 2: Protest
Anger and sadness may cause headaches, insomnia and exhaustion. Parents may make demands and threats, blame others for the situation, or cry for no apparent reason.
Assure them you mean no harm and be humble, saying things like: “You know your child better than anyone. How would you like me to take care of her for now?” Show compassion for their anger and use reflective listening to show you’re paying attention.
Stage 3: Adjustment
In time, things begin to settle down. This comes sooner if parents feel they have an ally in a social worker of foster carer. They don’t worry about safety and loyalty any more, and instead focus on preparing to reunite with their child.
Continue to be supportive and ask them if they have any questions for you. Ask questions yourself too. What does the child like to eat? What do you do to calm them? What do you want them to call me? Together, create an action plan that ranges from regular phone calls and visits to trips out and school activities. Let them play a supportive role so they can learn from a childcare expert and prepare for a brighter tomorrow.