In the Family to Family model, foster parents and birth parents build a relationship around the child. Having a mutual focus on the child can lead to less anger and anxiety and a greater sense of empowerment on the part of a birth parent. It is important to begin building this relationship from the very first meeting between a birth parent and a foster parent. The caseworker’s words and actions are critical to starting this all-important relationship off in the right direction.
Let the birth parent and foster parent know from the start that it takes more than one person to meet a child’s many needs and that you consider them together with you, the caseworker, to be team members:
- With a common goal: to do what is best for the child
- Each having her/his own unique knowledge, abilities, and role for helping the child
- Who need to share decision-making and work together in order to help the child
Every day parents make decisions for or with their children. Many of these are small decisions, but they are important in the life of a child. One of the greatest losses a parent faces when a child is in foster care is the loss of the opportunity to make those day-to-day decisions concerning the child. When we encourage the foster parent and birth parent to discuss and share these decisions, we reinforce the birth parent’s rights to, and concern for, the child. We say they are worthwhile, have some judgment, and are still important.
Some of the decisions birth parents and foster parents can discuss and share are:
- Food and meals: what the child likes to eat, allergies, mealtime customs, table manners
- Clothes: favorite colors, styles, items
- Hair: how the child usually wears his/her hair
- Toys and hobbies: favorites, any toys not wanted such as guns, certain video games
- Photographs: photos from the child’s past, photos of the child’s present with birth and foster parents
- Schedule, chores: what the child is used to, what is the foster parent’s custom, e.g., bedtimes, homework, keeping one’s room clean
- Health: current, history, conditions
- Religion: what is the child used to, foster parent’s practice, birth parent’s wishes
- Family traditions: customs such as family gatherings, celebrations, games, etc.
Advantages of birth parents and foster parents sharing decisions and working together as a team:
- Maintains the parent-child relationship
- Improves the parent’s self-esteem
- Gives the birth parent and the foster parent more information about the child
- Allows the foster parent to model appropriate behavior
- Helps the birth parent to grow in understanding of a child’s needs and appropriate expectations and management of the child
- Helps the foster parent understand the child’s past and what is usual or unusual for the child
- Eases eventual reunion
- Promotes ongoing support for the family after the child returns home
- Promotes open adoption if child cannot return home
Source: Adapted from the SCO Services for Children and Families Foster Care Manual; PRIDE Curriculum; and ‘Working with Natural Parents’, by Emily Jean McFadden.