18, No. 3
Continued Contact with Resource Parents After Reunification
With a change in where a child lives comes a change in the amount of contact a child has with caregivers. There is a redevelopment or shift in roles and relationships. This can be difficult for everyone involved.
One of the issues that comes to the forefront is how much continued contact foster parents and other carers should have with the family after reunification.
As child welfare professionals, how do we help families when there are differences in how much contact family members want with the foster family? How do we know when contact should be scaled back or stopped?
Differing Birth Parent Perspectives
Parents can have very different attitudes and desires about continued contact. Many are so relieved and excited to have their children home that the primary thought running through their minds is that they are ready to be the parent they have worked so hard to be. They are ready to take on their full role as parents and don't see a place for foster parents in the picture.
Other parents feel a current of uncertainty, and wonder if they could use some help from the resource parents. As the following excerpt from a birth mother indicates, still others have grown very attached to the resource parents and want them to continue to be a part of their lives.
In the months after my daughter came home, her foster family continued to show love to us both. I called her foster mother once and said, "Why isn't this child eating?" We realized that Ebony was used to Spanish food and I cook black people food. She taught me to cook pastelitos and peas and rice. Today my daughter is 10 and her former foster mother is still part of our lives. She often babysits since I'm working and going to school, and Ebony stays with her in the summers (Chambers, 2009).
Clearly, for some reunified families, continued contact with resource parents has benefits for everyone, especially the children.
Of course, most relationships between resource parents and reunified families change over time. For example, a parent that was receptive to weekly foster parent phone calls in the first few months after a child returned home may feel later on that the continued contact is holding her family back from moving on with their lives.
After three years, my children were too used to living with my sister and her husband…. For months, my kids couldn't wait to escape from me on the weekends and go back to Aunt Gina, where they felt more comfortable. I couldn't blame them, but that didn't stop my tears of frustration and pain (Chambers, 2009).
It's not only birth parents who have a range of feelings about continued contact: foster parents and the children who have been in foster care do, too. Despite the best preparation and training, the foster parent may have a hard time letting go of the child when the time comes. Or the foster parent may agree with the parent that it's in the best interests of the child for the foster parent to cut back on visits, despite a child's reaction to this.
Other foster children in the foster parent's home may miss those they played with and loved, and want to continue to see the children who have moved back home. Among siblings who have returned home there can be differences in their attachments with foster parents and in their desire to maintain a connection.
What You Can Do
With the varying needs and wishes, how can social workers help families navigate the best course?
- Start early, helping families engage in shared parenting whenever possible prior to reunification.
- Help families and resource families work together to think through and create transition plans at the beginning of the out-of-home placement rather than at the time of reunification (Foster Care Review Inc., 2010).
- Give resource parents concrete ideas for helping children make the transition home.
- Assess on an ongoing basis each person's feelings, needs, and motivations for continuing or ending contact. Find out what is and isn't working. When appropriate, help birth and resource parents set limits.
- Consult with your supervisor during decision-making.
What Resource Parents Can Do
Ways resource parents can support the child's transition home:
- Speak positively about the child's return
- Help plan child's return home
- Include the birth parent in farewell activities
- Provide respite care for parents
- Serve as a part of family's support network after child's return home
Source: Illinois Dept. of Children and Family Services, 2012
References for this and other articles in this issue