Family and Children's
18, No. 3
Addressing Shared Parenting Difficulties as Reunification Approaches
- An alliance among important people in the child's life.
- A meeting. North Carolina policy requires agencies arrange a face-to-face meeting between birth and foster families within 7 days of placement.
- An ongoing process that often involves a continuum of contact between foster parents, birth parents, and children in foster care.
Although successful shared parenting can do a lot ease the transition for the child and birth family as reunification approaches, anecdotal reports suggest that North Carolina child welfare agencies sometimes struggle with the practice at this juncture.
It's easy to see why. As safety issues are addressed, children start spending more time with their parents, which means more handoffs and mini-transitions (e.g., for overnight visits with parents). Many foster families are concerned and upset when the birth parents keep the children up late, feed them junk food, or fail to enforce the foster home's rules and expectations.
The tensions that naturally arise between birth and foster parents can be managed. Here are some suggestions for making shared parenting work at this time of transition:
- Make it clear to foster parents you understand that their feelings and objections are motivated by concern for the children. Normalize their frustration, anxiety, and other feelings.
- Reiterate to foster parents your appreciation for the gift they are giving children and their families by being part of the team that helps birth parents become better able to nurture and protect the child.
- Coach foster parents to continue sending the message to birth families that their goal is to help the children return home.
Shared parenting is an "inclusive practice," which means the birth parent is integrated into the child's life while the child is in out-of- home care. According to Leathers (2002), inclusive practice:
. . . encourages or requires birth parents to participate in the direct care of the child whenever possible by allowing them to have access to the child through informal visiting and other contacts. . . . In the inclusive practice model, the foster parent functions as a temporary caregiver for the child and a supportive role model to the parent (Landy & Munro, 1998). Advocates of inclusive practice argue it results in increased parental visiting, is less disruptive for the child, and results in fewer attachment conflicts and placement disruptions (Palmer, 1995, 1996).
The NC Division of Social Services has integrated shared parenting into training for child welfare staff and foster parents; in addition, ten pages of our state's child welfare policy are devoted to the topic (http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-10/chg/CSs1201c11.pdf).
References for this and other articles in this issue