If you are a foster parent, you know the word “reunification” comes up a lot. As it now stands, there is a federal law that mandates courts and child welfare agencies to work towards reunification with a biological parent upon children entering care. The law gives fifteen out of twenty-two months for efforts to rectify the reason that children entered care and to assure safety once placed back in the home.
People often say, “I could never foster because I could not give the children back.” This is a reasonable response, but it is possible to support the reunification process even if you do not want to. Many foster parents do this every day!
Here are a few tips on understanding, surviving and supporting reunification:
Listen intently during the training classes. When the trainers tell you the goal is reunification for most children who enter care, believe them! You will be asked to be an active part of this process. Know your rights, but also understand the purpose of the family support team will be to restore the family in ways that deem them safe for their children’s return.
Respect the goal of reunification. You don’t have to agree with all that is going on with a case, but you do need to respect the process and act in a professional manner. If the tables were turned and you found yourself in the position of birth families, you would want whoever is caring for your children to be supportive and respectful.
Realize this is going to be very hard. In other words, take off your rose-colored glasses! You are involved in the community that works with abused and neglected children. This is hard work, people are often unpredictable and the system is not perfect. It doesn’t feel good all the time and your heart will break more than you want it to.
Work on building a relationship with the biological parents, if possible. Simple things like assisting with transportation to and from visits allows for you to interact with them. Tell them updates about the kids, send artwork and pictures. These things will help the biological parents to feel supported. Also, choose kindness. It goes a long way!
Make yourself available for meetings and visits as much as you can. Your presence says a lot about your investment in what is going on with cases. Your input also provides essential information to the team. On that same note, offering parenting strategies and how you have successfully handled any behavioral issues will also give the biological parents insight into how they should parent once the children return home.
Mentor the biological parents, if possible. This can be tricky and will take rapport building, but foster families who try to be a mentor are ones that tend to better navigate the reunification process. The family support team will also see that you value the goal of reunification, the needs of the biological parents and your role as a foster parent.
Speak positively about your foster children’s biological family. Sure, there are serious concerns, but there are also positives that can be pulled from learning as much as you can about them and developing a relationship with them. This helps in the reunification process as it goes to continuing and strengthening the bond between children and their biological parents.
Don’t sabotage. I know this is a tricky area for foster families and sometimes they get blamed for attempting to sabotage, even if all they are doing is addressing their concerns with the team. If you are always late for visits, the child always seems to have a fever when a visit is scheduled, or you nit-pick the biological parents’ every move, that is a form of sabotage, even if you don’t realize you are doing it.
Be strength based and celebrate the baby steps being made. This falls in line with the area of sabotage. Of course, your home is probably in better shape, cleaner and more suitable for raising children, but it should be. You are a foster parent. You may be better able to budget, have stable employment and don’t allow negative influences into your home. Again, this is how it should be, as you are a foster parent. However, what’s important to understand is that when a biological parent loses his or her child to foster care, that parent is essentially asked to cut off all negative influences, keep or get a stable job and have a spotless house. They are ordered to do these things ALL while trying to fit in meetings, therapy appointments and visits. They also may be undergoing drug withdrawals and seeking to be in recovery. That is a lot to put on anyone’s plate! Negative influences and people are not ideal but they can be the only source of friendship or “family” that the biological parent has. This is not an excuse at all and biological parents must be held accountable for their actions, and who they choose to have in their lives; however, one can see how very overwhelming it must be for them. Honor the small steps they have made in attaining their goals and turning their lives around.
Be a team player and do your best at fulfilling your role as a foster parent. Adoption is never guaranteed unless termination has occurred and you have been selected as the adoptive parent. While the team is seeking reunification, remember your training and all that was discussed regarding the importance of being a member of a professional team.
Foster parenting is one of the hardest life experiences anyone can go through. Often, foster families feel as though they are not heard or supported. It is possible biological parents may feel the same way. Supporting reunification, even when you don’t feel like it, is not easy, but it is possible.
[This post appeared on Adoption.com]
Caroline is a mother to three children through adoption, and a strong advocate for foster care. At the age of eleven, Caroline underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Since then, she has known that she would never have biological children.
In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became foster parents and quickly accepted the placement of a newborn baby boy. Through their journey of foster care, they learned so much about the needs of children, and were greatly humbled by the experience. They went on to adopt their daughter after fostering her, and recently adopted their youngest boy in 2013.
Currently, Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. Caroline shares her life experience about foster care, adoption, barrenness, and faith on her blog, Barren to Blessed.