The goal of foster care across the country is always the same – reunify the child in care with his or her parents as soon as their home is a safe and stable environment. That’s why the Birth Parent National Network, through the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership, is working to improve relationships between both types of parents.
According to the Children’s Bureau, of the 250,248 children who left the foster care system in the U.S., 51 percent, or about 127, 626 children, were reunified with their parents in 2016. For those children, the assimilation back into the home of their birth parents was often made easier when foster and birth parents worked as a team.
“It is important that the adults in a child’s life coordinate and cooperate effectively, and nowhere is that more true than in the relationship between birth parents and foster parents,” the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership wrote in their official position statement. “Sometimes the child welfare system creates unnecessary barriers to engaging with each other. We believe that in order to be productive at strengthening families, we must collaborate, and have the support of child welfare professionals to do so.”
Born from The National Alliance for Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, Casey Family Programs and the Youth Law Center/ Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership aims to identify strategies to help birth and foster parents work together to facilitate reunification and prevent re-entry into the system. The group also looks to increase recruitment of foster parents willing to work with birth parents.
In Ohio, China Darrington has taken the partnership’s mission and put it into practice, according to an article in The Chronicles of Social Change. While suffering from drug addiction, Darrington lost her job and her 4-year-old daughter.
According to the article:
“For Darrington, that was the beginning of a long road through treatment and eventual reunification with her daughter. What she learned along the way is something she now shares with an unlikely audience: foster parents.
Working as a peer recovery coach, Darrington trains foster parents to help them understand unique challenges that birth parents face when their child is taken into the foster care system.
Darrington works with foster parents in Ohio, but she’s also part of a growing movement at the national level to bring birth parents and foster parents together, two sides of the child welfare system that haven’t always enjoyed working together closely.”
As national organizations look to dispel the demonization of the other in the child welfare system, state and local organizations, such as Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS), have been pushing for foster and birth parents to work together for years.
FAFS offers all NJ licensed resource families a course called “Teaming with Birth Families For Success,” that lays out all the laws and regulations that might impact a foster parent’s relationship with the child’s parents as well as tips on working together as a team for the best interest of the child.
Understanding that the foster parent may have a hard time getting past the abuse and neglect that resulted in the child being placed in care, the course asks parents to focus their dislike on the act – not the parent.
“The majority of birth parents are not bad people,” FAFS’ Director of Training and Education Corissa Kazar said. “They are parents who require support in their greatest hour of need. More often than not, the birth parents have suffered trauma as a child which went unresolved and they were never provided with the basic education and supports essential for being successful.”
Preaching empathy and kindness, the course offers ways foster parents can support the birth family – from developing a visitation plan to including the parents in birthday or other holiday celebrations.
“One family shared that the birth mother was concerned that the resource parents would think she was a bad mother and was scared to talk to them directly at first,” Kazar said. “The birth mother initiated conversations by placing small notes with the child’s teddy bear acknowledging the great job the foster parents were doing in caring for her son.”
After talking with the child’s caseworker, the foster parent reached out directly to the birth mother. Working together, foster parent and birth parent to made sure the child was brought back into a safe and stable home.
The foster parent continues to keep in touch with the birth mother and the child; they even spend holidays together, Kazar added.
Since each family’s case is different, there is no “right” way to work with birth parents, according to the course. The important thing, however, is to make every effort in the best interest of the child.
“By teaming and helping birth families, foster parents are not only becoming an intricate part of the parents’ lives but also the child’s,” Kazar said. “There is the famous quote ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and this holds especially true when partnering with parents of our children.”
To learn more about the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership, visit their website.
To learn more about FAFS and see a listing of other courses, visit our website.