A loss for the birth family
It can be easy to overlook birth family members, as many people involved with a child coming into foster care will focus on the child or young person settling into their foster family. However, the birth family, particularly the birth parents, need sensitive consideration and not to be left ‘on the side-lines’.
Whatever the reason a child has come into care, the parents will suffer a sense of loss like any other birth parent. This needs to be recognised. The child may have lived with their parents for many years and, regardless of what has happened, they will have a significant attachment to their parents that is not to be dismissed. This applies to a fostered child’s birth siblings too.
What contact can the foster child have with their birth family?
The child’s social worker will make decisions about the amount of contact a child has with their birth family. For example, if a birth parent has personal issues or is in hospital and the plan is for the child to return home, contact will be high to maintain relationships. If a child has allegedly suffered abuse, it is likely that contact with birth parents will be supervised at a specific venue. Whatever the contact plans are, emotions and feelings for the child and their parents will be high, and both will need support to ensure contact is meaningful.
How might a birth parent feel about other adults involved, when their child comes into foster care?
If a birth parent recognises they cannot cope and supports their child having a foster placement, they are likely to appreciate the help around them. If a child is removed from their care and their parenting is in question, the birth parent is less likely to accept the situation. In this situation the birth parent are also likely to be involved in assessments and court proceedings which adds pressure and stress. In some cases, birth families fear a judge will order that their child remains in care or is adopted. Some parents cope with this stress by ‘fighting’ to have their children home. In contrast, there are some parents that, for whatever reason, disengage from such processes and appear to ‘abandon’ their children. Where there are criminal proceedings, a parent might go to prison.
The birth parent – foster carer relationship
As we can see in all these cases, whilst the child is suffering loss, they have a foster family as a safety net; whereas birth parents can feel ‘out of control’ and powerless. Foster carers who recognise the birth parents’ situation, are able to support the foster child. This is particularly poignant if a birth parent directs their negative emotions towards the foster carers. It might feel personal at the time, but usually it’s not, and foster carers need to be able to ‘take a step back’ and share their views with their supervising social worker rather than ‘bite back’ at a parent, as this is a better way of managing a situation for everybody concerned; particularly the child.
So, the role of the foster carer wherever possible, is to develop a positive working relationship with birth family. The birth parents will know the most about their children and can be a good source of information to help you care for their child. Whilst developing positive birth parent – foster carer relationships can be complicated, the foster carer needs to remember that their role is to care for the child for the period of time they are with them. The foster carers have not removed the child, and the foster carers are not the people that ultimately judge the birth parents.
Foster carers are ‘helping out’ at a difficult time in the child and birth parents’ lives. If the birth parent can recognise that foster carers have a helping role focussed on their child, and that foster carers are not standing in judgement or making the decisions, then most of the time, the relationship works well and is productive for the child, parents and foster carers.