Should Birth Parents Be Involved with Foster Children

When a child is taken from his family and placed in foster care, it is a difficult time for the child, the birth parents and the foster family.

Two out of three children who enter foster care because of a harmful family situation are reunited with their birth parents within two years, studies show. Regular visits between a foster child and his birth parents help to shorten the time of foster care and reunite children and parents more smoothly. By the same token, denying contact between a foster child and his birth parents has a negative impact on the child.

The Importance of Birth Parent Contact with Foster Children

  • Visitation between parents and their children in foster care is considered to be the most important factor in reuniting a child successfully with his family.
  • Regular visits allow social workers to observe and assess the parent-child relationship and the progress toward reuniting the family.
  • Supervised visits allow birth parents to practice new parenting skills and behaviors and show that they're willing to work to get their family reunited.
  • The child benefits from these visitations because it reduces the pain of separation and reassures him that his family is still there and that he still belongs.
  • Foster parents get to see their foster children interact with their birth parents, which leads to a better understanding of what the child has experienced and is going through.

Some Facts About Birth Parent Contact with Foster Children

  • Birth parents are more likely to show up for visits if they start immediately after placement.  If the birth parent has a scheduled visit with her children within 48 hours of placement, she's more likely to attend more visits in the future.
  • Foster children who saw their birth parents at least once every two weeks tended to show fewer behavior problems, had less anxiety and less depression.  They also tended to rate their birth parents as "normal" or "healthy."
  • Children who had frequent visits from their birth parents were more likely to be placed back in the home sooner.
  • It is normal for children to regress, act out or behave badly immediately after a visit with his birth parents. It's a natural, temporary setback and is due to conflicting feelings about his parents.

How Foster Parents Should Interact with Birth Parents
Some things to keep in mind when interacting with the birth parents of foster children:

  • If a meeting is not possible, call the birth parents, introduce yourself and tell them, "I want you to know that I'm taking care of your child until he can go back home. He misses you. Is there anything you think I should know?"
  • Be prepared for anger. Birth parents separated from their children are going through serious anger, frustration and loss. Show compassion and don't get angry in return.
  • Assure birth parents that you are not trying to replace them and you will not harm their child.
  • Humbly admit that they know more about the child than you do. Ask them questions about what he likes and dislikes and how you can be a better foster parent for him.
  • Answer any questions the birth parents have for you, such as where the child sleeps, who he interacts with and how he's doing in school.
  • Help prepare your foster child for visits with his birth parents. Talk positively about them and get there on time and with a positive attitude.
  • Along with the social worker, develop an action plan for working with the birth parents to do what's best for the child.
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