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How can foster parents and birth parents successfully co-parent?

How can foster parents and birth parents successfully co-parent?

It can be quite difficult having a foster child in your home. He or she may have been placed in your home because of abuse or neglect from his family. Perhaps he was in danger from parents who were abusing themselves. Whatever the reason for his placement into the child welfare’s custody, your foster child has most likely come to you with some emotional problems and is struggling with the loss of his family.

As a foster parent, it is part of your job to help your foster child deal with these issues, and help him adjust to his new environment, as well as develop a positive and loving relationship with him.

However, there is another part of your role as a foster parent that can be extremely difficult: co-parenting. When a foster parent shares the nurturing of a foster child alongside the birth parents and caseworker, reunification tends to happen at a quicker and more successful rate. Co-parenting sees you, as a foster parent, working alongside the biological parents of the child living under your roof and with your family. This may be the more difficult part of your job. Not only will the foster child benefit from this improved relationship, but hopefully, the biological parents will also benefit as they learn positive parenting skills from the foster parents.

There are a number of strategies that will reduce the stress that you, as a foster parent, can use when working with birth parents. 


Do

Do be a role model

As a foster parent, you will be a role model for countless people, as many eyes will be upon you. Not only will you be a role model for your foster children, but for the public as a whole. Foster parenting will be on display for all to see as you undertake your role as a foster parent. Perhaps others will be impressed by your role and will wish to become a foster parent, or in the very least, help out.

For birth parents and family members, you might be the best example of a good parent. Everything you do as a foster parent will send signals to the biological parents on how a parent should act, as well as how to treat their own children. When your foster child meets with his birth parents for visitations, he should be well dressed, clean, healthy and looking his best. His hair should be combed with nails cut.

After all, you are sending a message that he is worthy of your best attention and care. 

Do answer questions honestly

Upon meeting the birth parents for the first time, there are bound to be questions from both you and the birth parents. Your foster child’s family members will want to know what kind of family their child is living with, what his home life will be like, if he is being taken care of and many other concerns. After all, their child has been taken away from them, against their wishes, and placed in a strange home. They will have many concerns and may not be as courteous as you might like.

Be prepared for them to be hostile, rude, angry or even distant. Remember that they are hurting and have been through a traumatic experience with the removal of their child. Respectfully encourage them to ask you as many questions as they would like. It is important that you answer their questions as honestly and openly as possible, treating them with the utmost integrity, kindness and politeness. Remember that you are modeling good adult behavior to them, as well as to your foster child. 

Do ask about their child

Your foster child’s biological parents and family members will know him better than anyone. And your meeting with them will offer you the opportunity to learn a great deal about him, as well as acquire important information you might need. A list of prepared questions will help you gather the information you need.

When you ask questions about their child, you are showing the birth parents that you are interested in him and his well being. By indicating with your questions that his parents are the experts, you will begin to form a relationship, one that will benefit all involved.  


Don't

Do not pass judgement

Maybe you disagree with their parenting style. Maybe their morals and values differ completely from yours. Maybe they have said mean things to you. But it is vital that you do not prejudge them before you meet them.

Consider that many biological parents of foster children were abused themselves, and they know no other way when raising children. Also disturbing is that some birth parents were foster children and are just repeating the cycle they went through as a child. Certainly, there are reasons why their children are in care that we may never understand. Not only can we stay positive and keep a good attitude, we can also treat our foster child’s birth parents with the same dignity, respect and kindness that we would want displayed towards the children, or towards us. 

Do not ignore them

Your foster child’s family will likely be very curious about you. If they have not already asked questions about you and your family, take time to share with them some information. Let them know that you are excited to have their child in your home for the time being. Tell them about some of the traditions in your home. Reassure them that their child will not only be safe in your home, but will be cared for and given plenty of positive attention. The more assurance birth parents have that their child is in a good home, the better the relationship will be between the two of you.  

Do not be unprepared for visitations

For foster children, visitations have many positive attributes. To begin with, your foster child’s visit with his biological family members will likely reduce his sense of abandonment by them. Hopefully, his sense of self-worth and importance will be bolstered, as he feels reassured that his parents will continue to love him, something he may very well doubt and struggle with internally.

By expressing his feelings to them, he may continue to heal emotionally. His birth parents may also reassure him that he is in a good home with you, and that he needs to listen to you and follow your rules, thus strengthening his own relationship with you. In fact, the children who visit with their birth parents on a regular basis are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems in your home and in school. As their level of anxiety decreases, they will become better adjusted to placement within your family. 


Summary
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As a foster parent, it is crucial to remember that your foster child’s biological parents are people in need. There are reasons why their child is in foster care and under your supervision. These parents may lash out at you and the caseworker. They may have treated their own child in cruel and horrible ways. Yet, they still deserve your kindness and sympathy, not your anger. By working with them and showing them kindness and compassion, you will not only help them, but you will also teach your foster child an important lesson in love and humanity.


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Dr. John DeGarmoLeading expert in the foster care system

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent since 2002, and he and his wife have had over 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering pass...

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