Partnering with Birth Parents in Foster Care

Call it co-parenting, shared parenting, or partnership parenting, the gist is the same: foster parents are expected to share the nurturing of a foster child with the birth parents to facilitate reunification whenever possible. In this episode, we talk about shared parenting with Carrie Sgarlata, an educator, mom, foster mom, and foster parent trainer and recruiter; and Andrea Leaman, a social worker with the Foster Care Licensing and Placement Program with Children’s Wisconsin Community Services and trainer in partnership parenting. 

In this episode, we cover:

1.     Partnering with Birth Parents in Foster Care. Why is shared parenting best for the child? (less divided loyalty, foster parents can be a role model, less time in foster care, better behavior, majority of kids will return home and co-parenting makes that easier)

2.     Building a relationship that begins when someone’s child is removed is not easy. What are some of the emotions the birth parents are likely feeling when they first meet the foster parent? (fear, confusion, denial, anger, embarrassment, feeling that the authorities over-reacted, shame, grief, betrayal, sadness, uncertainty, taking their child away, loss of control)

3.     How to build a relationship of co-parenting?

  • Start with compassion 
  • Lower expectations
  • Reassure them that you are only here to help not adopt their child
  • Show a picture of where the child is staying
  • Don’t take things personally? (be the more emotionally stable person) Realize that you are seeing these people at likely the worst moment of their life.
  • Go the extra mile
  • Language matters: refer to the child as their child.
  • Treat them with dignity and respect.
  • Go the extra mile to make it easier or less awkward for them.
  • Ask birth parents questions about the child, her likes, dislikes, fears, etc.
  • Send pictures, share artwork, share cute stories

4.     Communication between birth and adoptive parents is key to success. Ideas for setting up good communication. How to communicate between visits?

5.     How to handle visits to facilitate co-parenting?

6.     How to overcome our own anger and judgement towards birth parents?

7.     How to establish healthy boundaries?

8.     Is it possible to do partnership parenting with incarcerated parents?

9.     How to handle Social media

10.  Becoming a parenting mentor to birth parents. What are some skills that birth parents may need help developing and how can foster parents help? (importance of routine, working with the school, discipline, normal child developmental stages, how to find community support)

11.  How can we help birth parents shift their attitude towards the foster care system from existing to keep them from their children towards existing to help stabilize the family?

12.  What if:

  • What if the birth parent abused the child?
  • What if the birth parents don’t accept responsibility for what they did that caused the child to be removed?
  • What if the birth parent lies about what happened that resulted in the child being removed?

Don’t miss an episode. Be sure to subscribe.

Music Credit: Michael Ashworth

Image Credit: Diva Plavalaguna