Adoptive and foster families are often in the position of maintaining a relationship with birth parents who are addicted. These practical tips may help.

Maintaining relationships with the drug addicted biological parent is complex

Addiction can happen to the best of families, but when it happens to our child’s birth family it is easy for us to judge and tempting for us to want to cut them out of our child’s life. Of course, if you are a foster parent, this is not for you to decide, but adoptive parents have this option. Think long and hard, however, before making this choice. These tips may give you another option.

Tips for Maintaining a Relationship with Birth Parents Who Are Addicted

1. Recognize Value

Start from the premise that you both love this child and both want to do what is best for him. Approach your child’s birth parents, even if they struggle with addiction, with the spirit of wanting to find the best way to move forward that honors openness in a healthy way for your child.

2. Laying Ground Rules

If possible, lay the ground rules for interacting with the child from the very beginning. If you are already into the relationship, schedule a time to meet with the birth parents without the child and explain your concerns from the perspective of what is in the best interest of this child you both love and establish ground rules for moving forward. If you are a foster parent you will need to work with the child’s caseworker to establish these rules.

3. Be Flexible on Day and Time

Suggest a different meeting time. “I notice that when you show up high, you are not very engaged with our daughter and she really needs that engagement. Would 10:00 in the morning be a better time?” If you are a foster parent you will need to work with the child’s caseworker to change the visitation day and time.

Flexible parenting will prevent stress on you and your child
As long as it is safe for the child and the case worker agrees, try to be as flexible as possible about meeting times with the parent struggling with addiction.

4. Expand Definition of ‘Family’

If a relationship with the birth mother or father is not possible at this time, is there someone else in the birth family that you and your child can be in contact with? If you are a foster parent you will need to work with the child’s caseworker to change the visitation agreement.

5. Avoid Meeting When Obviously Stoned

To avoid meetings where the birth parent is obviously stoned, try the following:

  • See if there is someone in the birth family who can meet with the birth mom or dad before you are scheduled to meet to determine if they are too high. If so, cancel the meeting until the next regularly scheduled meeting.
  • Work with an intermediary who will meet with the birth parent right before the scheduled meeting. If you are a foster parent ask the caseworker to meet with the birth parents first or to require the birth parents show up 30 minutes earlier at a neutral meeting place where someone can assess sobriety.
  • Require a blood test to detect the presence of drugs. The problem with blood tests is that they take time and the birth parent could take drugs between the test and when you meet. Blood tests also require abstinence over an extended period of time and what you may care most about is their sobriety at the time of the meeting.
  • Meet with the birth parent by yourself right before your meeting with the child to catch them up on what is happening in the child’s life and to determine if they are capable of meeting with your child.

6. Be Positive

Don’t demonize your child’s birth parents. Yes, they have a problem, but they still have value to your child and her identity. Find something positive to say about them.

It is important to remain positive about the parent struggling with addiction
It is important to remain positive about the parent struggling with addiction. Modeling healthy emotional regulation and providing positive support for your foster child’s family is extremely important to their security and development.

7. Don’t Make Changes in Stone

If you have to change the degree of openness, don’t set these changes in stone. Allow for growth and change in the future. People can get sober and do heal from addiction. Extend the grace of this possibility to your child’s parents.

8. Maintain Spirit of Openness

Think creatively about how to maintain the spirit of openness even if you are not able to meet in person. If you are the foster parent, you must work with your child’s caseworker on any changes to visitation.

  • Email or text between adoptive and birth parents.
  • Correspond or meet with someone else in the child’s birth family to keep the door open.
  • Set up a closed Facebook group for birth family where you can share pictures and information.
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Image credit: WeTravel; Steven Depolo