Most children enter foster care due to neglect or abuse. It is hard to parent these precious children without feeling some anger and judgment against the people who were supposed to protect and care for them—their parents. But that anger and judgment is the single biggest obstacle to helping our foster children.

It is so darn easy to judge our foster child’s biological family, but this judgment can interfere with developing a healthy relationship with the birth family. And good research has shown that a healthy co-parenting relationship between foster and birth parents is best for kids.

Co-parenting is when foster parents work together with their foster child’s birth parents to nurture and care for this child. The foster parents include the birth parents whenever possible in parenting decision and provide a role model for birth parents on how to parent in a healthy way.

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Judgment often begins before we even meet our foster child’s biological parents. It’s easy to make assumptions from what you’ve heard or imagine. After all, they had to have done something pretty bad to have their child removed. Right? While this is often the case, it is important to remember that it isn’t always the case.

More important, you often don’t have enough information at the very beginning to put the biological parent’s action into context. Perhaps, context will not make a difference, but withhold judgment until you know.

co-parenting in foster care
Remember that you don’t have all the facts at the beginning.

Avoiding the Temptation of Judgment

By asking you to avoid judgment, we aren’t asking you to approve of your foster child’s birth parents’ parenting style or even their values and morals. We are asking you to focus on compassion.

Most of us parent the way we were parented and live out the morals and values that were instilled in us as children. Chances are very good that your foster child’s parent is following the parenting style that was used on her and acting out the values that she was exposed to.

If you think about it, there are hundreds of breaks you and I have received in life that your foster child’s birth parent likely didn’t have. It helps strengthen our compassion muscle to list a few in our head when we start to judge. I bet you had at least a couple of these breaks in your life.

  • Had at least one person in our life that believed in us.
  • Had parents that valued education.
  • Were not abused.
  • Had at least one parent that was not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Were raised in a household where monthly bills were usually paid.
  • Didn’t have a parent that was in jail.
  • Etc.

Your role is not to be judge and jury in your foster child’s birth parent’s life. They are already going through what is probably the worst time of their life. Yes, they may have brought some or all of it on themselves, but they are still scared and feeling like a failure. The least you can do is treat them with the dignity and kindness that you would want someone to treat you when you have made the biggest mistake of your life.

how to co-parent with your foster child's birth parent in foster care
When you feel like judging, it helps to count the many breaks you likely have had that your foster child’s birth parent has not had.

Stow the Judgment and Start Co-Parenting

Once you’ve got your judgment under control, along with the caseworker, work with your foster child’s birth parents to set up a co-parenting plan. Start small with phone calls and meetings to answer questions and to assure them that their child is safe and that you aren’t trying to push them out of their child’s life.

Treat them as the person who knows their child best. Ask them questions on what the child likes and dislikes. What has worked to get him to do his homework? How have they handled her fear of going to the doctor? They may not have an answer or you may not want to use their approach, but asking the question goes a long way to set the tone for an ongoing co-parenting relationship.

An Added Benefit to the Foster Family

By working with your foster child’s birth parents and by treating them with dignity and kindness, you may also benefit. When birth parents feel less threatened and realize that you are on their side, they are more likely to help their child adjust to your home.

Research has shown that foster children who are able to maintain a relationship with their birth parents are better behaved both in the foster home and in school. One of the best ways to help the child maintain a relationship with her biological family is to create a healthy respectful co-parenting relationship with her birth parents.

The birth parents can reassure their child that you are not the enemy and that you want what is best for him. They can let him know that he needs to obey your rules.

Your Shared Goal

You and your foster child’s birth family have a shared goal—getting the child home as soon as is safely possible. By setting up an attitude of working together you will achieve this goal sooner. And most important, you are modeling to your shared child that you both want what is best for her.

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Image credit: Claire (disapproving leaves); Shakreez (silouette); Charles Williams  (Mr. Potato Head)