Tips for Co-Parenting with Your Foster Child’s Birth Parent

Foster parents are expected to work with the child’s birth parents to nurture and care for this child. There is good evidence that this is good for the child, but how in the world do foster parents create this co-parenting relationship. We include six concrete tips for co-parenting with your foster child’s birth parents.

Relationships are hard under the best of circumstances and a relationship with your foster child’s birth parent is about as far from the best of circumstances as anyone can imagine. You may have little in common and you certainly bring different skills to the relationship. Plus, the best relationships share power, but although the term “co-parenting” implies equality, the power balance in this relationship is not in the birth parent’s favor.

All of these factors make establishing a co-parenting relationship difficult, but we offer the following six tips for smoothing the way. (Go over these tips with the child’s caseworker first.)

1. Make Contact as Soon as Possible

Foster parents should contact the birth parents in person or by phone as soon as possible after placement. Assure them that you are going to take good care of the child for as long as they are in your home. Sadly, the biological parent may have heard scary stories about foster parents hurting children, being overly strict, or only “doing it for the money”. If a meeting or call is not possible, send a note that says: “I will take care of your child until he can go back home. I know you miss each other.”

2. Don’t Try to Replace Them

Assure the birth parent that you are not trying to replace them in their child’s life. Respect that they know their child better than anyone else. Ask them questions about their child’s likes and dislikes. “What do your children like to eat?” “What allergies do they have?” “What is their bedtime routine?” “Are they afraid of the dark?” “What do you want the children to call us?”

3. Talk Positively in Front of Child

It is important to not say negative things about the birth parent to the child. Use words that strengthen the connection between parent and child. “Your mom really loves you.” “I bet your dad will love this drawing.” “Your mom is going to be so proud of this ‘A’ on your spelling test.”

4. Don’t Take Their Anger Personally

Expect the birth parent to be angry and don’t be surprised if that anger is initially directed at you. Remember that anger can look like hostility, rudeness, or distance. Understand that this anger is an expression of intense grief and fear.

5. Include Them

With your child’s caseworker’s permission, invite the birth parents to medical appointments, school activities and meetings, church functions, community activities, birthdays, and holidays. At these events, introduce the birth parent as the child’s parent. Ask doctors and school personnel to discuss their children’s needs with the birth parents rather than directing their communication to you. The goal is to encourage the birth parents to step back into the parenting role.

6. Build Them Up

When you are involved with your foster child’s parents, they are at the lowest moment of their life. Anything you can do to build them up and recognize their strengths will go a long way toward helping your relationship and helping them be better parents. At each visit or call, say something positive and affirming.

  • “Congratulations on getting your GED. Let’s celebrate at our next visit.”
  • “You look great in that yellow shirt.”
  • “Junior loves the way you fix pot roast. Will you tell me how to make it?”
  • “Suzy is the fastest runner on her soccer team. Does she get her speed from you?”

Treat your foster child’s biological parents with the kindness that you would want to be treated. Remember that you are modeling good adult behavior to them, as well as to your foster child.

What other tips can you share that have helped you co-parent with your foster child’s birth parents?

Image credit: pxhere; Geetha Krishna; jrwi