How to Co-parent in Foster Care With “Difficult” Birth Parents
In an ideal world, co-parenting (also called “shared parenting”) with our foster child’s birth parents goes smoothly. We are quickly able to assure them that our role is to help the child return home as soon as possible and that we are on their team and value their contribution. (Cue the happy/sappy music). And sometimes that is exactly how it works.
But sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes there are safety concerns with the birth family. Sometimes the birth parent’s anger at having their child removed is too great at first (and maybe forever) to form a working partnership with the resource family. Sometimes having their birth parents involved in their life on a regular basis is not in the best interest of the child.
Then what? Do we write the birth parents out of the child’s life? Do we revert to the olden days where birth parents and resources parents are kept apart with birth parents being viewed as the enemy? Is there a middle ground?
Each situation is different and resource parents need to work with the child’s caseworker and support team to decide what is best, but it is possible to find a middle ground where birth parents are kept involved to the degree that is in everyone’s best interest.
10 Tips for Co-Parenting in Foster Care in Difficult Situations
- Keep journals on the activities of the children and share them with the birth family.
- Take pictures of the child’s activities to share with the birth family. Make sure that the majority of these pictures are of the child without you in the picture.
- Ask for a picture of the birth family to put in the child’s room (if this is OK with the child).
- Save notes, schoolwork, art projects, etc. for the birth parents.
- On special occasions when the child is making an art project at school, ask the teacher if the child can make two—one to hang on the fridge at the resource family’s home and one to give to their birth parent. This is especially important on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
- Be as flexible as possible on visitations. If possible and not too inconvenient offer to provide transportation.
- If approved by your child’s caseworker, invite birth parents to parent-teacher meetings. If necessary, make sure that the teacher and school personnel include them in the discussion. When questions are asked, encourage the birth parent to answer first.
- Assist and encourage the birth family and the child to work on a Lifebook together.
- Include birth family members in school activities such as conferences, parents’ nights, and athletic events as well as in medical or dental appointments. This can allow the birth parents to practice normal parenting skills while the resource parent plays a mentoring and supportive role.
- If visitations are not in the child’s best interest or not possible because of location, initiate phone calls or video calls between the parent and child.
What are the Benefits of Co-Parenting in Foster Care?
Relationships by their very nature are unique and there is no script to follow in building a relationship with your foster child’s birth family. What research has shown us is that when possible it is best for children to be raised in their family. The best way to accomplish this when a child has been removed is for all parties to work together. Very often this means that foster parents have to step up to the plate and make the first move.
How has co-parenting worked with your foster child’s family?
Image credit: Phil Chambers; thetasha