How to Co-parent in Foster Care With “Difficult” Birth Parents

Dawn Davenport


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.

Tips for co-parenting with birth parents who might be difficult to work with

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.

child's school work displayed on refrigerator

Save notes, schoolwork, art projects, etc. for the birth parents.

10 Tips for Co-Parenting in Foster Care in Difficult Situations

  1. Keep journals on the activities of the children and share them with the birth family.
  2. 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.
  3. Ask for a picture of the birth family to put in the child’s room (if this is OK with the child).
  4. Save notes, schoolwork, art projects, etc. for the birth parents.
  5. 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.
  6. Be as flexible as possible on visitations. If possible and not too inconvenient offer to provide transportation.
  7. 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.
  8. Assist and encourage the birth family and the child to work on a Lifebook together.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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

17/06/2019 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 2 Comments

2 Responses to How to Co-parent in Foster Care With “Difficult” Birth Parents

  1. Avatar Sari Tompkins says:

    I’m reading about all the ideas and things that I can do as a Foster parent. But what how do handle things when the birth parents continuously make promises to the child and never follow through.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      That is a tough one, for sure, Sari! Some ideas to consider:

      -Have a private conversation with the birth parents in which you empathize with their difficulty in follow-through, express compassionate understanding for regular life obstacles that make it hard to make promises and keep them, etc.
      -Ask how you can help with some of those obstacles. Brainstorm solutions with them if they allow you to.
      -Ask if they could consider not sharing plans with the kids “too far out” from the actual event, or if they’d be willing to share plans with you but keep them from the kids until the actual event is able to happen. This gives you time to plan and to adjust without having to disappoint the kids over something that they’d been looking forward to.
      -Talk with the kids when a disappointment happens about trying to be flexible, giving grace to folks who struggle, finding something else to look forward to, and even how they can still connect with Mom or Dad by drawing a picture or sending a text in place of the event.

      You might also find some great ideas from other foster parents in our online support community to help you think creatively about the issue. Find us at

      Good luck!

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