After a long (pandemic) break from creating content for foster parents, I am back to it, and one of my goals is to respond to the many questions that have come in over the last year from viewers on YouTube. Recently, someone commented, “If you haven’t already and don’t mind, I’d love to see a video about how you keep in contact with your kids’ first families.”
I have actually thought about doing a video on this topic for some time, and as I started thinking through how to respond, I realized that there are really two ways to answer this question: one for foster parents, and one for adoptive parents.
So I recorded two different videos, and today the second one is available.
I encourage you to watch the video for more info, but the nutshell is, I encourage adoptive parents to practice openness and hospitality with their children’s family of origin as much as possible. That can look several different ways, depending on everyone involved. Regardless of the extent of connection you maintain, it is vital to the emotional health and well-being of your child(ren) that you practice openess as much as possible. As I said in the video, we need to pull all of the skeletons out of the closet for our kids, so they don’t have to. Not talking about their back stories will not make them go away. Rather than have young people who have to guess and wonder and obsess over their identity and where they come from, we can offer them as much support as possible in openness and transparency.
I hope you find this resource helpful! And if you’re a member of an adoption triad (birth parent/adoptee/adoptive parent), I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve said here. Please share your comments below!
When it comes to communicating with your foster child’s family, I encourage foster parents to make every effort to connect. The goal of foster care is reunification, and data shows that parents who have contact with their children while they are in foster care are more motivated to do the hard work required of them to get their children back. This may include parenting classes, outpatient recovery programs, inpatient treatment, and more. But even if the parents themselves are not involved, contact with other members of the child’s family—aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents—can help the child stay connected and keep a sense of their identity and sense of home within that family.
I have found that you can expect the interactions to look one of four ways.
First, and ideally, there is the mutual relationship between a foster parent and their foster child’s parent(s) or family members. This is when all of the adults involved in the child’s life—from your home and their family of origin—recognize the benefit of their communication for the child who is in care. I have experienced this several times, to varying degrees. It may mean touching base by phone, keeping the parent update with photos and texts, and even meeting up in person for park playdates. In one case, I developed such a good rapport with a woman whose daughter was with us that I wrote a letter to the judge on her behalf, and after the little girl was reunified with her mom, we continued to see each other periodically. In another case, we became friends with the aunt and uncle of a child who was in our care, and over the course of time, we actually visited one another’s homes, sharing meals together and celebrating milestones in the child’s life.
The second and most common communication I have experienced as a foster parent is a one-sided relationship. This is when a foster parent sends updates to a parent without much/any response from the parent. For a variety of reasons, parents of children in foster care may struggle with being in touch with their child’s foster parent. Shame, grief, substance abuse, and fear are all contributing factors to why a parent might “go dark.” Still, I encourage foster parents to do their part to stay in touch and keep sending the parent updates, either directly (if you have their contact information) or through the case manager.
The third and least common communication I have experienced as a foster parent is hostilecommunication. This is when a parent treats the foster parent with open hostility, lodges unmerited complaints or accusations, threatens the foster parent, or otherwise makes a mutual relationship impossible. I have only experienced this one time in my years of foster parenting, but it definitely left an impression! We faced allegations of neglect from parents we had never met. We were cleared of all allegations, but the experience of being under investigation made it impossible for us to be in touch with that child’s parents or have any kind of fruitful dialogue.
The fourth style of communication I have experienced with the parent(s) of children in our care is the absent or unresponsive parent. Sadly, I have experienced this a number times, and in my experience, those cases typically go to severance, or termination of parental rights. This is the case where the child is scheduled for visits that the parent does not show up for, phone calls with the parent that never happen, or the parent otherwise going off the grid and making no contact with their child or case manager for months at time, if ever. This is very hard for the child in care, as they are left to wonder about their parent’s well-being and progress.
Ultimately, a foster parent can only do so much. But in as much as it is up to the foster parent, I encourage pursuing a mutual relationship if at all possible. Will it get messy? You bet it will. Awkward, uncomfortable, and frustrating? Sometimes, yes. But if a child can experience a good rapport between her mom or dad and her foster parent, that child has a solid shot at getting through her stint in foster care without as much damage as she would otherwise.
If you are a foster parent, I would love to hear from you. What has been your experience when it comes to communication with your foster child’s family?
Anyone who is involved with the world of adoption knows that adoption has lifelong implications for everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, the people who are adopted from one family into another.
Until very recently, adoption was almost always shrouded in secrecy. The link between the birth parent and the adopted person was held in file boxes on the shelves of adoption agencies, paperwork that connected the adopted child to the parent or parents they came from. In order to access that information, adoptees and birth parents had to pay money. Had to know where to start. And had to rely on the cooperation of whomever received their request for information.
Nowadays, we recognize the importance of transparency in adoption and the benefits of a child knowing about their birth family and even having relationships with them. Most adoptions today are open, with at least some sort of contact between birth and adoptive families, but that leaves thousands of adopted adults with gaping holes in their life stories. In response to this, in 2018, Amara, a foster care and adoption agency in Seattle, launched Project Search and Reunion, a ground-breaking initiative that aims to audit 3,100 of their own adoption files between the years of 1950 and 2000 to ensure that adoptees and birth families receive the information and support they requested, especially in regard to searching.
In March, just before the world shut down and we all went into quarantine, I had a chance to hear a presentation about this important work, and in the latest episode of A Fostered Life Podcast, I’m speaking with Rena Konomis, a Washington state court appointed Confidential Intermediary and Project Director of Project and Search and Reunion. Listen as Rena explains the goal of the project and why it matters for everyone involved with the world of adoption.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!