Some aspects of a foster parent's job description are easy to understand and expected, such as the day to day care and concern of a child. The other aspects of foster parenting may come as a surprise to those new to the world of the foster care system. As foster parents we are also often asked to mentor birth parents and help them learn basic parenting skills. Remember, many birth parents were once in the foster care system themselves and being in the foster care system becomes an ongoing generational thing.
One is the task of maintaining and growing bonds between foster children and their birth parents. It's easy for birth parents to feel left out when it comes to the lives of their children. Yes, making sure foster children in your care get to their family visits in a timely manner is an important part of fostering; the other part of fostering involves building and maintaining those connections in between those family visits.
Here are several ideas on how to keep the attachment between parent and child strong in-between visits. Many of the ideas listed below may be more appropriate if the family is close to reunification. Also, try to look at these activities as opportunities to mentor the birth parents on parenting skills.
Note: Most of the ideas listed should be approved by the social worker over the case, especially if it involves contact with the birth parents. Pick out some ideas below that you feel comfortable with and present them to your worker during a home visit or at the next case planning meeting.
Phone calls with birth parents.
Emails and letters between birth parents and children.
Skype with parents mid-week.
Have the child draw a weekly picture for their parent about their favorite weekly event.
Invite birth parents to school programs.
Invite birth parents to dance or musical programs, whether they are for the community, school, or church.
Invite birth parents to the child's sporting events.
If the children are involved in Scouting, invite the parents to weekly meetings, or special events.
Invite the parent to attend church with your family one Sunday.
Make sure they know about school meetings with teachers, counselors, or other school administrators.
Inform birth parents about all doctor appointments and invite them to attend if they are available.
Invite birth parents to join you on family outings – like to the zoo, the park, the circus, or to a picnic.
Invite the birth parent to your home for Sunday dinner.
If the foster child is younger, invite the birth parent over one or two days a week to help get the child ready for bed.
If the child is school aged, invite the birth parent over one or two days a week to help the child get ready for school.
Ask the birth parents to help you plan the child's birthday party.
Send the birth parent information that the child needs for their life book or for school projects.
Utilize a sharing journal and invite the birth parent to write a note back to the child or to you if they need to ask you a question or pass along information.
Share a picture a day with the birth parent where the child takes a picture each day and sends to the parent through a cell phone and the birth parent does the same in return.
If the child is over 13, and everyone on the team agrees, carefully consider a Facebook account for your foster child, if it is tightly monitored.
I hope the ideas above help you accomplish this important task and bring about family reunification for your foster child's family.