An essential role can be played by birth parents assisting foster carers. No two situations are ever alike, but developing good relationships with birth parents; where appropriate, is in the interest of a child or young person. This is because it is natural for a youngster to expect that they will have contact and maintain a relationship with their birth family.
Fostering and birth parents
It is important that foster carers have a general understanding of the effects fostering can have on the birth parents of children in foster care. This is simply because a child or young person will, in most cases, be thinking that their birth family will play a part in their lives. It is important that there is regular and ongoing contact between children and their parents: children can feel relief at being removed from a traumatic and chaotic situation, but they will at the same time be dealing with feelings of sadness and loss.
This means their feelings will be confused, but having regular contact with their parents can help deal with these emotions. Past research shows that some children in care will devote time every day to thinking about their family. This is also the case where they have experienced neglect or abuse..
Foster carers should be aware that, when possible and advisable, developing good relationships with birth families is going to result in the best care for the child or young person. When meeting birth parents, taking an interest in their child’s routines – likes and dislikes, favourite meals, hobbies etc. can reassure the parents. This will establish the idea that everyone is working in the best interests of the child or young person. Contact is defined as being:
How fostering can affect the birth family
Most parents who have had a child or children taken into care experience a range of emotions. These can be powerful and can include sadness, anger, grief and worry – all of which can result in a sense of bereavement. Birth parents who find themselves subject to child protection procedures – especially court proceedings, can find this a very stressful and often distressing experience. These reactions can continue after it has been accepted there is a need for their child to be placed in care. It is also very common for the parents to feel abandoned once the court proceedings are over. Birth parents can also experience a loss of identity as well as a loss of control: these responses are not fixed, and can change as circumstances change.
Research shows how birth patents may respond
- A proportion of parents may have accepted the need for care at the time, but later be critical of the lack of support and then want the child or young person returned home;
- A proportion of parents blame the child for being difficult and ending up needing to go into care;
- A proportion of parents express anger with professionals at the time their child goes into care, but later assume some responsibility for the situation;
- A proportion of parents are angered by their child going into care and remain so. They have not accepted the need for their child to be in care and blame social workers;/LI>
- A proportion of parents do accept their responsibility and recognise their child needs to be in care. They value support from social workers as well as appreciating the work of the foster carer(s).
Care planning and the role of the social worker
The care planning process for a foster child needs their birth families to be involved right from the start. They need to be engaged with the decision making process and, where possible and appropriate, the inclusion of grandparents and siblings. When fostering children, carers should be aware that many of the parents of looked after children have experienced difficult and insecure attachments when children themselves. They are also likely to have faced one or a number of problems, that may include relationship difficulties, poor mental health, substance misuse, alcohol or drug addiction or poverty.
Foster carers will be closely supported in their contacts with birth families by social workers. A child or young person is more likely to lose contact with their parents the longer they remain in care: it is very important that carers work with families to help support contact.
Foster carers should be aware that, when possible and advisable, developing good relationships with birth families is going to result in the best care for the child or young person. When meeting birth parents, taking an interest in their child’s routines – likes and dislikes, favourite meals, hobbies etc. can reassure the parents. This will establish the idea that everyone is working in the best interests of the child or young person. An essential role is played by foster families in assisting birth parents to stay emotionally connected to their child or young person. When this works well, it can be of enormous benefit and facilitate reunification.