By Dr. John DeGarmo
When a foster parent shares the nurturing of a foster child alongside the birth parents and caseworker, reunification tends to happen at a quicker and more successful rate. Co-parenting sees you, as a foster parent, working alongside the biological parents of the child living under your roof, and with your family. This may be the more difficult part of your job. To begin with, these may be the people who abused or neglected your foster child. Helping them might just be the last thing you wish to do. Therefore, it is important that you do not prejudge them before you meet them. What is important to consider, though, is that many biological parents of foster children were abused themselves, and know of no other way when raising children. Also disturbing is that some birth parents were foster children, as well, and are just repeating the cycle they went through as a child. Certainly, there are reasons why their children are in care that we may never understand. What is best for your foster child, though, is that you work alongside your caseworker, as well as the birth parents, and try to determine what is best for your foster child’s future, as well as how to best meet his needs in the present.
For birth parents and family members, you might be the best example of what a good parent is. Everything you do as a foster parent will send signals to the biological parents on how a parent should act, as well as how to treat their own children. When your foster child meets with his birth parents for visitations, he should be well dressed, clean, healthy and looking his best. As a foster parent, part of your mission is to support reunification with your foster child and his biological parents. Do your best to encourage reunification between the child and his parents. Find ways you can help the biological parents with their parenting skills. Discuss ways and ideas on how you can help them as they attempt to meet the requirements of reunification.
Your foster child’s family members will want to know what kind of family their child is living with, what his home life will be like, if he is being taken care of and many other concerns. After all, their child has been taken away from them, against their wishes, and placed in a strange home. They will have many concerns, and may not be as courteous to you as you might like. Be prepared for them to be hostile, rude, angry or even distant. Remember, they are hurting, and have been through a traumatic experience with the removal of their child. Respectfully encourage them to ask you as many questions as they would like. It is important that you answer their questions as honestly and as openly as possible, treating them with the utmost integrity, kindness and politeness.
Your foster child’s biological parents and family members will know him better than anyone, and your meeting with them will offer you the opportunity to learn a great deal about him, as well as acquire important information you might need. When you ask questions about their child, you are showing the birth parents that you are interested in him and his well being. By indicating, with your questions, that his parents are the experts, you will begin to form an important relationship, one that will benefit all involved. A list of questions prepared beforehand will help you gather the information you need.
As a foster parent, it is important to remember that your foster child’s biological parents are people in need, and they deserve your kindness and sympathy, not your anger. By working with them, and by showing them kindness and compassion, you will not only help them, you will teach your foster child an important lesson in love and humanity.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of “Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story,” and the new book “The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home.” He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, www.drejohndegarmo.com.