May is National Foster Care Month. However, traditional foster care is undergoing change.
Here’s the vision of the federal Children’s Bureau:
Rather than “rescuing” children, we can—as one outstanding parent attorney explains her work to her own children—”save families.” Foster care can and should be a way to strengthen families, by building their capacities and giving them the support they need to heal and function in safe and healthy ways. It is not currently designed to operate in such ways.
At the Children’s Bureau, we believe strongly that foster care can and should be reconceptualized as a service to the entire family, as a key component in the need to create the conditions for strong and thriving families and communities where children are free from harm. Resource or foster parents can be specifically recruited and trained to be a support to families and to help create those conditions, to work alongside parents as mentors to help them realize their full potential. Foster care can be a way to form meaningful relationships and human connections, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Foster care can be a way to wrap support around a family and promote child and parent well-being, family integrity, and parental agency (Milner and Kelly, 2019: https://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/index.cfm?event=website.viewArticles&issueid=206§ionid=2&articleid=5338).
How do we “wrap support around a family and promote child and parent well-being, family integrity, and parental agency?” Here’s what the research says: The key characteristics of family-centered practices include: treating families with dignity and respect; providing individual, flexible and responsive support; sharing information so families can make informed decisions; ensuring family choice regarding intervention options; and providing the necessary resources and supports for parents to care for their children in ways that produce optimal parent and child outcomes (Trivette and Dunst, 2014: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/parenting-skills/according-experts/community-based-parent-support-programs).
The American Bar Association has tips for foster parents to help them support reunifying children with their parents (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/permanency/reunification/). Here are four goals that include practical ways of achieving them:
Respect the Birth Parents and Be Compassionate
- Believe people can change
- Assume that things will go well
- Understand that the families often have different life experience than you
- Look for ways to break down barriers
Encourage Visitation (Parenting or Family Time) and Regular Contact
- Advocate for increased visitation whenever safe
- Encourage children to have phone calls with family, especially during the week and multiple times per week
- Help children video chat with their birth parents and family members
Communicate with the Family Regularly
- Stay in constant contact; tell them it’s ok to call any time
- Send pictures, photos, art projects, grades, etc. with the children to visits
- Have as many early conversations with parents as possible
- Transport kids to visits rather than using transporters if you are able
Remember that Safe Reunification is Best for the Children
- Family units are important; parents should have their children when at all possible
- Agencies and foster families need to prioritize reunification over adoption when possible
- Foster parents need to be on board with reunification from the beginning
- As long as the family is trying, it’s always better to focus on reunification
For more information, visit the National Foster Care Month website: https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director