Building safe relationships with our child's parents
When I became a foster parent, my plan was to start out just doing respite/emergency care for the first 6 months or so. I ended up taking the first two children placed in my home for long-term placement. It's funny when we make plans, isn't it? The sisters, ages 6 and 8 at the time, were with me for just over 6 months until they were reunified with their mother and two other siblings. It was the best and hardest 6 months of my life up to that point. I fell in love with the sisters from day 1 and gave them my whole heart. It was also clear to me from day 1 that the best thing for these sisters was to go home to their mom, who loved them dearly.
Their mom and I started communicating a couple of weeks after they were placed with me, mainly through text message. I would send her photos and we would talk about the girls and how they were doing. It was obvious to me from the start that the sisters had been well loved throughout their lives. They were very attached to their mom and siblings and were also able to attach to me quickly - which may seem counter-intuitive but is a great sign that kids have good attachment. This made it easy for me to want to build a relationship with her and to help them have extra contact that what the state could offer (with the state's permission, of course!). Over the weeks and months, trust began to build between us. She would confide in me about things going on in their case; I would help guide her through the maze that is child welfare. By the time July rolled around (they were placed with me in April), I felt comfortable enough with our relationship to have her over to my home. She and her mom came for big sister's birthday, along with their two siblings who were placed together in another town. It was a really sweet time together. There was a mutual respect between their mom and I that allowed for things to feel natural and really pretty easy. I usually deferred to her to parent them and would only step in to support her decisions. Our relationship grew to the point that by the time Halloween came - which was a BIG deal in their family - I invited mom and the girls' siblings to come to our home for trick or treating and mom stayed the night at our home that night since she lived an hour and a half away. It was such a gift to be able to give that time to her and the sisters!
When the time came in November for the sisters to return home, I asked the state if I could be the one to drive them home, instead of having a worker come. So we loaded up the car with all of their things and made the 90 minute trip to bring them home. When we got there, their mom had a card for me. I will treasure that card with her sweet message to me, for the rest of my life. We hugged each other and cried. I drove away from their home knowing that the sisters were exactly where they needed to be. And then I pulled over a block away and sobbed in my car because my heart was broken. Just because something is right, doesn't mean it's easy.
Things with their mom weren't always easy, either. There were times of frustration. There were times when we didn't agree on parenting strategies or when she made a decision I didn't like. But we both loved the same children. We had the same goal. She had so much grace with me- she could have easily felt threatened by me and resentful; instead, she thanked me all the time for loving her children well. So when we disagreed or when I felt frustrated, I reminded myself of that common goal, of how hard she was working, and of all of the things she had overcome in her life.
The sisters have been home with her now for nearly a year and a half. I still see and talk to the sisters and their mom regularly. We consider each other extended family. I share this story because I want others to know that it's possible that have a real, genuine partnership and friendship with our foster child's parent. I think we owe it to our kids to have the best possible relationship that we can with their parents. I know that this situation isn't always feasible, but whatever it looks like for us to make that next step in building a safe relationship with our child's parents, I think we need to take that step.
What is one small reform you think would benefit the foster care community?
A small reform that I think would benefit the foster care community is for all children who are receiving mental health services to automatically be referred for a trauma assessment as well
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Emily and I've been a single foster mama for just over two years. I live in the Midwest, in the smallest city I've ever lived in (about 60,000 but half of that is because of the university here) and I have a deep love for it - I've been known to refer to it as The Promised Land. I am a family & victim advocate at our local child advocacy center.