Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Myth 3: Birthparents are the Enemy

Last year, a friend of mine had her children placed in foster care. Walking through that journey with her as well as getting to know my foster kid's families more and more, I have found my preconceptions challenged and sometimes shattered. It seems self-evident, but birth families* are such a huge part of what I do as a foster parent. And this reality in deeper when you actually become a foster parent and open up your heart to children and all of the family that comes with them.

The sad truth is that in many foster care situations, the birth family becomes an adversary. They are to be feared, worked around and tolerated while the children are still in foster care and then if the kids are adopted, so long birth family.

As foster parents, I think we can do better. In fact, I know we can do better. The first step is bringing the atmosphere of respect to foster care. We need to acknowledge the families ongoing role in the child's life, no matter why the child came into care. Refer to them as Mom and Dad,* commit to using kindness in your words about the child's family at all times and take a look at your own preconceptions about birth families and remember that just as all children are not the same, all families are not the same.

Along with respect, a key thing is to treat all members of the birth family as real people. The golden rule comes to mind. Do for the family of your foster kids, what you would want done for you if your children were removed from your home. Imagine it, what you you want?  As a Mom, I would want to know everything I could about what my child's life was like at their new home. I would want to meet the people caring for them. I would love pictures of the child to see that they are happy, safe, loved, etc. I would appreciate phone calls and copies of artwork. I would understand that I might not be able to come to your home or know your last name right away, but I would want to know you and be sure that my child is safe. {Podcast: Opening Up to to Birth Parents}

That being said, as a foster parent, it is your job to keep that child safe. There is a reason the child was removed from their home, so use wisdom, ask your social worker before disclosing too much about yourself, address, last name, etc. And always be honest with the social worker if things are unsafe or questionable. It is your job to support the child and sometimes that means you need to "tattle" on a family member. Even this can be done with respect.

Finally, we need to remember the birth family and the foster family are on the same team. The "family" part of both names gives it away. Everyone loves & cares for this child and wants the very best for them. Somewhere in the first conversation with every new family, I say, "I want you to know, I am on your team. I care about your child already and want to see them have the very best this life has to offer. I am on your team."  An audible sigh always comes next. It puts me and them on the same side of the big bad system and keeps the child in focus. With that, as hard as it is for my heart, I almost always fight for reunification. If it is safe and pretty healthy, it is best for kids and when I am on the same team as the birth family I realize it isn't ME VS THEM. It is all about the kids.

There are times when kids can't go home. When things with their families haven't changed enough and when they aren't safe being there. Then I continue the fight for the child - whether that is adoption by me or by another family member or something else. But, their family will always be a part of them and if I can do the respect and honor thing right - they can be a treasured part of who they are - even if they can't live with them anymore.

If I am respecting the birth family, taking care of the kids and being honest with the social workers about the good, the bad and the ugly, I have to let the rest go and remember that whatever happens birthparents are not the enemy.

*Throughout this post I use the term birth family for clarity, but keep in mind that until a court of law terminates those relationships, they are simply the child's family. And the focus of this post is specifically on families of kids in foster care.


  1. Interesting comments about birth families - true in many ways, but you must not have had an experience where the birth parents are making false accusations of you the foster parent of abusing their child ... or the birth parent is with -holding vital health information so the foster parents "look bad." Of course that doesn't mean that you speak poorly about them in front of the children, but not all birth family relationships are good intereactions.

    1. I agree! The bio parents hate us! They see us as the enemy, not the other way around. It's hard to work as a team when they are consistently trying to find something wrong with us. We have fueled, trust me. It is hard! I want the best for them but they don't great or see that. What do we do in these situations.

  2. I'm glad I found this. I have been having such a hard time recently. My husband and I have our niece as a foster child and I must admit I often look at my sister in law as the enemy. It's so hard to love this child so much but realize that no matter what you do you are never going to replace their parents and they will always love you different. It's heartbreaking to hear her say every time her mom visits that she wants to return home with her and doesn't want to live here anymore. I admittedly have been having a hard time bonding because I'm afraid of our outcome in 6 months. I wish there was more support groups and people to speak openly about this to. It's difficult when her mother visits because she's acts up something terrible we're talking peeing her pants (she's fully potty trained) making people feed her being excessively whiney things of that nature. It's really hard to not see her mom as the enemy. And she acts horrible towards us telling us she doesn't like us when usually she's very cuddly and loveable. She's recently been having some serious issues at school with violent behavior towards herself and the staff these seem to get worse with more frequent visits from her mother. I often times find it hard to cope and it sometimes upsets me to the point of regretting my decision and wanting to give up.


It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa