EPIC Blog: Partnering Well With Biological Parents - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: Partnering Well With Biological Parents

June 16th, 2021 l Author: Barbara Hunter, MSW

Among the many myths that circulate the world of child welfare are the ones labeling biological caregivers who get their kids taken away as “bad” individuals who are selfish, don’t love their children, and should never have their kids returned to their custody. Stereotypes like this not only based in untruths, but harmful to the children we serve.

In order to truly advocate for the best interest of each child or youth in foster care, we need to activate a healthy understanding, sense of empathy, and spiritual perspective when working with their biological caregivers. No matter the reason a foster child’s removal, it is not our responsibility to choose, or make the judgement deciding who is deserving of grace, advocacy, and love, and who is not. Every family, no matter their circumstances, deserves to be seen through a lens of dignity. Scripture tells us that, “they will know you by your love” (John 13:35), and it should be our goal for biological caregivers to identify us [the foster care community] as loving individuals who showed them mercy in their time of distress.

Educating ourselves on the root causes of child maltreatment can help us see biological caregivers in a new light. The most common type of neglect reported within child welfare is physical neglect, indicating a child was living with unmet basic needs, which strong correlates to poverty. In 2017, 27% of all children in the U.S. were found to be living below the federal poverty line with parents who lacked secure employment. Families living below the poverty line are at higher risk of violence and disruption within their own communities and neighborhoods. Findings suggest that poverty leads to mental health and developmental problems that in turn prevent individuals and families from breaking out of poverty, creating a vicious, intergenerational cycle of both poverty and poor mental health. These risk factors can lead to addiction and other situations that can become unsafe for a child.

The reality is however, that the inability to meet material need does not negate a parent’s love for their child. Neglect may have occurred because the primary caregiver has challenges that, in most cases, can be overcome with the right support, treatment, and encouragement.

In addition to understanding the social issues that affect under-resourced families, how else can we partner well with biological caregivers whose children are currently placed in foster care?

Here are a few ideas:

– Be intentional about reaching out to them routinely with kind, simple messages, even if they do not reciprocate. Practice authenticity, kindness, and encouragement whenever you interact with them. You are most likely to build trust with biological caregivers when they believe you are trying to support them.

– Ask non-threatening questions and identify what a biological caregiver may need to further progress in their case plan. When appropriate, step into this gap or communicate these needs to the family’s caseworker. Has mom’s therapy been put in place? Does the father have a ride to the next court hearing? Has the grandmother been cleared to supervise visits? Your simple advocacy can keep things moving along in the case and show the biological family that you are an ally.

– If you are a foster parent, co-parent with your foster child’s biological caregivers by inviting them into the child’s developmental journey. For example, you can leave a journal in the child’s backpack with notes on all the different “wins” they have accomplished that week so that the biological caregiver can read through them when they meet with the child for a visitation. When birthdays or holidays come around, you can host an additional gathering wherever you feel most comfortable for the child’s biological family to enjoy spending time with yours.

– Ultimately, reframe your heart to believe that a biological caregiver’s success, is your success. Building relationship with biological families frees us to operate under the mindset that communicates, “We are on the same team.” This posture shapes our heart to fully embrace, love, and honor every piece of our foster children – including their history, family, flesh and blood.