Co-Parenting With Birth Parents in Foster Care

foster family sitting on a couch in a white room

Researchers have found that 20% of abused foster youth have experienced symptoms of PTSD. Kids in the foster system have increased rates of trauma exposure, but there are steps you can take as a foster parent to help them cope. 

One method to help reduce these youth's stress and trauma is co-parenting with birth parents in foster care. 

Co-parenting may make it easier on the child going through this transition period. Keep reading to learn more about it. 

What Is Co-Parenting? 

Co-parenting is when a foster parent shares the responsibilities of caring for a foster child with the biological parents and the caseworker assigned to the child. There are many ways to co-parent, and no case will be the same. The key is to consider the child's needs and try to help them as much as possible. 

Of course, there are some difficulties with co-parenting on both sides, and there may be mixed emotions. However, it's vital to remember that all foster and birth parents involved are concerned most with the welfare of the children in foster care. 

How Foster Parents and Birth Parents Can Work Together

As a foster parent, you may find working with the birth parents one of the most complex parts of your job. After all, you've come to love the foster child in your care, and it's often hard to come to terms with what the birth parents may have done. 

You must remember that kids end up in foster care for various reasons. Many are there due to neglect. However, neglectful parents are still human and prone to making mistakes. The relationship with the birth parent is going to help the parent and child heal together and we hope they learn some parenting skills from you so, partnering with birth parents is so important.

Issues such as depression, addiction, ignorance, bad relationships, and immaturity can all play a part in neglect. Of course, understanding why the birth parent neglected the child doesn't mean you need to excuse or forgive them. It's very typical to feel upset, angry, or protective. 

Understanding these emotions and working past them can help foster youth avoid further trauma and find their permanent homes sooner, whether with extended family or back home with their birth family. 

It might help to put yourself in the birth parents' shoes for a moment. They're likely at the worst point in their life and feeling frustrated, panicked, angry, distressed, and more. Perhaps this experience has opened their eyes, and they're willing to take steps and make changes. 

At the very least, considering their perspective can help you show more compassion. 

Co-Parenting Recommendations and Techniques

Foster families play an essential role when it comes to promoting reunification. Part of the responsibilities of a foster parent includes working with the birth parents and other family members. Communication and respect are vital in developing a professional relationship that will benefit the child and the bio parents feel empowered to be successful. 

Here are some tips and techniques that might help develop a strategy for co-parenting: 

  • Encouraging communication (phone calls, video chats, etc.)
  • Telling the birth parents that you aren't there as a replacement
  • Emphasizing how much you want the child to feel loved
  • Sharing information (traditions, family background, etc.)
  • Talking with the birth parents to set up visits
  • Preparing the child for visits
  • Speaking positively about the biological parents
  • Keeping a positive attitude 
  • Seeking input and learning more about the child
  • Informing the birth parents about doctor's appointments, school, etc.

Parents play a pivotal role in a child's happiness and success. Work with the birth parents to discuss the best ways to help the child cope with the changes. Plan activities that make them happy and encourage communication. 

You can brainstorm with the birth parents on subjects such as: 

  • Discussing the importance of sticking to a routine
  • Talking about milestones in the child's life 
  • Discuss ways to be more active in the child's life
  • Share parenting techniques that seem to work 
  • Asking the parents for information on the child
  • Brainstorming ideas for visits, including how to build relationships

Developing Collaborative Co-Parenting Relationships

Kids in foster care usually benefit from co-parenting between the birth parents and the foster family because it creates a sense of unity and teamwork. There's less sense that they must divide their loyalty or choose which parents they like best. 

Being in foster care can be confusing and stressful for a child. Co-parenting can ease some of those anxieties. 

Learn to Act Compassionately

Again, you're dealing with the parent or parents at the worst point in their lives. They've lost their child, and someone else is caring for them. 

That isn't to say you have to forgive them for their mistakes and the ways the child has suffered in their care. However, learning compassion and acting with kindness will make a difference. 

Parents are only human, and they make mistakes like anyone else. They may plan on making changes and correcting those past behaviors. 

Put yourself in their shoes if you can. At the very least, learn to understand that they're likely going through many intense emotions, experiencing feelings of shame and regret, and more. 

Establish Methods of Communication

Either the caseworker or the court will set the visitation schedule. However, as a foster parent, you can take extra steps to ensure these visits are easier on everyone involved. 

Assure them you're not here as a replacement and that you genuinely care about the child's wellbeing. Tell the birth parents that you're taking good care of their child. 

Share cute stories about the activities you've done together, bring artwork or school projects the child made, and keep the birth parents involved. Communicating with the birth parents can make the entire process less awkward. 

Set Boundaries

While you want to remain open to communication and available to work with the child's birth parents, it's also essential to set your own boundaries. You have your own life and other responsibilities, after all. Make sure to set these boundaries and communicate them. 

Also, remember that the caseworker also plays a part in these relations. If you have any concerns about whether you're following the expectations set by the parenting plan, take these up with the caseworker. 

Co-parenting With Birth Parents in Foster Care

While co-parenting with birth parents in foster care may seem daunting initially, taking these steps will make it easier. Remember that communication is crucial and that you all have the child's welfare in mind. 

To learn more about fostering or becoming a foster parent, reach out to us. You can make a difference in a child's life here in Virginia! 

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