Returning A Foster Child To Biological Family: The Foster Parent's Role

How can I help a child return home to a biological family?

Helping a Foster Child Return to Their Biological Family

Foster parents' support is vital for a successful return to the biological family of a foster child.

So often, we focus on the beginning of the fostering journey. That is undoubtedly important, as many people want to know what they've signed up for as foster parents.

Equally important is helping youth and families through their path to permanency and eventually helping youth transition back to their biological families. When people find out that I work in the foster care realm, the phrase "I just don't think I could let them go," referring to the children, comes up in almost every conversation.

While it certainly isn't easy to assist a youth's transition out of their home, that is generally the goal of foster care, as it is meant to be temporary. Of course, successfully helping youth and families meet permanency can be bittersweet because while it means the system succeeded in one way, it means no longer having that youth live in your home. The experience can also be rewarding because you have potentially helped grow a family's support system and forged new relationships for life.

This isn't always easy. Biological families are often right in the middle of the most stressful times of their lives, separated from their loved ones and watching practical strangers raise their children. Most important is that foster and biological families have a common goal: to have the youth be safe, stable, and happy. Becoming a united team takes time, but tiny moments throughout the youth's time in foster care can turn into a strong relationship that spans years.

How does this happen? This starts with the biological family maintaining a connection with their children. At the same time, they're in care by attending visitations, having phone calls, participating in medical visits, etc. Whether short-term or long-term, whatever we can do to support a healthy relationship with parents, social services, child-placing agencies, and social workers will benefit the child's welfare.

It's almost impossible for biological family members and foster family to avoid contact during a child's time in care. Like any other relationship, foster and biological families find common ground during these events: the kids. If you wish to be a foster or an adoptive parent in time, working with the permanency goals is essential for the child's welfare.

The olive branch I see foster parents extend by asking the birth parents what the youth enjoys or what helps soothe them when they're scared or frustrated. Seeing their adults on the same page is essential for any child, especially a child in foster care.

As youth begin transitioning home, the foster parent's responsibility is to help make that transition go as smoothly as possible. Many foster parents I've worked with will create a binder of the youth's providers, appointments, and anything else that may have occurred while the child was in care.

This is a way for the family to track what has happened with the youth while placed out of the home. Often, transitioning back into the biological family's home is a slow process, starting with overnights, weekend visits, and, finally, the significant trial home placement.

Another thing I've seen some of my rockstar foster parents do when youth transition home is making sure they get haircuts or using the last of the DSS clothing allowance to make sure they have clothes that fit - to take small things off of the biological family's plate.

After the fact, there's no guarantee that a family will keep in touch. However, in my experience, many biological families will want to continue some relationship. Foster parents have left an impact not only on a child's life but also on the family. This relationship can take different forms after a child leaves the foster parent's home, but they will always know that there's another adult in the world rooting for them. 

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