Maintaining Relationships with Foster Youth After Returning Home

Maintaining Relationships with Foster Youth After Returning Home

Staying in touch with foster children

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month in the United States. This year we are collecting stories from our Foster Parents and team to raise awareness. FosterVA, which Extra Special Parents lead, hopes these stories might inspire you to get involved in your community as a support or even become a foster parent in Virginia yourself! Click the link at the bottom of this page to learn more.

So often, when speaking about fostering youth, there is an unspoken fear of "losing" the children once they return home to their biological parents. But in many situations, that does not have to be the case. Being a foster parent shouldn't be viewed as becoming a substitute parent. It's becoming additional support for the youth and their birth families.

When children and youth enter foster care, the goal is to eventually return to their biological family members once it's safe and nurturing. There was a time when the foster care system wanted to maintain a separation between the foster parents and birth families. This was to minimize the chances of causing additional trauma during a period for addressing and managing the youth's emotional and behavioral concerns.

However, in recent years, through the push of different governing bodies, there has been a move toward establishing and maintaining lines of communication between foster parents, adoptive parents, and biological families. This is often referred to as bridging the gap. Bridging the gap allows all adults invested in a child's success to work together and put the child's needs first.

The Roles of Foster Parents and Birth Families

There are many reasons why people choose to become foster parents. Many of those reasons encompass providing a safe, stable home for children in foster care. Another piece of the puzzle needs to be added when discussing the healthiest placement for a youth ongoing.

What does that look like? Is there an option for the youth to return home? Will they need a longer-term foster home placement? Will this youth have contact and/or visits with their birth families?

When a youth enters foster care, the primary goal is for the youth and their birth families to work through the issues that led to this placement. These situations are stressful for the children and their families. Having a child removed from their birth home can take its toll on all involved.

While many recommendations are given to birth families before their children return home, establishing a positive relationship with the foster parents assists with ongoing positive relationships for all parties.

Taking the Initial Steps to Make the Transition Easier

From the beginning of a youth's foster care placement, expectations surround maintaining a connection between the foster parents and the birth family.

Foster care is meant to be temporary. The role of foster parents is to assist with maintaining child welfare and preparing the youth for returning home to their biological families. Foster parents can begin to foster a positive birth-parent/child relationship right after placement occurs.

Taking these steps during the placement can help with long-term relationships:

  1. Speaking with the youth about the return home. Understand that foster care is new and confusing terrain for children. Starting the conversation early demonstrates the foster parent's role as a support system. It helps the children begin dealing with the traumas that led to this out-of-home placement. Try your best to listen to the children's opinions and understanding of their current situation. Don't be afraid to ask them about their families. This shows you do want to learn about them as a whole.
  2. When a foster child's permanency goal is reunification or to return home, help them make a plan. Allow them to include their birth parents if they'd like. This allows the youth and birth family to see that you are willing to remain involved.
  3. Plan returning home activities for the youth. Try to focus on the achievement of completing their treatment goals, no sad goodbyes. A negative goodbye could give the child the idea that you no longer want a relationship with them. Make sure to invite essential people they've met while in your home and the birth family.

Working within the foster care system has allowed me to witness foster parents maintaining support for youths previously placed in their homes. One such situation that has stuck with me for quite some years now is that of a newly certified foster family.

They had three young biological children but felt they could still give more. What stood out about this family was their stance on fostering. They were instrumental in advocating for their foster youths and giving them the best fighting chance to return to their families.

However, for one of their placements, the youth had great anxiety because they knew their birth parents loved them. Still, they also understood that their parents were struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues that prevented them from being the best parents for their children. Due to the problems they faced, their parents could not maintain suitable housing or transportation, and they also found it challenging to maintain employment.

From the beginning of the placement, the foster parents tried to bridge the gap by ensuring there were open lines of communication between the youth and their parents. Throughout the placement, the foster parents kept the birth parent involved in birthday and holiday events. They would converse with the birth family during visitations, reiterating their willingness to be involved. This family knew that by supporting both youth and birth parents, the family would have a better chance to thrive after foster care.

Once the youth returned home, the foster parents would keep the children when the parents had to work late at night. The birth parents could call the foster parents with parenting questions or concerns. The foster and birth parents would work together for the greater good of the child. The birth parents viewed the foster parents as support for them and their children.

That lasting relationship and support system can very well be what is needed to prevent future foster care involvement for some families.

Here is a list of ways that foster parents can continue to be in the lives of their previous foster youth:

  • Provide Child Care if Needed
  • Maintain Phone Calls with Youth and Parents
  • Invite Youth and Birth Family to Family Gatherings
  • Attend the Youth's Activities if Invited

Please note not all birth families will be comfortable maintaining a relationship with their child's foster parents. However, demonstrating your support can facilitate an ongoing support system for the family.

Are You Ready To Learn More?

FosterVA is always ready to meet new families interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent. If this has inspired you to take the next step towards supporting Virginia's foster youth, click the button below and fill out the form on our contact page.

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