It isn’t surprising to think that the relationship between a foster parent and a primary or biological parent has a direct impact on children and youth in foster care. Regardless of why a child comes into foster care, the family connection is strong and should not be broken. When parents—both foster and primary—can work through their feelings and put the child’s interests first, a co-parenting relationship can develop and blossom. Fostering requires parents to be open, accepting and supportive of the child entering their home and their primary family.
When co-parenting occurs, a child can have emotional stability. Too often, I have seen a youth come into care, develop a strong bond with the foster parent, feel safe and perhaps get the therapy, medical attention or structure needed. The child misses the primary parent, however, and may feel torn, guilty or anxious, or may act out because he or she can’t reconcile conflicting feelings.
Co-parenting lets the child know that his or her “parents” are partners. It’s accepted and encouraged for the child to care for both.
Marcus is an older teen with The Arc Baltimore’s treatment foster care program, and his primary family is always invited to summer cookouts and holidays at the foster parents’ home. They want Marcus to know he is loved by his foster family and primary family.
Co-parenting can also benefit the primary parents who remain connected and involved in the life of their child and are able to participate in developmental milestones and activities. Moreover, they may benefit from the training and education the foster parents have received and can learn new strategies for when their child returns home.
Another child in The Arc’s treatment foster care program, Julianna, lived with a foster family but visited her primary family on weekends. Due to a strong, trusting co-parenting relationship, when Julianna exhibited challenging behaviors in line with her autism diagnosis, her primary mother would reach out to the foster parent for strategies to better support her.
Likewise, foster parents often benefit from the co-parenting relationship. They have a direct line to the people who know the child best, which can be especially valuable in the transition process. Foster parents are able to quickly learn how to soothe a child who may struggle with the initial transition into the foster home.
Foster parents can adjust early on to provide the best temporary care possible while helping to prepare the child to reunite back home when the time comes. Lastly, when a co-parenting relationship is successful, the foster parent can often continue to be in contact and remain a resource in the lives of the youth and primary parents.
At The Arc Baltimore, I have seen countless examples of our foster parents working in collaboration with primary parents. They have been a support to many families, even after the child leaves their care. Situations arise when a foster parent has taken previous foster youth on vacation with them, giving the primary parent a weekend respite, or has invited the child and primary parents to major events and holidays well after the child has returned home. These experiences were made possible because the foster parent and primary parent were able to work together in the best interests of the youth.
If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of others, are a good communicator and work well in a team, we’d love to hear from you. The Arc Baltimore is always looking for dedicated and compassionate families to foster youth in care.
Bridget Roth, LCSW-C, is director of The Arc Baltimore’s treatment foster care program. For more information, call her at 410-296-2272, ext. 5317, or email [email protected]