By Kendra Lowden, CPN FireLodge Children & Family Services Foster Care/Adoption Manager

Reunification with birth parents has steadily remained the primary permanency plan for children in foster care, and foster parents can be one of the most important resources to aide in the process. FireLodge Children & Family Services works diligently to ensure Potawatomi families stay connected. Our work includes encouraging and supporting relationships between foster parents and birth families.

Here are some ways foster parents can promote reunification efforts while respecting a child’s family of origin.

Show respect and compassion

Foster parents play a unique role within the child welfare system. While many people consider their main responsibilities to be caring for the physical and emotional needs of children, they are also vital to the process of reunification. Birth families may have feelings of fear and anxiety once their children have been placed outside the home. Foster parents can help families by verbalizing empathy and sharing their support of the parents’ journey to regain custody of their children. Successful foster families know that people need help and not judgement.

Encourage family visitation and communication

In many cases, foster parents are allowed to have relationships with birth families and even supervise visits in the community or in their home. If in-person visitation is not feasible, phone and video contact is a common method for parents to communicate with their children outside of the typical weekly visit inside the child welfare office. Parents may become approved to attend events, sports activities and medical visits with the foster family. Visitation is not just an opportunity for parent-child contact; it can also improve the relationship between the foster family and birth family. Children’s emotions are often reassured by experiencing love and respect from all of the adults in their lives. Additionally, the more time children spend with their parents, the more comfortable they will be when they return home.

Remember why reunification is important

Foster parents who actively support reunification acknowledge that it is most often in the child’s best interest to be placed with family and are committed to doing what is best for the child. Foster parents must hold a deep belief that they answered the call to become a foster parent so they can help families transition back together. Even in situations where the permanency outcome is adoption, foster parents can still work to maintain lifelong connections with a child’s birth family. An open, encouraging relationship with birth parents is one of the best gifts a foster parent can give their foster child.