Vol. 8, No. 1 November 2003
Power of Shared Parenting
Emperador thinks too few foster parents realize how important and powerful
they are. When she talks about power, the Buncombe County foster parent
is thinking not only of foster parents capacity to nurture children,
but about what they can do for families.
parents can bring birth families
up or they can bring them down, she says. You may feel like
low man on the totem pole in terms of the child welfare system, but
you have a great deal of influence over what happens to these families.
Shared Parenting Perspective
Emperador is a proponent of shared parenting, a practice
in which social workers bring foster and birth parents together during
a childs first week in foster care. The aim of shared parenting
is to promote ongoing, positive inter-actions between birth parents
and foster parents so that birth parents can be active members of the
alliance focused on the welfare of their child.
learned about shared parenting because her county department of social
services (DSS) is involved in a reform effort called the Multiple
Response System (MRS). This effort calls upon North Carolina county
DSSs to use shared parenting and six other strategies to improve
services to children and their families. MRSs strategies will
become the standard of child welfare practice in all 100 county DSSs
Best Way to Start
In Emperadors experience, the shared parenting approach is the
best way to start a foster childs placement.
my former foster son, whom we eventually adopted, we didnt meet
his birth mother until he had been in our home for three months. In
retrospect, not having contact with the birth mother made things much
child, Emperador had contact with the birth family from the beginning.
The child was placed in foster care at birth, but because of complications
he was in the neonatal intensive care unit for a long time, and then
in a step-down unit as he recovered.
time Bridget met the childs mother. We spent many hours
together for four days straight while he was in the hospital,
foundation, it was easy to make regular contact a standard part of caring
for this child. Indeed, Bridget was comfortable enough to share her
phone number with the mother so she could call to check on her child.
strength of this relationship and the extremely low risk to the child,
DSS even allowed Bridget to schedule visitations; she and the birth
mother would arrange the visit and then Bridget would call DSS to inform
them of the plan.
Bridget says there are limits to when the shared parenting approach
can be used. She readily acknowledges that it will not work with all
families. Ive known parents I would never want to have my
phone number or my address, she says.
she says, is the emotional state of the birth parents: Emperadors
DSS has made it very clear that if the birth parents have a recent history
of violence or there is a potential for violence, there will be no shared
even if regular contact is not possible, Bridget says, I
always send photographs of the children to their parents.
the Parent/Child Bond
Like other foster parents and social workers whove embraced shared
parenting, Bridget understands that regardless of what birth parents
have done, they care deeply about their children.
a foster parent, my job is both to advocate for the child and to help
birth parents change and be reunited with their children, she
get this message across to new and prospective foster parents, Bridget
participates as a speaker during the panel nights offered
as part of her agencys MAPP training. I tell prospective
families, The bottom line is, this is not your child. Thats
where a lot of people have a hard time. Yet it is the most basic point
if we are to succeed as foster parents.
point, Bridget says, foster parents must consciously release control.
When it comes to parenting decisions, if the birth parent wants
me to do it a particular way, then for the good of the child thats
the way I need to do it.
admits that letting go can be hard. She recalls one time when a child
had a cold on a day when he was scheduled to visit with his mother.
In her heart of hearts, Emperador wanted to postpone the visit until
the child was feeling better.
however, that the child was well enough for a visit. On an intellectual
level she understood that the parent deserved to see her child, and
the child needed to see his mother.
But on an
emotional level? At first, you have to make a very conscious effort.
effort is worth it. As Bridget says, With shared parenting, you
can be the key to successful family reunification.
2003 Jordan Institute for Families