Talking to children and youth about shared parenting

by Donna Foster •

One thing children and youth say about being in foster care is that adults talk about their lives and make plans without communicating with them. I have heard many say, “This is my life and I need to know what is going to happen!” I learned this early in my 17 years of fostering and agree completely. Young people have a right to know what the adults in their lives are up to. This includes shared parenting.

Shared Parenting

What is shared parenting? It is the birth parents and foster or kinship parents sharing in the care of the young person. Many adoptive parents also share parenting with foster parents or birth parents.

Shared parenting can encompass a million different activities. It can be talking positively about the birth parents; sending copies of photos, school reports and certificates; asking the parent about their child’s likes and dislikes; going together to medical appointments or attending school events. If the relationship becomes a trusting one, visits can be held in the resource or birth parents’ home to make the youth (and everyone else) more comfortable.

Shared parenting could start with the foster parent calling the birth parent to say, “Hi! I am Donna and I wanted you to know your child is staying with me until he can go back home. He misses you and I thought you may be worried. How do you want me to take care of your child?” After you’ve had this conversation, it is time to talk to the young person in your care.

Talking to the Child or Youth

When explaining shared parenting to young children, you may say something like, “I talked to your mom. She said she wants you to have a night light and to have orange juice every morning. Even if you can’t go home right now, I want your mom to help me take care of you. I want you to talk about your mommy with me. We will send her pictures and notes. We will put pictures of her in our house. We will see her on your visits.”

For youth, get them more involved in what they would like to happen. For example, you might say, “While you’re with us, you may hear the words ‘shared parenting.’ This means your mom and I will share in taking care of you. I appreciate everything she shares with me about your needs. I respect your mother is your parent and she wants to be involved. She and I will work together until you go home. What is important to you?”

The words you use every day can demonstrate to young people that their parents are actively involved in their lives and that shared parenting is important to you. You can include their parents by using words and phrases such as:

  • Your mom/dad said…
  • Your parents and I talked about…
  • Your mom/dad wants this for you.
  • I will talk with your parents about this. I need to ask them what they think you need.

By participating in shared parenting with birth parents, you will meet the emotional needs of the children and youth in your home. If you include the birth parents, the young person will relax and begin to trust you more.

Children and youth will be able to settle into “being a child” if they are not worried about their parents and foster parents/kinship family getting along. The way adults can demonstrate their love for a child or youth in their home is through their actions. Shared parenting is not about making judgements. It’s about sharing in the parenting of the young person in a friendly manner. Putting the child’s needs first will benefit everyone involved, especially the child!

Donna Foster is the author of “Shelby and Me: Our Journey through Life Books,” a national trainer, and a consultant who lives in Marshville, NC.