Shared parenting when there’s a concern about safety
by Amy Huntsman •
Almost all foster parents I know want to do shared parenting because they know foster care is supposed to be a support for families, not a substitute for parents. But sometimes they do have concerns.
Some are new to foster parenting and worried about the unknowns. Others have a specific concern or experience—for example, the child’s parent had an outburst at a meeting, or they feel uneasy because the parent has a significant mental health disorder.
In my experience, hesitancy about shared parenting is normal and understandable, but it can and should be overcome. Even when there are genuine safety concerns, shared parenting can succeed and bring great benefits to children and their families. With purposeful planning, firm boundaries, and teamwork, birth and foster parents can join together to ensure the child’s needs are met.
Shared parenting is meant to be a face-to-face exchange. True, meeting a bio parent for the first time can be intimidating. But if you are feeling anxious, keep in mind they are probably feeling the same way—intimidated by the situation and the prospect of meeting you for the first time. Try to set a tone that puts everyone at ease.
In my experience, hesitancy about shared parenting is normal and understandable, but it can and should be overcome
If safety is a concern, it may be best to have in-person meetings in a public venue where a safety officer is present. Most government buildings today are equipped with cameras and officers who can intervene if needed. Although the professionals in the building will have your back, it is always wise to know ahead of time how you will communicate with them if a problem arises and where the exits are.
If for some reason a face-to-face cannot occur, not all is lost! Meaningful shared parenting can still occur. Technology can help.
For example, you may be able to set up an email or social media account used only to communicate with the child’s parents. Doing this allows you to exchange information, updates, and photos to keep children connected to their parents. Using email or social media also creates a level of accountability, since exchanges can be shared with social workers and other parties to ensure the communication remains appropriate and on target. There are even apps (e.g., OurFamilyWizard.com and Talking Parents) designed to maintain secure and unalterable records of co-parenting communications.
Before you try any of this, however, be sure to get approval from your social worker/agency. Some agencies do not allow communication through social media. Even if yours does, the agency may need to approve all social media communications.
If you or the child’s parents lack consistent access to Wi-Fi, phones, or a computer, try using parent notebooks. You can use these simple pen and paper notebooks to exchange information about daily events in the child’s life, photos, etc. and as a tool for organizing upcoming plans and appointments. They can also be useful for daycare and teacher notes so all parties have the educational and behavioral updates at school, too. Parent notebooks are a great way to communicate when you can’t meet in person.
Open communication with your social worker and team is vitally important during shared parenting and to your success as a resource parent overall. But please remember, let’s keep the adult safety issues amongst the adults and not discuss them in front of children or youth. At the end of the day, shared parenting is a great tool to make sure children and youth get the best care possible and all parties feel informed and safe.
Amy Huntsman is a licensing supervisor and adoptive parent from Asheville, NC. She has been working with children and families for over 20 years and is the proud mother of two girls, ages 6 and 7.