Vol. 5, No. 2 May 2001
foster parents can be crucial to successful visits
When it comes to the issue of
visitation and foster care, the focus often centers on the needs of
children and biological parents. Frequency of visitation is an important
factor in determining reunification, so it is logical that the needs
of children and biological parents are most commonly considered.
can leave foster caregivers on their own to contend with the complex
issues surrounding parent-child visits. These issues include the foster
parents' feelings of anger toward birth parents, dealing with visit-related
upheaval in the child's emotions and behavior, scheduling and logistical
challenges, and meeting the needs of the visiting child and others in
the home. In fact, without adequate involvement, education, and support,
foster parents may be uncommitted to parent-child visits. In the worst
cases, their attitude or actions may even undermine the success of visits
or lead to disruption of the foster placement.
Yet the opposite is
also true. Foster parents who understand the purpose and process of
visitation and who see themselves as part of a team of professionals
contribute to visits by:
- Helping prepare children for visits
- Comforting, reassuring, and talking
with children following a visit
- Providing transportation to and
- Allowing visits to take place in
- Building birth parents' confidence
and supporting their efforts to change by accepting them and treating
them with respect
- Modeling healthy parent-child interactions
and teaching proper child care to birth parents
- Providing information and being
a link to the social worker and, in some cases,
- Monitoring visits
To ensure the foster
parents they work with contribute to visits in these ways, social workers
need to know how to give them adequate support.
Foster parents and
kin caregivers can most fully support visitation when they see themselves
as part of the team serving the child and family. This perspective is
brought about through ongoing education and by involving foster parents
as professionals and colleagues.
One of the best ways
to support foster and kin caregivers is to make sure they understand
their role. To do this, it is important to build on and reinforce what
foster parents learn in their required preservice training. This may
include sponsoring local workshops, directing foster parents to helpful
books, or facilitating their attendance at in-service training events,
such as Finding Teaching Moments, that are described in the N.C.
Division of Social Services' training calendar.
Interaction with social
workers is also an important source of information for foster parents.
During informal discussions, particularly with new foster parents or
those who do not appear to appreciate the benefits of visitation, social
workers should help foster parents to:
- Understand the benefits of visitation
- See how involvement in the visitation
process may help children and their families
- Recognize that despite being challenging,
children's negative behaviors or withdrawal following visits indicates
healthy attachment and distress over separation; they are not necessarily
indications that the visits are harmful for the child.
- Learn ways to manage the disruption
of the household routine caused by the child's reactions to visits.
By expanding what
they know, foster parents will significantly increase their ability
to support children and their families before, during, and after visits.
Foster Parent Involvement
Treating foster parents
as a formal part of the team serving the child is another way to maximize
the contributions they make to parent-child visits. To do this, social
workers should make sure foster parents are at the table when the birth
family, older children, and other providers are defining the child's
needs or setting up the visitation schedule.
Keeping the family's
schedule in mind when planning visit times and locations is a professional
courtesy that makes a big difference to foster families and foster children.
For example, "if a foster parent is expected to comfort a child
following a visit, the plan must assure that he or she is home when
the child returns from a visit" (Hess & Proch, 1988). Likewise,
"visit beginnings and endings should not be scheduled at times
that will be highly disruptive for the foster family, such as the family's
regular dinner hour" (Hess & Proch, 1988).
It is also important
to avoid placing too many children from different families or too many
special needs children in one home. When this is done, visitation can
quickly become an unmanageable burden for foster families, as they struggle
to balance transportation, the needs of the visiting child, and the
needs of all the children in the home.
Foster parents will
also be more committed and involved in parent-child visits if social
workers share information with them in an open, timely way. This means
keeping them abreast of any changes in visit times or the status of
the child's case, and realistically describing the kinds of behaviors
they may see on the part of birth parents and children before, during,
and after a visit.
Finally, social workers
should be clear with foster parents about your desire to support them.
Discuss with them how they will handle any visit-related problems and
make sure they know you are open and available to discuss any issues
or concerns they may have. Encourage and appreciate their efforts to
support visitation and to work with birth parents.
Other Foster Parents
Other foster parents
can really help foster caregivers understand and support visitation.
Current research shows that support for foster caregivers is best provided
by more experienced foster parents. Based on this, a social worker's
best strategy may be to connect foster parents to one another, empower
them to help each other, and then step back but remain available.
If you choose this
approach, your first step should be to contact your local foster parent
association. If your county does not have an active association, contact
the North Carolina Foster Parent Association (e-mail: [email protected])
to discuss how they can help foster parents in your area start a local
Foster parents can
also support one another through mentoring. In this approach, experienced
foster caregivers develop supportive relationships with newer ones.
Mentoring can also be combined with support groups for caregivers facilitated
by experienced foster caregivers or social workers. These groups can
be places to learn, share frustrations or concerns, and model appropriate
ways to interact with the children and biological parents.
To fully contribute
to the process of visitation, foster parents need ongoing education,
involvement in the professional team serving the child and family, and
the support of their social worker. When they have these things they
become involved participants who help make parent-child visits as rewarding
and positive as possible for social workers, birth families, and children.
Hess, P. M. & Proch, K. O. (1988). Family
visiting in out-of-home care: A guide to practice. Washington DC:
Child Welfare League of America.
from Children's Services Practice Notes (vol. 5, no. 4, Oct.
2000), a newsletter focused on improving child welfare in North Carolina.
To read more about visitation and related topic, visit the Practice
Notes website at <http://www.sowo.unc.edu/fcrp/Cspn/cspn.htm>.
2001 Jordan Institute for Families