Vol. 15, No. 1 • November 2010

Parent-Child Visits: Managing the Challenges, Reaping the Rewards

After she entered foster care, Donisha learned she would have regular visits with her family. She says that to her:

That word ‘visitation’ was like a rainbow suddenly appearing out of a dull sky . . . . just knowing I could be reunited with my family made me overjoyed.

Donisha’s reaction is easy to understand. It can be wonderful to spend time with someone you love after a separation.

Yet visits can also be extremely difficult for everyone involved. If you are a foster and kinship care provider, you know this well. When a visit occurs, it is sometimes accompanied by visit-related upheaval in the child’s emotions and behavior, complex scheduling and logistics, and other challenges.

Luckily, there are things you can do to make parent-child visits easier for yourself and the children in your care. First, however, it helps to understand why visits are so important.

Understanding the Rewards
Yes, they sometimes make us sweat with uncertainty and cause us temporary discomfort, but research and experience clearly show that parent-child visits can make a positive difference in children’s lives. Regular visits can:

  • Maintain parent-child attachment
  • Calm children’s separation fears
  • Empower birth parents
  • Encourage birth parents to face reality
  • Allow birth parents to learn and practice new skills and behaviors
  • Help child welfare agencies and the courts assess and document parents’ progress
  • Help children and foster parents see the parents realistically
    (Hess et al., 1992; Cantos & Gries, 1997)

Research also tells us that how frequently parents and children see each other makes a big difference. Children who are visited often by their birth parents are more likely to be reunited and spend less time in foster care (White, et al., 1996; Mech, 1985).

Frequent visits also affect children’s well-being. Children visited frequently by their parents may be:

  • Less likely to have emotional outbursts, tension, and conflict
  • Less likely to be referred for psychiatric services
  • Less likely to engage in delinquent or antisocial acts such as vandalism, stealing, and running away
  • More likely to be seen as likeable by teachers and peers
    (White et al., 1996; Cantos & Gries, 1997)

One study showed that children visited at least once every two weeks had fewer behavioral problems and exhibited less anxiety and depression than children visited infrequently or not at all (White, et al., 1996).

By helping improve children’s behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning, visits can help make foster care placements happier and more stable, which is a good thing for children and foster parents.

Managing Children’s Behavior Changes
Foster and kinship care providers need to know how to manage the challenges that surround visits. To provide you with concrete suggestions in this area, on the next page we offer ideas excerpted from “Changes in Children’s Behavior Before and After Parent Visits,” from the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. Although targeted to foster parents of children age five and under, many of these suggestions are relevant to all children in foster care

Download or print a pdf of this entire issue

Understanding the Child's Response to Birth Parent Visits
10 Ways Social Workers Can Support Foster Parents Around Visitation
Parent-Child Visits and Shared Parenting

My Experience with Visits
by Donisha, age 16

Visitation Plans in North Carolina
Foster Parents Reflect on Parent-Child Visits
A Tool for Enhancing Visits: The "Happy Pack"
Training for Child Welfare Agencies on Parent-Child Visitation
Celebrating Holidays with Children You Foster
A Message from the President of the NC Foster and Adoptive Parent Association
Kids Pages
Young People Reflect on the "The Greatest Gift I Ever Gave"
Fostering Connections: A Law Foster Parents Should Know about
Life Changing New Year Resolutions Every Foster Parent Should Make
Fourteen-Year-Old Male, Homeless and Hungry

Books on the Nightstand (book review)

SaySo Update: Wishes Can Come True!
Have You Heard about NC Reach?
A Reader Asks
Is It Wise to Continue Contact with Relatives After Adoptions Are Finalized?
Help Us Find Families for These Children

What Foster Parents Really Do!
by Marti, age 16

Writing Contest

References cited in this issue

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