The importance of connection
For me, it was really important to stay connected to my mom. My dad was incarcerated and out of the picture early on, so the only parent I was able to form a close bond with was my mom. My mom was the one person that had been there for me and my siblings, our constant. Of course, there are things that she struggled with as a parent which is why we ended up in foster care, but that didn’t change our love for her. It also didn’t change the fact that she was our biggest support and cheerleader and never failed to let us know how much she loved us. While I was in care I was able to stay connected to my mom and ensure our relationship remained intact and that meant the world to me.
When youth enter foster care usually the goal is reunification and in my case, that was what happened. If reunification would not have been possible my connection to my mother would have been just as important. If anyone would have attempted to keep us apart it would have been devastating for me and I know that the instant I turned 18 I would have been out looking for her. Even though I had great influences in my life throughout foster care none of them would have been able to replace the relationship I had with my mother, that bond is critical. I believe taking this connection away from youth in care and not working with them to plan for connecting with their biological parents is setting them up for failure. If we do not talk to and prepare youth, they are going to take it upon themselves to make contact and if they reach out with no plan the reunification aftercare has a greater chance of failing. Instead, we could be working with them on a plan to make sure this aftercare reunification goes the best way possible. Working with them to say “Okay, I know this is really important to you, let’s talk about what happens if this initial plan doesn’t work out - what is plan B?”
The connection while in care
There were barriers to staying connected to my mom while my siblings and I were in care. Our biggest barrier was the supervised visits, there should have been more but having to be supervised by a worker and not allowing our grandmother to facilitate the visits forced us to have to work around everyone else’s schedules. There should have been more time for us to be together as a family prior to the reunification, it would have made things easier. My mom had done so many things to work on herself and prepare to be the best mom she could be to get us back, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to work on anything and when we went home I was not prepared to be her child. I was not ready for my mom to take on a mom role, she had changed the way she was doing things so much to alleviate concerns from the system and I had always been just fine taking care of myself. This created a lot of growing pains and struggles in what should have been a happy and smooth transition back into the care of our mom.
My advice for foster parents
My advice would be for the foster parent to reach out to the biological parent and be genuine in that interaction. Being genuine can help alleviate the fear the biological parents may have about the foster parents trying to take their children away from them. I believe foster parents can be the biggest support and help the case take a whole new positive direction once the biological parents know they are there to support them and not judge them. This kind of healthy connection between the children, the foster parents, and the biological parents can make such an impact that the foster parents stay engaged with the family long after the case closes. Making that connection to the biological parents and building a rapport will also help the relationship between the foster parents and the child. Take the time to ask the biological parents what their child likes, if they have a favorite blanket, about the activities they are interested in. It is also just as important to ask about cultural norms that may be important to the family and especially the child, keeping these consistencies for the child makes the entire process less traumatic. The big takeaway is to align with the bio parents so you are not working against them so that everyone is moving forward together as a team.
Kodi is a former foster youth from Iowa. He spent 1 year in kinship placement with his grandmother. Kodi currently works heavily within the state of Iowa in a variety of capacities helping families entering the foster care system and ensuring culturally equitable guidelines within the state are met. He also works on the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council and is finishing his Bachelor's Degree in Human Services. Learn more about Kodi.