|Baby 4 and his Dad watching the penguins|
We are at the supervised visitation level and I'm still the only one who could deal with 4's trach in an emergency, so I had to monitor all of their interactions. I am not a fan of that. It makes me feel like in the battle between the county and the parent, I'm on the county's side- and I'm not. I like to picture myself standing with my child while the grown-ups handle the battling. I want to give Dad pictures and updates and let the county tell him what he needs to do (or not do). I want to be the good guy. In this case I get to be the good guy mostly, but it's still uncomfortable.
The longer I'm exposed to foster care, the more compassion I get for bioparents. I know how it feels to have children you love live with someone else by court order. No matter what they've done to that child, it's scary for them to think of all the worse things that could be happening to their baby by the strangers they live with. The media doesn't help - with stories of children abused in foster and adoptive homes. There are at least 3 episodes of Law and Order in my netflix que right now about foster parents killing their children. A bioparent could go crazy with all that filling their heads! It's important to me that I let them know we will treat their children well and that we are just normal people who do normal things everyday. I do that by allowing the parent to call me and speak to their children (when allowed by the court), I keep a communication log in the bag I send on visits with pictures and updates about the children. I make sure to use empowering words when talking about their relationship. I say your son is so musical! Baby 4 told me all about him and Daddy playing basketball at your last visit. It takes competition between the child's two families right out of the equation and puts us on the same side- This is your child, I don't want to replace you. While I've always said those things, it's becoming more true with every case. I don't want to take away the child's bioparents, I want to add a foster family that loves them too. A child can not have too many people that want to claim them as their own.
I want to be able to tell the child we eventually adopt that their parents had every chance and that I was was rooting for them along the way. In foster care, contact between parent and child is vital to reducing the length of placement and minimizing additional trauma to the child in permanency. I have heard several different outcomes that have been improved for all sides because the foster parent has supported the bios. From foster parents having years of ongoing contact with kids after reunification, to parents surrendering their rights because they are confident in the care the foster family will give after adoption.
Now is THE most difficult time I've had with bio family relationships. It's the first case where I've had a parent who could not have done anything to prevent the child's placement and is unable to get the child out of care. It's also the first time I've had a parent who made a conscious choice that I will never understand. All our previous cases have been about the parents priorities, there was never direct intention to harm the child. They are the first parents that have been younger than us, and it adds a different dimension that we've never experienced before. We find ourselves fostering them as well. When I bring out a juice box for 4, I bring out a juice box for the parent. I interpret everything the Dr says about 4's medical condition and explain the educational plan as many times as needed.
The biofamilies I've worked with are not fulfilling any stereotypes. They are not scary or homeless. They are dressed appropriately and mostly speak articulately. Also, every single one of our cases have had BioDads that were involved and working the case plan. Babies 1-3 reunited with their Dad having full custody of them. I have never had a Mom work a case plan or reunite with her children. 2/3 of the parents we've had were in their late 30's. I think the stereotype is that kids in care have young single Moms who are trying their best- that just hasn't been our experience.
Bioparents are not to be feared, they are very often fearful themselves. I know that many foster families (ourselves included) have been apprehensive about contact with bios. I have found out there are several ways for a determined bio to find out anything they want about me. My full name appears on court papers, WIC
I never use my last name when dealing directly with the family. I encourage cell phone calls/texts, but do not give out my home number. I'm not super secretive about our vehicles. I give vague approximations of our address like, "We're 10 minutes from the visitation center and 5min from school". I give pictures of the children in their bedrooms and I talk about our extended family and our dogs. So far we haven't had a parent use our information inappropriately.
All of this is for the benefit of our children. When they see us interacting positively with their parents, it boosts their self worth. If I respect where you come from, I respect you. It also gives them permission to love both sets of parents. When bios and fosters look like a united front to the child, then there is no pressure to choose sides or be loyal. 4 is very open- telling me he misses Daddy and Daddy is his favorite because he knows that I'm OK with that. Supporting his attachment to his biofamily builds our attachment and helps us bond.
So while today was uncomfortable, I told Dad's caseworker that I am open to doing more outings like this one because I feel like it's the right thing to do for 4 and his family.