Written by Washington Foster Team
Reuniting a child with their parents can be emotionally challenging for everyone involved.
Foster parents, in particular, often need to navigate the complicated emotional terrain of caring for their foster child while also being prepared for, and supportive of, the reunification process.
Yet, it can be understandably difficult to prepare yourself for the mixed emotions you may have when a foster child has the opportunity to go back home — particularly when you’re unsure of what the process actually looks and feels like.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that reunification is the goal in the vast majority of foster care cases for the simple reason that it’s in the best interest of the child. As studies have shown, reuniting children with their families improves permanency outcomes for both parties.
With that said, that doesn’t mean you need to go into it completely blind. Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect.
The Reunification Process
The very first thing to understand is that every reunification, just like every family dynamic, is inherently different.
Sometimes the process is drawn out. Other times, it can seem to happen overnight. More often than not, however, the process is gradual.
Ideally, when a child is placed with a foster family, there should be an introduction with the parents as soon as it’s safe to begin setting up visits and sharing the routines of the child. This should start right away, so that the child doesn’t think they are going home from the first day of placement.
This is usually put into motion by first introducing the idea to the child and then answering any questions they may have.
Once the reunification process begins, steps are usually made to try out new living arrangements, with the parents assuming a more active role in the child’s daily routine. Eventually, foster parents are expected to slowly withdraw from the daily routine. Yet, often, many foster parents support the parents and remain in the family’s life to provide ongoing support. We have seen foster parents provide respite to the parents and have family gatherings that include both the foster family and parents.
Throughout the process, you may feel some emotional turbulence. No longer caring for a child you’ve come to love can be challenging. But it’s important to remember you are not alone.
Seek out support groups, reach out to other foster parents who have been in similar situations — find the help you need whenever and wherever you need it.
Facilitating A Relationship With Parents
In many cases, the trend is moving toward having caseworkers guide the relationship of both the foster parents and the parents. A relationship between all parties guided by the caseworker is generally beneficial for both the child and the parents involved.
Once a caseworker bridges the relationship, it’s a good idea to establish an email address or another way to maintain contact with the parents. This connection can be used to send pictures, art from daycare, news of milestones reached — any and all information that lets the parents know their child is safe and being well cared for.
The key is to always keep the focus on the child, not on the particular case of the parents. Similarly, it’s crucial to approach the parents with grace and respect. Recognize that they are most likely hurt, fearful, and have misconceptions about the foster parents’ role. Therefore, it’s crucial to let them know you only have their child’s best interest in mind.
While such a connection is hard, it can help all parties involved throughout and beyond the fostering process. Children in particular can feel a sense of stability and continuity before and after reunification.
For more information and advice on foster parenting, download our free resource The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.