Meeting The Parents
Meeting the parents of my new foster child is a lot like knocking on the door of a stranger’s house. It’s hard to predict if the person who opens the door will welcome me inside or shake a fist at me menacingly and demand I get off their property. It can be intimidating.
Over time I’ve developed practices that help to establish a positive relationship when I first meet my foster child’s parents.
Meet Them As Soon As PossibleIf my children were removed from my home and I didn’t know where they were or who was supervising them, I imagine I would be frantic with worry. Therefore, I try to meet my foster child’s parents at the first opportunity so I can allay their fears about me and begin to establish trust. Typically I attend the first emergency court hearing and try to find them in the waiting area. This is easy if I have their child with me, but if not, I ask a case manager for help.
Avoid Quick JudgmentsSometimes I hear a horrific background story of what has happened to my foster child. In making medical, educational, and parenting decisions I treat this background information as factual and advocate as hard as possible for the child, yet I take a different approach when meeting the parents. Before I meet the parents, I remind myself that what I have heard are sometimes unproven allegations. The case is in the court system and it is not my role to judge or condemn the parents. Frequently, cases are complex and multiple parties are involved, so I do my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I prayerfully ask God to help me treat the parents with grace and not judgment.
Use Respectful LanguageI introduce myself as the temporary foster parent and tell the parents that I will do my best to take excellent care of their child. If appropriate, I acknowledge that this must be very difficult for them and I say that although the process may be arduous, I will do my best to support their child and family.
Show My ExperienceI let my new foster child’s parents know that I am the parent of three biological children and have fostered or had guardianship of 20 children over the past seven years. I disclose non-identifying information about my family and myself to let them know something about our home environment and about me. I tell them my motivation in being a foster parent is to be a helper in my local community. If they have never been to court before, I tell them what I know about the basic process and offer to answer any questions they may have.
Be KindSince court can take a long time, I usually pack myself a snack and water bottle. I also pack extra in order to offer a snack and drink to the parents. I bring several extras because sometimes there are more than two parents associated with the case. In general, I try to treat the parents the way I would like to be treated.
Value Their InputI bring a pad of paper and prepare myself with questions for the parents to answer. I ask them to share their child’s routine, favorite foods, bedtime, preferred toys, and anything else they want to tell me. While they are talking I write down what they are saying–even if I disagree. I do my best to show respect for their family routines, while communicating through my words and actions that I care about their child and will try to make my home comfortable for him.
Set Accurate ExpectationsSince I work part-time, I let them know that their child will be in daycare. If communication is allowed, I tell them how they can reach out to me using a Google voice number and special email address I have set up exclusively for this purpose. I also let them know how often I plan to send updates or pictures.
By observing these habits and through God’s providential blessing I’ve been able to establish good relationships with most of the families I have met through foster care. It is a special joy in life that after my foster children have reunified, several of their families have opened their door to me both figuratively and literally, inviting me into their home to share a place at their table.
Tracy and her husband Paul are in the challenging yet joyous season of parenting four teenagers. Tracy considers foster care one of her greatest adventures, and has had the privilege of welcoming 20 "bonus children" into her heart and home over the past seven years. Tracy loves her job at Promise686 and is the Church Advocate at Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, GA.