June is a month of celebrations: high school and college graduations, Father’s Day, the first day of Summer, the last day of e-learning, PRIDE, Juneteenth. It’s also a month of awareness events: African-American Music Appreciation, Black Lives Matter, Fireworks Safety, Family Reunification. It’s also a month of some pretty fun holidays: National Donut Day (June 5), National Best Friends Day (June 8), National Take Your Cat to Work Day (June 22), and National Sunglasses Day (June 27).
We do love a good celebration around here, and we’re always up for a fun holiday! But, one of the things we enjoy acknowledging the most in June is Family Reunification Month. Because, well, it has to do with families, and it has to do with children. When children have to be removed from their homes, the goal is almost always to address the issues that led to that removal so that the children can be safely reunified with their parents. We all know that reunification doesn’t always happen, but if and when it can, we have a responsibility to actively work toward that, no matter how hard it may be for the foster parents. Foster dad, Jeff, admits that even as he celebrates his foster children being able to return home safely, he experiences a deep feeling of loss. “When they leave, it’s like a death,” he says, “How do you get through? Honestly, foster another child. Having new life helps the healing process.” Foster parents Brent and Susan grieved when their foster children left their home, and even when the children were successfully reunified with their families. “It’s really easy to get attached,” states Brent. That attachment, though, is what Susan and Brent hoped to teach each child in their home. We know that reunification can be tough for many foster parents, but it can also be a beautiful gift.
There are a lot of ways to work toward and advocate for reunification. Often, birth parents and foster parents feel as though they’re put in an adversarial position, instead of being encouraged to work together. But in the best scenarios, foster parents serve as a strong source of support for birth parents, and birth parents learn to trust foster families as part of their team. When foster parents team up with birth parents to do what’s best for a child, everyone wins. After all, the more people who love the child and want what’s best for the family, the better the outcomes can be!
Some ways that foster parents can work with birth parents toward reunification include:
Have contact with the birth family as soon as possible after the child comes into your home. If your FCM says contact with the birth family is safe, you can send a note, email, or text to let the family know that you’re taking good care of their child, and you’re looking forward to being part of the solution that gets the child back to their birth family quickly. In the note, you can also ask if there is anything that the birth parent would like you to know: favorite foods, bedtime rituals, likes/dislikes, etc. This information can be helpful to the foster parent, and also helps reinforce to the birth parent that you want their expertise and insights about their child.
Honor the birth family with your words and actions. Simply put, this means that when you have a foster child in your home, you speak of the child’s family with respect and kindness. But it also means that when you see the birth parent at a court hearing or a team meeting, encourage them! It could be a simple compliment, or a “Congratulations” when the parent meets a specific goal.
Include the birth parents. Many birth parents may feel as though once their child enters a foster home, they’re left out of the loop. In some cases, FCMs may in courage foster parents to invite the birth parent to join you at a medical appointment for the child, school activities, or sports scrimmages. If it’s not possible for the birth parent to attend those events, be sure to take photos or videos to share with them. (Be sure you ask the family case manager first if it’s possible to invite the birth parents to these type of activities.)
For more ways that birth parents and foster parents can work hand in hand toward the goal of reunification, visit the Birth Parent National Network (BPNN) and the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership (BFPP). The Quality Parenting Initiative and the Youth Law Center also have some great resources available.