When a child is placed into a foster home, most foster parents go into Papa and Mama Bear mode. A sense to protect this child from any more harm overrides every emotion that creates an “us against the world” approach.
When CPS placed an eight-month-old boy with us, I listened to the case worker explain in general why CPS removed him from his biological family. Even though I didn’t get a lot of detail, I received enough that I did go into major protection mode.
No one was going to hurt this child again.
Two days after CPS placed our son with us, he had his first parent visit. Naively, I didn’t think we would meet the parents, then or ever. Honestly, I didn’t want to meet them.
To me, they were the enemy.
We did meet the parents. Couldn’t avoid it even if we tried. They saw us walking up with their son, and with huge smiles on their faces they reached out to take their son from my arms.
I wondered, “This is who allegedly hurt this child?”. Even though I stood there uncomfortable to actually talk with this child’s parents, I felt conflicted. They were mere children themselves. They could be my children!
Intellectually I understood that CPS had a goal of reconciling the family, at least someone in the family, with this child. Yet, with this precious baby boy in my life, my home, under my protection, I struggled with reconciling that in my heart.
So, over the next few weeks, I not only met the parents, but the paternal grandmother and step grandfather, an uncle and aunt, and the maternal grandfather.
Even though my heart attached more each day to this little boy, I also felt a shift in my spirit toward his biological family. Yes, someone in the family injured this child. But, they were his family, not his nor my enemy.
If reconciliation was going to happen, I needed to change how I thought and interacted with this family.
I have a challenge for anyone who fosters or is considering foster care:
Work Toward Complete Healing for the Entire Family
Here are three ways to view your interaction with the biological family that will help you work toward this goal of healing for the entire family.
- Don’t view the relationship as “us vs them”. Again I see this a lot with foster parents. It often extends beyond the family to include CPS caseworkers, lawyers, and everyone involved in the case. A foster family can especially act this way if they are adoption motivated. That is why it is so important to check your motivations for fostering. If adoption is a major motivation, then you are less likely to want the success of the reconciliation of the family. You in fact may work against it.
- Get to know as many family members as possible. I really did think that I could foster this little guy without interaction with any of his biological family. However I ended up talking to them fairly regularly at parent visits, family meetings, and court hearings. The relationship never went beyond that, but I think that is because I didn’t encourage it. Still, I hope, and I do think, they saw me and Danielle as someone who wanted to care for their child.
- See yourself as a possible mentor and advocate. Now this may stretch you a bit. It also might make your CPS case worker a little uneasy. I think typically they prefer less interaction between the foster and biological family than more. But I have seen a slight shift in this when the foster family gains a positive reputation among CPS, lawyers, and the judge. I heard of one judge that instructed the biological parents to meet with the foster parents for mentoring.
When we, as foster parents, extend our view and our compassion beyond the child to include the entire family, we will see more families heal. I really do believe, even though we were adoption motivated, that the very best place for any child is with their biological family, when that family is healthy as possible and able to care for that child.
Are you willing to embrace that view and not see the biological family as your enemy but rather someone who needs you?