Part of being an effective foster parent often includes working with birth parents to create a support network for the youth in care. Foster parents Natalie Miller and Dawn Re Falo consistently work with birth parents, and have seen positive results from doing so. We sat down with Natalie to discuss her experiences.
Building Relationships with Birth Parents
“It happens in baby steps,” according to Natalie. A willingness to communicate with birth parents is the first step, and then building upon that as your relationship becomes more comfortable comes next.
“Start having contact with the birth parents from the very beginning of the case, the first day a child is placed in the foster parent’s home,” suggested Natalie. “It can begin with small things, like texting or talking on the phone and reassuring the parent that their child is doing OK.” This initial contact also gives Natalie and Dawn an idea of what kind of parent the birth parent is, and each birth parent’s overall opinion of his/her child.
The next step is to meet the birth parents in person. This happens gradually, as the first meeting is in a public place, and then in the foster parent’s home. The goal is to continue to get to know the birth parents and form a relationship with them.
Natalie emphasized that foster parents must not be judgmental during this process, as the birth parents will know and feel that judgement. “At this point, as a foster parent, it is an excellent opportunity to practice being non-judgmental and take a step back when a parent is visiting their child, letting them have that family time together.”
The Positive Effect on Children in Care
Separating a child or youth from his/her birth parents is a traumatic, stressful experience, no matter the age of the child. In Natalie’s experience, having a relationship with birth parents can lessen the stress on children in care.
For instance, Natalie and Dawn invited the mother of a youth in their care to come help her get ready for Homecoming. According to Natalie, “this allowed the youth in care to feel like she wasn’t missing out on having first time experiences with her mother, and she did not have to be cut off from her.”
Natalie and Dawn have seen positive results come from working with birth parents, and the children in care have been very appreciative of their efforts to connect them with family members. “Our youth in care have also been able to see their siblings as well,” explained Natalie, “Those interactions with family members help take away worry and stress from the child’s life.”
“Busting” the Myth
Natalie and Dawn’s experience of working with birth parents has not been what most think it would be. “Our overall experience has been positive,” said Natalie. “There was only one experience that made us feel uncomfortable, but we still worked with the parent for the sake of the child in care.”
“The viewpoint that ‘bad people don’t deserve to have their kids’ should be shifted into understanding that people make mistakes, and it is the foster parent’s job to help them learn how to do better,” explained Natalie. “The foster parent has to come in with an open mind and open heart. All it take is trying to be as open minded and non-judgmental as possible.”
Most parents, in Natalie’s experience, have been appreciative of Natalie and Dawn’s efforts to include them in the lives of their children in care.
A Lasting Relationship
According to Natalie, “If you build a relationship with the birth parents then it can still exist after, allowing the children to keep both families in their lives and avoid them having to lose anyone during their time in foster care.” Engaging with birth parents also allows the foster parent to feel better about the children returning home.
“We have all made mistakes as humans and wish that we could have handled certain situations better. We have all been judged, but we still have to be willing to help each other out. Being a foster parent allows you to be a positive influence and a role model, and working with birth parents can allow you to be there even after the children are returned home.”
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, contact Caritas Family Solutions at 618-258-8750 and ask for a licensing worker.