As a teacher, nowhere in my contract does it say I have to meet with parents outside of the workday, send texts, emails, notes, letters or call them on the phone. As a teacher, I cannot imagine it any other way. The relationships I build with the families of my students help in every way to make their children more successful. When all people involved are communicated with, when the same message is heard by all … better things happen.
So why is communication within fostering any different? Why is communication with biological parents not a better way to successful outcomes?
A teacher will only see your child a few hours a day, a few days a week, a few months a year, and yet going without communication is not an option for our schools. A foster parent is parenting someone else’s child 24/7 and often for longer than a year. They are making big life decisions in big areas like health, education, discipline. Where the child will go, what he or she will experience and how he or she will grow. So shouldn’t some form of communication be a must for all people involved?
The best interest of the children
I’m sure there will be people who will disagree with my comparison between families working with school and families who have had their child taken because of neglect/abuse. After all, families want to work with school, right? Oh, if only that were true for all my families. My struggling families, who need to work with me, don’t always welcome the process. The families who need the help often make me feel like the communication is one-sided. This doesn’t stop the communication; in fact, it increases it. I will work all year long, with all of my families, because it is in the best interest of the children.
Regardless of why/how a child comes into care, it is in the best interest of that child to communicate with the parents. Communication can take on many forms, being as simple as photos, text, notes, letters or an email. It can be short conversations at drop-off and pickup, or time spent talking on the phone. It may be one-sided at the start or throughout the whole placement. It may be awkward or natural. It may produce progress or you may not see much at all. What does or does not happen in a particular relationship doesn’t change the validity of all communication. Communicating with the parents of the child does serve that child’s best interest.
Everything you do or don’t do sends a message
If your placement does go to adoption, I can assure you that it will not be a matter of if but when your child will ask you about “their mom,” “their dad” or “their story.” Personally, I feel it is an easier conversation when you are part of that story. A story where you tell your child how you worked with this family, how you had a relationship with “their mommy” or “their grandma.” How you talked back and forth, how you shared pictures and drawings. How cards were sent or how you simply texted them saying you were OK and wonderful.
Over the years, the stories we have been blessed to be a part of have varied as much as the children themselves. We have been able to help a father with respite a month after his son was reunified with him. We have been able to continue a relationship with a parent because their children came back into the system.
We still receive occasional text messages from our adopted son’s birth mother. We continue to tell her how wonderful he is and how blessed we are that she chose us to love him.
Always remember that we are the best example of a good parent for the children in our care AND their parents. Everything you do or don’t do sends a message to each of them. So please send a message that says you want to be a part of the whole story!
– Betsy DuKatz, licensed foster parent.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services recruits, trains and provides support services for foster families. The need for foster parents in Wisconsin is great. Contact us to receive information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, or visit our website to learn more.