Birth family and the role of foster carers

First things first. Children have the right to know and be connected to their family even if they are unable to live with them. Discussing birth family can bring up many emotional conversations with other foster carers.

Some, like myself, made a decision early to ask to support family time for children with their birth family. My decision had a lot to do with the idea of sending CC off in a car with someone who was a stranger to her when she was already struggling with attachment.

Yes, I was very nervous to first meet family but many years later that is a far distant memory. Everyone is respectful and I find it gives me extra opportunities to share some of things that are going on in CC’s life. It has also become very important to CC that I go along with her so she has more confidence and can be more relaxed.

If you are caring for older children who have strong bonds with birth family, then the experience would be different again.

Other foster carers have never met birth family.  

I do believe foster care agencies have to foot some of the responsibility for the very different views that foster carers have about supporting and facilitating time with birth family.

Hopefully this isn’t still occurring anymore, but many of us were advised that we wouldn’t be dealing with birth family in any way – this would be the role of the foster care agency. This set up an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality which I believe has got in the way of supporting children in care.

All children who are in care should already have a plan in place in terms of the family they are seeing. This is usually set up with a ‘minimum’ and this can be increased where appropriate (in the best interest of the child/ren).  A rough example of a minimum would be 6 times per year.

In NSW more recently, there is a better focus on ensuring that children in care have a true sense of belonging and connection to their birth family wherever possible.

Yes, there are some situations where a certain family member may be unsafe and then it is absolutely appropriate for the foster care agency to arrange transport and supervision of any family visits with that person. But more generally, the rule of thumb is that foster carers take on this responsibility where ever possible as it makes the experience much more natural for children and young people in care.

If you are considering becoming a foster carer, please be open to meeting the family and create a relationship with them that supports natural family time.

If you are already very open to this and strive for a healthy partnership with families, also consider putting your hand up to become a restoration carer. We need more carers who can take children for a shorter period and be a mentor/support to help the parent/s to improve parenting and safety issues so that children can go home.

If you are already a foster carer and struggle with the idea of supporting birth family time, talk to your foster care agency about this so you can jointly work out a plan. Alternatively talk to other foster carers who have made the decision to support family time.

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