When a child enters foster care, their relationship with their birth family changes but those connections will still be important. Fostering contact with birth families will help to maintain a child’s identity and culture. Keeping in contact with parents and other family members helps a foster child stay in touch with where they come from. A child in care may even one day return to their families, so maintaining that relationship is vital.
Most children in foster care have regular contact with their birth families, but it isn’t always easy. After being separated from their parents, it can be hard for children to navigate their complicated emotions – but as a foster parent, you can be there to help them through it.
Here’s how contact between children and birth families is organised, and what you can do to support your foster child.
What are birth parents rights in foster care?
According to the UK National Minimum Standards for Fostering, foster children should have, where appropriate, constructive contact with their parents, family, friends and other people who play a significant role in their lives.
How and when a child talks to and visits with their families is up to the Local Authority and depends a lot on each child’s situation. It will be clearly set out in the child’s care plan, and reviewed regularly to make sure that contact is as beneficial as possible for the child.
Options include in-person visits and phone calls, but the type of contact will depend on the child’s age and what works best for the family. Every situation is different: some children have open contact and can call their parent(s) whenever they want, while others have minimal contact twice a year. Sometimes, a foster child will decide they don’t want to be in touch with their families. That decision is up to the child, and will be respected for as long as they want.
Your role is to support your foster child, and you won’t be involved in organising or overseeing their visits. The most valuable thing you can do is talk to your foster child about their families and help the Local Authority understand how contact is affecting your foster child.
Helping your foster child with their family relationships
Talking to their birth families can bring up negative feelings, but it’s good for a child to learn to handle difficult emotions.
Sometimes birth parents can be disengaged, which is hard on a child. As a foster parent, you can’t change the situation, but you can provide your foster child with some tools to process what’s happening:
- Give them a creative outlet. Depending on your foster child’s interests, give them a creative way to express their feelings. Colouring, making up stories, and even kicking a football around can all help a child process emotions they might not have words for yet.
- Keep an open conversation. When your foster child is dealing with something difficult, be there with them in the moment. Let them know that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling, and try and empathise with them.
- Be clear about the schedule. The Local Authority will arrange visitation, but you can talk with your foster child about when and where contact will happen, and let them know when the plan changes.
- Be prepared for a tough few days. Your foster child might experience anything from excitement to fear or disappointment. Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling; it can help them learn how to process and regulate their emotions.
As one Compass Fostering carer explains, “a foster child’s behaviour before and after contact with their birth family can change quite dramatically for a few days. There’s a build-up of anticipation, but with a schedule they can follow and support from their carer, it can be dealt with by both of you as a team.”
You can also help prepare your foster child by talking about their family often and positively. Your foster child may take cues from you about how to approach their time with their families, and you can encourage them to be positive about their visits.
Why is contact with birth families so important?
The stories we tell ourselves about our past form a big part of our individual identities, and children in care can struggle to create a cohesive narrative for themselves. Without a relationship to their birth families, a person who has been in care will always have unanswered questions about who they are and where they come from.
Helping a child maintain a link to their family keeps that vital connection to their past, and holds the door open for closer relationships in their future.
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