The Importance of Birth Family Connection
Supporting a foster child’s relationship with their biological family is as essential as providing food, shelter, and other basic needs.
Family Works foster parents and staff were fortunate enough to learn from Alice Egan about how to facilitate these crucial relationships in our October 2020 virtual training.
“The best and most effective foster parents have the ability to emotionally and spiritually take in a birth family and help raise people up to be the best family they can be.”~ Alice Egan
Alice Egan is a Clinical Associate Professor at the UW Madison School of Social Work and the newest member of Family Works’ Board of Directors. She has over 8 years of professional experience as a foster care and adoption specialist and personal experience as a parent to 3 children.
Her expertise is one of the many resources foster parents can look forward to learning from at our agency.
In the training, Alice highlighted both the benefits and challenges to birth family connection, often called shared parenting by child welfare workers.
In the past 20 years, the view of family contact has changed dramatically.
In the early 2000s, birth family connection was considered to be good and ideal when it could occur, but now family contact is viewed as an inherent, essential right for children.
The question is not whether or not children should have contact, but how do we make sure it happens?
The most forward-thinking states are creating legislation to support sibling relationships. One of these states is Minnesota. This bill of rights requires child welfare workers and other professionals to find ways to keep siblings connected to each other while in the system. View the MN sibling bill of rights (PDF)
Obstacles to overcome
Even to simply have a family visit, there are many barriers that foster parents and their teams must creatively work through. These challenges include family members being separated by physical distance, parental incarceration, and most recently, safety concerns due to COVID-19.
While there can be obstacles to overcome, Alice challenged participants to consider this question, “How can I be proactive and creative in my particular circumstances to form a partnership with a child’s family?”
Creative ways foster parents can practice shared parenting
- Starting off with collaboration by having an icebreaker meeting between foster parents and biological family before meeting child
- Celebrating holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations together
- Sharing day to day activities (pictures, videos, art projects) with biological parents
Current research shows that children who have contact with their family members are less likely to have mental health symptoms and more likely to be resilient in the face of trauma.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement about the importance of family visits during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommended in-person visits between children and their families as much as possible. (Read their guidance document.)
Even more importantly, children develop their sense of self through knowing their family. By hearing positive messages about their parents and siblings, children can see their own goodness and value.
No matter the hardships children may have experienced with their parents, children love their families and need to know more about their roots.
Staff and foster parents shared examples in the training sessions of times that birth and foster families were able to care deeply for children together. The results were clear. Children thrive and trust is built when children feel they have permission to be loved and cared for by all of the adults in their lives.
Shared parenting is hard but the evidence is clear that it is rewarding work.
After receiving this refresher on the importance of family relationships, our teams are ready to dive even more deeply into family connection.
Family Works sends a big thank you to Alice for sharing her expertise with our foster parents and providing the space to dive deeper into family relationships.