Very nearly 100% of cases that come into care have a goal set at ‘Return Home.’ This is important, and it defines the direction of the case. It means that, despite the dysfunction or abuse, the court recognizes that the very best place for a child is in the happy, healed biological home with his or her parents and siblings. It means that emotional ties to family need to be maintained and made healthy. When people think about the system, they typically think of separation. The truth though, is that the system is in place to achieve reunification.
Families or single parents involved in the system have done something wrong, something that either directly or indirectly hurt their children. That means they have made mistakes and acted improperly. It does not make them bad people or forever unqualified to care for their children. Services such as parenting classes, domestic violence groups, individual therapy, and substance abuse treatment can be put in place to help parents learn from and move on from their previous histories. A parent may be assigned just one service or may need several inter-reliant classes in order to be able to be deemed safe to have their child back in their care. Because, remember, that is the goal; to see parents and children back together. They need to go to their classes, participate, and then the professionals that are delivering the services must decide if the parent is making progress or not. Progress is a measurable way to determine if a parent has learned from their services and is capable of acting differently in the future.
A foster parent is there in the interim, while a parent is working on learning new skills and cannot have his/her children living at the family home. A foster parent is a caregiver, an advocate, and a source of love and support for the child. Foster parents are integral and very, very needed. Yet, a foster parent is not a replacement parent. These children enter foster homes already having a parent and a life and bond with that parent. They are in need of healing, not necessarily substitution. To better describe what this relationship can in the best of times be, please view the following article first posted at http://www.fosteringperspectives.org/fp_vol5no2/three_perspectives.htm.
Vol. 5, No. 2 • May 2001
Three Perspectives on a Successful Reunification
Every month, children leave foster care and return home to their families. Although they create powerful emotions, for the most part these are quiet events. In fact, the people involved often do not know each other and may not fully understand the fears and joys that accompany each unique reunion. Thanks to the generosity of people involved in one reunification, we are able to share with you the thoughts and feelings of some of those who have been deeply touched by reunification.
Letter from a foster mother “Our Biggest Reward”
My husband and I both are very dedicated to our role as foster parents here in Wake County. Most recently our work has been dedicated to a very bright, energetic 15-month-old boy, J, and his young mother, K, helping them to grow as individuals and to be reunited with each other as quickly as possible.
Working toward reunification between children and their legal guardians has to be the number one goal of a good foster parent.
It is easy, if we do not stay focused, to get caught up with feelings and thoughts like, “How can I possibly say good-bye to a child I have fostered so long in my home and send them back to the same environment from which they came?”
My husband and I do not look at it as saying good-bye or as the child returning back to the same environment. We see it as giving children a new beginning, a fresh start with their natural families after the healing process has begun to take place in their family.
Please do not misunderstand me here—there are some cases where the children are unable to return home again. But many will be able to return.
The Story of J and K
When my husband and I heard of their story and about little J we immediately took him into our home. He was somewhat shy and frightened at first, but with a lot of hard work and attention we earned J’s trust very quickly. This was our first reward.
As we worked with him and taught him new skills, we were also able to get to know his mother. We first met her at social services and grew closer during our regular weekly phone calls, during which we discussed J’s progress at home and school, his ups and his downs, and the highlights of his life. We soon learned how devoted K was to her son.
After a very short time, Jim Condon, J’s social worker, asked my husband and I if we would be willing to work with J and K together in our home so K could spend quality time with her son and continue to practice her parenting skills and to learn what she could from us, since she was such a young, single mother.
We agreed to this without any hesitation or doubt. We did not feel threatened or endangered by K at all. In fact, we felt this to be very therapeutic for J.
Jim requested a complete weekly update on K’s meetings with her son and their progress together. All our reports to him were positive. Over time my husband and I had gotten to know K and liked her. She and her son were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in a bad situation that caused their long separation.
My husband and I were impressed with K’s determination—she did everything that was required of her in order to have her son returned to her. K worked 40 to 50 hours a week to provide for her and her son. She also attended many meetings with Jim Condon and team leaders, and spent 8 to 10 hours a week in our home doing things like feeding, bathing, clothing, and reading to her son so that she would not lose touch with her parenting skills. She also spent hours on the phone getting progress reports on her son’s toddler achievements.
Thanks to all the trust Jim Condon had in the four of us, we have been able to add some outside activities to our time with K, such as attending the State fair and trick-or-treating on Halloween. Without close, constant supervision by Jim Condon, none of these outside activities would have been possible. Without the teamwork of Jim, his team leaders, K and J, and my husband and myself, K and J’s reunification may not have taken place so effectively and quickly. I think we all strived very hard for December to arrive and it did, a very happy and rewarding day.
We feel strongly that having K spend time with her son in our home helped them both tremendously, especially little J. We hope that K learned some problem-solving and parenting skills from us that she can continue to use with J.
We still hear from K and J on a regular basis. They are both doing great. This is our biggest reward.
Jim and Linda Boseman are foster parents in Wake County.
Letter from a birth mother “A tremendous weight was lifted”
When my son was put into foster care in July, I had a very hard time dealing with it. I kept picturing how the department of human services was portrayed in the movies. They always looked like the “Bad Guys.” Once I met my caseworker, Jim Condon, he explained that his goal was to reunify me and my son. A tremendous weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Jim had to make sure that my son was in a safe, healthy, and loving environment. He always made it clear that my son needed to be with his mother. I thank him for always being positive. This was a much easier situation to get through, having support from Jim.
The foster parents are amazing! They kept me informed every week of how my son was doing. They made sure that I knew everything that was going on in my son’s life while we were apart. Jim and Linda worked well with me and always made me feel very comfortable. Linda and I took my son to the State fair and also trick-or-treating. They are great people and my son loves them dearly.
Now that my son is home with me, I still keep in touch with the foster parents and plan to do so always. They are a huge part of my son’s life. They provided a loving home for my son until we could be together again. I couldn’t think of any other place I would have rather him have been than with Jim and Linda.
My experience with the foster care program was a good one. Everyone did everything that they could to help me through it. It provided me with a lot of knowledge that I needed to become a better parent. I made it through the most difficult experience of my life and walked away with new friends.
I just wanted to say a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who made the past year of my life much more bearable.
Letter from a social worker “Thanks to the Bosemans, J never forgot his Mom”
Foster parents hold crucial roles in child welfare reunification cases. Foster parents have the unique opportunity to join with biological parents to achieve successful reunification by assuring that parents maintain physical and emotional ties with their children. When possible, social workers should encourage frequent, quality visits and phone calls between biological parents and children.
Foster parents, social workers, therapists, school personnel, GAL’s, relatives, and biological parents all have strengths and play roles that are critical for successful reunification. The social worker cannot do it alone. The most effective social worker is one that recognizes and uses the strengths of each team member while being aware of his or her own limitations.
Children in foster care often get to a point when they call their foster parents “mom” and “dad.” On one hand, this makes social workers believe they have placed children in an incredible home (why else would they call them mom and dad?). Unfortunately, this is often a reflection of the fact that the bonds between foster children and their biological parents can be damaged when children are in out-of-home care. When we entrust children to foster families, it should not be for these foster parents to take the place of biological parents (unless agencies are relieved of reunification efforts). Social workers need to assure that children in foster care at crucial stages of attachment maintain close psychological bonds with their biological parents.
Jim and Linda Boseman are examples of the kinds of foster parents needed in reunification cases. The Bosemans embraced J’s mother. They included her in the care of her child in the foster home (bathing, feeding, putting him to bed). The Bosemans were creative with visits, going trick-or-treating and going to the State fair. They also maintained regular phone contact with K. This mother was never made to feel inferior or “bad,” and the Bosemans always made one thing clear: “You are his mother and he needs you.” K was an equal member of a team of professionals and family members who had the same goal, reunification.
K and J maintain frequent contact with the Bosemans not because they have to, but because they want to. The Bosemans have become part of their family. The child was a year old when he came into care. Thanks to the work of the Bosemans, he never forgot who his “mom” was—and the negative affects of out-of-home care were minimized.