Most foster children have visitations with birth parents. Most foster parents harbor some dread regarding visitations because they are so heart wrenching and often confusing for foster children. Visitations, however, are an important part of the overall goal of foster parenting, which ultimately seeks to reunify children with their birth families. Although reunification isn’t always possible, it is still important to give birth parents the opportunity to prove themselves and to get their children back. Without visitations, reunification would be very stressful and difficult for birth parents and let’s face it, most birth parents are already floundering or else they would be involved in the system to begin with. Visitations keep children involved in their birth families and actually prevent them from completely adapting to their new foster home, which is why visitations are so stressful for foster families.
Children are naturally adaptive creatures. They are able to tolerate change relatively well compared to adults. Foster children who never have contact with their birth parents may be able to adapt to a new home more easily than children who have regular contact with their birth parents, but adaptation to the new foster home isn’t really the goal. The goal is to care for the child and keep the child safe while foster parenting team attempts to help the birth parents get on their feet again by doing therapy, providing resources, and helping birth parents get their home cleaned up or made more amenable to parenting.
You can imagine whether you have biological children or not, how frantic you would be if someone swooped in from the outside and removed your child from your care, claiming that you were a “bad” parent for some reason. Some birth parents were really trying to do the best that they could for their children, but were overcome by poverty, illness, or other circumstantial problems beyond their control. Now imagine what you would feel like if these people took your child and then didn’t allow you to see him or her…ever. It would feel frightening and you may even start to wonder whether your child was really okay or not. Visitations allow parents to see their child and to see you, the foster parents and to calm their own fears about what’s happening to their family. Visitations help birth parents stay focused on getting their lives straightened out for the benefit of their children.
Although visitations often leave children feeling sad and confused, they are a necessary part of the foster parenting paradigm. If you can come up with ways to “reset” the tenor of the day following visitations and help refocus your foster child on being a kid that is perhaps the best thing you can do. Try to give your foster child the opportunity to talk about his or her experience at the visitation and express feelings if at all possible. And help your foster children see and understand that their birth parents do love them. This will make it easier for them to let go and easier for you to go on with your daily lives.