The child fares better when foster parents and the birth parent can get along. Mutual distrust and hostility, often based on a lack of information, serve no one. You don’t have to agree with one another. But you do need to withhold judgment. And show courtesy and respect for the person.
The major problem in getting along with others is our tendency to judge one another. Whether we are right or wrong makes little difference. Premature judgments tend to be set in stone. They interfere with trust and possible cooperation, and often end up in disputed court battles. Much better not to proceed as adversaries. Far better if you and the birth parent can start off and continue on the right foot.
How does a foster parent go about building a bridge between themselves and the birth parent? While not always possible, the approach is not that complicated. A five-year-old in our family expressed it well: “I know how you make friends. You just be friendly to them.” We all tend to like people who appear to like us.
Prejudices (pre-judgments) thrive in a vacuum. Meeting the birth parent soon after the transfer, before negative opinions are formed, can be helpful. Perhaps at a case conference when an early reunification plan is presented. After the usual introductions are made, you might comment: “We really appreciate the opportunity to care for your child until you are able to get matters worked out….In the meantime, we would welcome anything you can share with us about your child….” Focusing on the child will hopefully give you a common interest.
Noticing something positive about the birth parent is another simple way to start. Perhaps their smile or their expressed concern for their child. Their manner of dress or a comment they made. Remember, wherever your foster care experience is heading, the path will go much smoother with cooperation.
In some cases, positive contact has continued after foster care has ended. On the one hand, the former foster parents have continued as honorary aunts and uncles. On the other, a cooperation adoption has provided for legal post-adoption exchange of information or visitation.
Mutual distrust and disrespect can contribute to long delays while the child drifts in temporary care. Whether through a successful reunification or adoption, the more quickly and amicably the child can settle into his or her permanent family, the more likely he or she can resume a healthy development.