Supporting Reunification: How Foster Families Can Rally Around Bio Families


A word that often creates high emotions and deep pain for foster families.

A word that creates hope and a second chance for biological families.


The goal of foster care. 

When I chat with families interested in fostering, hands down the biggest concern I get is:
“But what if I get too attached?”   

My response?
“Your role IS to get too attached and to love them for as long as they need whether that’s a week, a month, or a year. From there, we enter a discussion about reunification.” 

When a case is brought to DPS, they first try to provide support to keep children in their homes.  When that is not possible and a child enters kinship or foster care, the parent is given time to address the concerns and hopefully be reunified.  According to the Children’s Bureau’s AFCARS report, 46% of children in care are reunified and 27% are adopted.  Foster parents need to understand these numbers and be ready to get too attached to children who will return home when their parent(s) complete their treatment plan. 

Ways foster families can better support reunification:

  • Don’t believe you are better than the child’s parent(s).  Of the 60 youth who have been in my care, most of them have been removed due to substance abuse.  When I get to know parents, I look them in the eye, tell them that I care for them, and tell them their story could’ve very easily been mine.  Doing this helps them believe I am on their side and not trying to take their child from them.
  • Never speak negatively about biological parents.  Almost always, youth have a deep love for their families and if they hear a foster parent speak badly about them, it grows a wedge and creates distrust. Also, don’t allow others to speak badly about them.  Time and time again, we get asked questions about birth parents from friends, family, even strangers and often right in front of the child..  Learn how to thwart those questions (and comments) and show the youth you are on their family’s side. 
  • Keep a journal or folder with information that you pass on during visitation.  Foster parents get to experience the day-to-day events that birth parents miss and grieve.  Show your care for them and their role by sharing stories, pictures, awards, and art.  Ongoing communication can help a parent stay encouraged to work on their treatment plan. 
  • If your agency doesn’t do Icebreaker Meetings, suggest it!  An icebreaker is a meeting between the foster parent(s) and birth parent(s) shortly after placement.  It’s a time to get to know one another, open up communication, and for them to share about their child with you. 

One of the beautiful things about letting birth parents know you’re on their side is that it often keeps a relationship open after reunification.  From that first Icebreaker to the very end, I do everything I can to show parents respect. I don’t always do it perfectly, but my goal is always for them to know their child is in a safe, loving home that will encourage and respect their relationship with one another. 

Yes, it’s hard when a child we love leaves our home.  Even after 15 years, I have the fear of getting too attached knowing the child will likely leave.  

However, seeing families be reunified is worth getting too attached!

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