I was a foster parent in The Bronx before the city began trying to keep foster children in their communities. When I first heard about the change I thought it would be a great idea for the children, because pulling children out of their home is traumatizing enough. It wouldn’t be as traumatizing if you keep the children in their community.
But now I believe that, in some ways, the change is harmful. Some birth parents are angry that they have lost their child and they take their anger out on the foster parent. If the foster parents and the biological parents do not see eye-to-eye, it can be very confrontational when they are living near each other.
I also know that this is for a good cause. The city wants foster parents and birth parents to work together to get the kids back home. I think this is very important, but I don’t think they have to live near each other to do that. Where the children live matters less than changing the foster parents’ outlook so that they see themselves as helpers to the biological parent.
Some foster parents don’t want to bond with the birth parent. They find it unnecessary or think it’s a burden. And they may not want the children to go back home. I don’t care what the age of the child is, if you are human you will get attached to them. Some foster parents find it very hard to accept that they are only a temporary part of the child’s life, that they must help the child move on. It’s a hard job. You bond with this child and when they move out of your home you have lost a very important part of your life.
When I became a foster parent, I had a child who was two years old when he came to me. I became very attached to him and his sister. We just clicked. When they left to live with their aunt I thought somebody died. I decided right then and there I couldn’t be a foster parent because of the grief I was going through.
When I finally decided to take in another child I did it with a different outlook -- the same outlook the city is trying to get foster parents to adopt. I told myself that I was trained as a foster parent to open my home to a child but at the same time I have to let the child know that they are going to move on. I am that bridge they have to cross before they walk back to their own home.
Now I try to think from the birth parent’s point of view. I call the birth parent up every time I am about to make a decision about the child. If the child acted up in school, I call the birth parent. The kid is floored when I do that, thinking, “Damn, I thought I had to just deal with this lady.” But it helps them do well academically. They know their mom will be on them and I will be on them and they can’t play us against each other.
Also, I avoid agency visits, because if you had a child in foster care, would you like to see the child for only two hours with someone looking at you? So I might have a visit once or twice with a parent at the agency, then I will get permission to bring the child to meet with their parent in restaurants or to go to a show. Once I asked the parent to meet me and her child at 42nd street at the Olive Garden and we went to the wax museum and made a big day of it. Another time she had a family reunion with fried chicken, collard greens, potato salad, you name it.
Now when I work with other foster parents, I tell them our homes are only a temporary situation for the children. We have to keep in the forefront of our brains that most of the kids will be going back home to their birth moms. We need to reach out to the birth mom. We need to understand her initial anger and try to connect with her anyway. Our support can help her do what she needs to do to get her child home.