Today's Foster Friday topic about dealing with birth families is near and dear to my heart. Unlike many foster parents over a decade ago, I tried to build a relationship with birth parents for two reasons. First, I wanted to smooth the transition home for children who would be leaving me. Second, I was selfish and hoped to maintain a relationship with those children. In most cases it worked, but it was not always a pretty picture. For the first part of my story and to read other contributions on this subject, go check out Birth Family Relationships.
Now, here is the rest of my story about my relationships with the families of May, Sweets, and BB. Unfortunately, there has been no contact possible with Buddy's family.
When May's case was proceeding to TPR, mediation was held with her dad, the only active parent in the case. Although he was not able to care for a toddler, he loved her and attended his visits reliably. She had a bond with him. I told him I would still let him visit her on occasion if I adopted her. Nothing was ever formalized, but I meant it. May's GAL later told the judge in the case that he was convinced I would maintain this relationship. Why he said that, other than to convince the judge to pursue me as the adoptive parent instead of following a lead on a blood relative who came up late in the case, I'll never know, because he barely knew me. The GAL later offered to be a go-between when the adoption was final, because I was uncomfortable giving dad my contact information at that time.
About every six months, I would try to call dad to setup a visit with May in a public, neutral environment. Sometimes I couldn't contact him for over a year, but eventually he would call the GAL to pass along a new phone number for me to contact him. We went to McDonald's, pizza, a park, a movie, or a restaurant for dinner. Eventually, I invited him to meet us at one of May's choir concerts. About three years ago, dad really turned his life around. We have now exchanged email addresses and cell phone numbers. Visits are two or three times a year, but May might call him once or twice a year as well. The relationship May has built with her dad has helped her self-esteem and grounded her to her heritage. Her dad truly appreciates May's life today and my role in it. I am thrilled at how this relationship has turned out!
When Sweets was transitioning to her dad toward the end of her case, the situation was very unpleasant. Sweets didn't want to go. There was a major language barrier between her and her dad who primarily spoke Spanish. Having spent almost four years with me, she couldn't understand why she had to move to his house when she was starting kindergarten. Her dad and I marginally communicated in English, but I was not allowed to interact with him without the case manager present during the transition. They broke almost every rule in the book to return her home, and I think they were worried about me sabotaging the transition.
Amazingly, after the move was complete, Sweets' dad allowed me to come visit her for a couple hours every other weekend. Eventually, he let me take her to do something for most of a Saturday. Finally, on Thanksgiving, he allowed Sweets to spend the night with me. At Christmas, she spent a couple nights. The case closed in January. After that, Sweets started coming to my house for some weekends. She was allowed to go on vacation with us that summer. Now she spends almost every day she is not in school at my house. Dad's openness to me remaining in Sweets' life was unexpected by all. He was discouraged by the case manager and his own family. I praise God that he listened to Sweets and her cries to see her "mom".
Sweets has now lived with her dad longer than she lived with me. He recognizes how much I love her and how much she feels part of our family. He has now met my parents and sisters and understands that Sweets has them as family too. We have had good times and bad times over the years. If you have read this blog for very long, you have heard the struggles. It is not an easy relationship, but it offers Sweets the best life I can give her.
BB's birth mom never participated in his case. On the other hand, BB has two maternal aunts who have been there since the beginning. When mom did not show for visits, CPS cancelled them, essentially cutting off contact between BB and his aunts. After asking the case manager if it would be acceptable, I exchanged email addresses with the aunts and arranged visits with them about once a month. This continued until BB was about nine months old and the case was moving to TPR. Since then we have had visits about every three months. We have now exchanged cell phone numbers as well.
My plan is to continue these visits, even after the adoption is final. Both aunts are very appropriate and enjoy time with BB. One aunt has two little girls close in age to BB, so it will be great for him to grow up knowing his cousins. Additionally, I have learned information about mom and extended family that I would not have otherwise known. I have even indicated to the aunts that if mom gets her act together, I am not opposed to her visiting BB. Unfortunately, that seems like it will be a long time in coming.
Foster parenting involves birth families. There is no way around it. Some birth families appreciate you. Others can't wait to leave you behind. I have been blessed that in most of my cases, I have been able to have a meaningful relationship with a birth parent or other relative. This has also allowed me to remain in contact with many of my former foster children.