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How to facilitate family time with your foster child’s birth family

Let's explore some guidelines for interacting with birth families, ensuring that the time your foster child spends with their loved ones is safe, enriching, and meaningful.

March 4 2024 - 5 min read

At FCA we recognise that one of the best things we can do for young people in care is to help them build and maintain strong, healthy relationships with their birth families. Sometimes this can have its challenges, especially for foster parents as they try to balance their time and help their foster children to deal with some of the complicated emotions which can emerge around visits.

Let’s take a look together at some do’s and don’ts for contact with birth family, to help you to ensure that the valuable time your foster child spends with their loved ones is safe, enriching and meaningful.

Why is family time so important?

For most fostered children, the goal is to one day reunite them with their birth family in a healthy, happy environment. It’s important that every person involved in caring for a vulnerable young person understands the importance of them being able to spend time with their birth family. Spending time with loved ones, especially siblings, can have a huge impact on a child’s mental health and overall wellbeing.

DO prepare for visits in advance

It’s important that your foster child knows where and when they will be spending time with their birth family. Many children may become very excited when it’s time to visit mum, dad, their siblings or grandparents. You can help to encourage this excitement and ease the symptoms of missing family members in between visits by encouraging your foster child to create something to take with them to visits. This could be by making a card, baking something delicious to share with the family or by encouraging your young person to keep a diary of what they’ve been up to in-between visits.

As a foster parent, it can be frustrating to see your foster child upset or angry when a visit with loved ones doesn’t go as planned. If there have been issues with your foster child’s caregivers failing to attend sessions in the past, it may also be a good idea to have a backup activity planned in case family time does not go ahead. Finding a way to still make the day fun, such as by going to the park or to the cinema, can help to ease any feelings of upset and disappointment.

DON’T forget to listen to your foster child’s feelings

Many fostered children come from very difficult home situations, and family time can bring up a range of conflicting emotions. Some foster children may become anxious or tearful around family time, and may wish to stay home. Others may have complicated feelings, perhaps being excited to see their family but also feeling nervous or overwhelmed.

You can help to ease their anxiety by assuring them that you will be with them during the visit and that they will be safe. Encourage them to focus on what they could enjoy about the visit; for example, they may be looking forward to getting to play football with their siblings, or getting to see a beloved family pet. Encourage them to talk about their feelings with you before and after a visit, and look for ways which you might ease their anxiety. For example, if your foster child is reluctant to return to their old home as they do not feel safe there, perhaps look into arranging contact somewhere else where they will feel more comfortable.

Visits should always be in the best interests of your foster child, and they have a right to be heard if they decide that they do not want to have contact with a family member going forward. This may be due to a tense relationship in the past, feeling let down by a person if they fail to attend contact sessions, or because the child feels like they want to ‘move on’ from their previous life. If your foster child expresses this need, let your social worker know so that you can work together with your foster child to find the best solution for them.

DO work as a team

Maintaining good quality contact between foster children and their birth families is a group effort. Everyone involved in your foster child’s care has a role to play, including you, their birth family, your social worker and our team here at FCA. Working closely together ensures that everyone is well informed about where and when contact is taking place, and how to respond if any difficulties arise. Make sure that you keep in touch regularly with your social worker, and keep them in the loop of any changes regarding contact.

If your foster child has siblings who are also in care, it's important to ensure that you are working collaboratively with their caregivers to ensure that the siblings are able to spend quality time together. Some cared for children come from large families who may be living in different sibling groups, so it can take lots of careful planning to ensure that the children can spend quality time together enjoying one another’s company.

It’s also very important to try to build a good working relationship with your foster child’s birth family. Though it’s natural that disagreements may arise when caring for another person’s child, it’s important to be respectful of one another and always keep the interests of the child at the forefront of every interaction. It’s important not to talk negatively about a member of your foster child’s birth family, even if you are frustrated with them. If you have any ongoing issues between yourself and your child’s birth family, speak with your social worker to see if they can help you to resolve your concerns together. You can also contact us here at FCA if you need any additional support in promoting contact between your foster child and their loved ones.

DON’T neglect to review your contact plan

Every foster child should have a contact plan in place which is tailored to them and regularly reviewed. The contact plan takes into account the thoughts and feelings of everyone involved in your foster child’s life and dictates who should be able to have contact with the young person. It also sets out how long visits should be and where and how often they should take place. Reviewing your contact plan with your social worker is a great way to ensure that your foster child is getting the most they can out of visiting their loved ones.

You may find that your current contact plan does not allow for enough family time and that the young person in your care seems down after going a long time between visits. In this case, it might be a good idea to work with your social worker to amend your contact plan so that your foster child can spend longer visiting their birth family, or make visits more frequent.

Sadly for some looked-after children, family time can be emotionally upsetting. Being reunited with certain family members or visiting their former home may trigger fear or distress. Some children may seem to regress after a visit, or be left feeling unsettled. If you feel that contact with family is having a negative impact on your foster child’s wellbeing, speak to your social worker.

In some unfortunate cases, members of a foster child’s birth family may be aggressive towards the child’s foster family, or might consistently behave in ways which are damaging to the child, such as by arriving intoxicated. Safeguarding is always be the top priority of every professional involved in your foster child’s care, and their safety and wellbeing is at the heart of every decision made. Safeguarding measures also take into account the safety of anyone else living in your home, including other foster children and your birth children. Sadly, this means that in some cases contact has to be ended with a particular person to ensure everyone’s safety. If you have any concerns about a contact, you should record your concerns in writing and tell your social worker and the team here at FCA as soon as possible.

Family time can be a fantastic opportunity to see your foster children thrive, and with you by their side to support them you can help to ensure that they return home feeling happy, safe and content. To learn more about supporting the emotional needs of children in your care, click here. If you’re interested in fostering and want to learn more about how you can help children in need of a loving home, get in touch with us and a member of our friendly team will be happy to answer any questions you may have about becoming a foster parent.

Are you thinking of fostering?

Download the FCA’s complete beginner’s guide to fostering a child. Find out more on how to foster a child and the process involved.