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Mar 24, 2017

by Kim Poplaski, MARE Recruitment and Licensing Specialist, and Andi Kraker, Licensing Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Grand Rapids

It’s a common question we address in foster care orientation: Are biological parents scary people? Foster-parents-in-training wonder, “If they’ve hurt their kids, will they try to hurt me or my kids?”

Becoming a licensed foster parent is a big step, and an important one for you to provide a safe and loving home for a child. It’s also a new step, and fear of the unknown is understandable. 

Here are a few facts you should know if this question makes you apprehensive about considering foster care:

  • Foster parent information is confidential. Parents will not know your address and often your last name.
  • Parents will not be able to pick up the child from school or daycare. Children in foster care can only be released to the foster parents or agency staff. Anyone else must be approved by the agency.
  • Bethany’s policy is to have agency staff present and supervising every parent visit. Parents get a set amount of time to visit with the child, usually weekly. This varies according to the child’s age. At any other time when a parent will be present with the child, the agency is responsible to be there as well.
  • In rare cases where a parent poses a danger to the child, visitation will not be granted.
  • Check with the local Bethany office in your state to find out what rights parents retain while their child is in care.

Thinking about becoming a foster parent? Learn more.

Reunification with parents is always the first goal in foster care, and we encourage Bethany foster parents to develop a working relationship with the child’s parents. It might help you to have a clearer picture of where many parents are coming from.

  • Most of us learn to parent the way we were parented. Many of our parents have experienced generational abuse, neglect, or trauma, and they may not know how to parent differently. When they reflect on their own experience, they may not know what happened to them wasn’t OK. 
  • A lot of our parents have never had stable housing. Safe, affordable housing is hard to find in most cities, and rental properties are becoming more expensive for people who live below the poverty line. As bills pile up, parents are chronically stressed and worried about where they’re going to live tomorrow. Add a whining or crying child, and that’s often the moment when a parent will hit or leave the house with the kids home alone. 
  • Substance abuse is a big cause for kids coming into care. It’s easy for those who have never faced addiction to say, “How can anyone choose that over their kids?” But it’s not something parents choose just to choose it. Very often the parent is using the addictive substance to cope with some other kind of pain. Some people with addictions use drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues, and mental health care is often difficult to access for people living in poverty. Even if people know where and how to get help, they’re often faced with more broken systems to navigate. 
  • Parenting is hard, even for those who have a lot of support. On a challenging day when my child is making me crazy, I have a nearby grandma. My daughter can go to her house and hang out for an afternoon. A lot of our parents don’t have that kind of support or the option of taking a break from their kids. When they lose their kids to foster care, that is often the first time someone has stepped in to say, “Let me help you, or let me show you a better way to parent.” 
  • Your first interactions with a child’s parents might be uncomfortable. You’re meeting parents when they’re at their most vulnerable—their kids have been removed from their care, and what feels like an impersonal system is telling them that this stranger is a better parent than they are. It’s understandable they would feel defensive in that situation, like they don’t measure up. And they may try that much harder to appear as though they have everything together.

We’ve never met a parent that hasn’t loved their child or wanted the best for their child. Experience and empathy will help you deal with fears and apprehensions about foster care and working with parents. If you feel unsafe at any time, you can talk to you caseworker and make a plan for yourself and the child in your care.

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