What is Family Interaction?
As foster parents, you have probably seen a range of practices related to how and when foster children in your home see their parents. Perhaps at times, a child’s contact with his/her parents seemed to be linked to how well the parents were working their case plan (e.g. Had the parent gotten the evals he was told to? Had the parent “cooperated” with required services?)
That approach to managing parents’ behaviors by controlling their contact with their children doesn’t represent what we now know is best practice and in the best interest of children.
Here’s what we now know is best for kids:
- When children are in foster care it is essential that we create opportunities for them to see their parents so that the parent-child bond can be maintained.
- Visits need to be frequent – the younger the child, the more often they need to see their parents.
- Visits need to take place in settings that allow the parent to practice age-appropriate caregiving of the child. Children develop healthy attachments to parents when those parents are able to actively meet the child’s needs.
We also know that when children see their parents more frequently, the child will move more quickly to permanence – whether by returning home or by moving to another permanent placement.
One change you as a foster parent might notice is that we are going to stop talking about “visits” and start talking about “family interaction” – using the term “family interaction” helps remind us that there is more to a parent’s contact with their child than just seeing or visiting with the child.
More importantly, you as a foster parent should see more concrete, comprehensive plans for parent-child contacts. These plans will be called “Family Interaction Plans” and you as a foster parent will very likely play an important role in the plans for children in your home. You may find that as children see their parents more frequently, you as a foster parent will have to do more schedule-juggling. We hope you will also have more contact with the parents of the children in your home, whether through the parent coming to your home to help provide care of their children, or through coordinating family interaction logistics. We also hope you’ll see that your own involvement in family interaction helps move more children to permanence. You as a foster parent will play an increasingly critical role in helping families – which is why you became a foster parent in the first place!
Family Interaction Philosophy
Parents and children have the right to spend time together. The primary purpose of family interaction is to maintain the parent-child relationship and other family attachments. This will establish a secure based attachment context to reduce the sense of abandonment which children experience at placement.
Goals of Family Interaction
- Enhance the parent’s ability to adequately and appropriately care for and relate to the child;
- Establish or maintain a secure-based attachment with the child;
- Develop a sense of “being with” the child during times of needs;
- Identify and resolve problems before the child is returned to the parent’s care;
- Develop and practice new parenting behaviors and patterns of interaction;
- Maintain relationships with siblings, parents, and other individuals;
- Provide opportunities to assess caregiver needs; and
- Maintain meaningful contact consistent with the development and/or special needs of the child that will further progress toward achieving permanency for the child(ren).
Family Interaction Caregiver Feedback Form - Use this sample feedback form if you are supervising a Family Interaction. This form should be given to the child's placement worker, unless otherwise instructed.
My Happy Pack
Children enter foster care for many reasons. Frequently a child can not safely return home for several months. A lot can happen in the life of a 2-year-old, a 7-year-old or even an 11-year-old in a few days’ time. A two-year-old may begin putting a few words together to form sentences. A seven-year-old may get a good-behavior note from his or her teacher. An eleven-year-old could write a poem or journal entry he or she is especially proud of. Imagine being the biological parents and missing out on so many of these things.
At the same time, you as the foster parent may be busy and won’t necessarily remember, between visits, what special little everyday kinds of things have happened with the child. My Happy Pack is a plan to help the child share with their biological parents those special things that have happened since their last family interaction.
To help make family interactions more meaningful, a foster parent can provide My Happy Pack to the child to transport the things they want to show their biological parents. My Happy Pack would be a backpack or bag for a child to use only for family interactions with their biological parents. Between family interactions the child can be encouraged to put things into My Happy Pack that he or she is excited to share with their biological parents. Here are some examples of items that might be included:
- A favorite book
- Something cute or funny that the child said that you have wrote on a piece of paper
- New words the child is saying, if it’s a younger child
- A picture the child drew or colored
- A note from the child’s teacher or an assignment the child is proud of
- A snapshot of the child doing a favorite activity
- A letter the child has written to their biological parents
Whenever something comes up that the child may want to share with his or her biological parents, encourage him/her to put it into their My Happy Pack. This gives biological parents a place to start their interactions; it lets them know what their child has been doing since the last family interaction, and allows the biological parent an opportunity to feel more involved in their child’s life. And the child will be very proud and excited to share their My Happy Pack!
A key in partnering with biological parents is communication. You as the foster parent can also include notes to the biological parents, share stories, or provide information about how the child is doing in your home. A Happy Pack is a gift you can give a child that will have a lasting impact on their lives!
IFAPA encourages foster parents to purchase backpacks or bags and begin the My Happy Pack with the children in their home.