Understanding Children’s Responses to Visits
A great deal of care and thought is required to build a relationship between foster caregivers and children’s parents. The development of this relationship with the parents is important to the success of a placement. Parental participation in caring for children is also central to Inclusive Foster Care and visits prepare the groundwork for the inclusive care team. If foster caregivers and parents can accept and respect each other, then children can feel emotionally safer. Children should not feel forced to choose between their parents and foster caregivers, nor should they be forced to participate in visits against their will or if it appears to be traumatizing for them (if this happens then discussion with the child’s social worker must occur).
Visits can be difficult for everyone; people may experience intense emotions, such as longing, and may have expectations of how a visit will play out. Preparing for visits beforehand and debriefing afterwards is important and can be beneficial for all partners of inclusive fostering. An example of preparing before a visit could include discussing information about the child’s parent with them; children should be given as much information as they can handle, given age and developmental stage. If you are unsure about what or how much information to share with a child, discuss with the child’s social worker.
Visits can be very emotional for a child and may trigger a variety of feelings and behaviours. It is normal and healthy for children and youth to experience some emotional/behavioural disruption or regression as a result of visits with their parent(s) or extended family. Children become upset about visits because they need to express their thoughts and feelings. As a foster caregiver it is important for you to understand the emotionality of visits and help the child to express and process feelings that arise from visits with family; for example, preparing and debriefing for visits with the child/youth Children’s needs regarding visits change as they develop. Infants and toddlers typically require frequent visits, preferably every couple of days to support healthy development. However, they also need consistent routine and care, meaning that young children are best served by frequent visits in their own placement environment. As children develop it becomes more important to them that visits are outside of school hours and enable them to participate in favourite activities.
Speaking to children about planning and engaging in visits with parents and family members can be difficult; check out the book, “The Invisible String,” for some ideas to help you discuss visits and why children cannot always be with their parents.