This is a story about unexpected relationships. It’s a newer narrative in child welfare best practices. And, it represents an important perspective shift in the family visitation model.
It used to be that when a child entered out-of-home care, they would not see their biological family while they adjusted to being with their foster family. There was concern over how confusing it might be for a child to spend time with both their biological and foster parents.
This thinking has evolved significantly in the past couple of decades.
Now it is widely understood that parent-child visitations are critical to reducing the sense of loss and anxiety a child feels when placed in foster care. Furthermore, it has been realized that when a visit is mentored and not just monitored (or “supervised”), the results are even more positive, especially within the context of a reunification plan.
Trust Between Parents Benefits Children
The most recent enhancement to family visits has been the role of foster parents as coaches, following a model known as Fostering Relationships. SaintA has been using the Fostering Relationships model (formerly called ABC-V) for about a year and has trained about 14 SaintA caregivers in this innovative approach.
One such caregiver is Carol Sonnenberg, who is licensed through SaintA. She and her husband James currently have placement of a 5-month old baby girl. What’s so unique about this caregiving relationship is the seamlessness with which the biological father began to trust the foster parent.
Carly Bolli, SaintA Family Services Coordinator, is a trained staff mentor in the Fostering Relationships model. “Although she was hesitant at first to invite strangers into her home, she understood the value of shared-parenting visits,” says Bolli. “So she got trained and has had such a great experience, she wants other foster parents to know she would happily tell them more about her experiences if they’re interested.”
A QPM Success Story
In this case, the results have been so positive that the foster and bio parents were asked to share their story at a QPM (Quality Parenting Milwaukee) meeting in early 2017. The purpose of the meeting was to re-engage the community and share what Milwaukee has done over the past two years because of QPM. Their role on the panel was to demonstrate successful shared parenting.
In attendance were staff and foster parents from SaintA and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, as well as representatives from the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services.
“It was a case where the bio dad just needed to learn to recognize what his baby girl needed,” explains Jenny Keefe, SaintA Program Services Manager. “Carly, our staff mentor, was integral in bringing the whole team together and working with our Case Manager and the foster parents to provide that education.”
Parenting Model Changes Lives
According to Keefe, when learning a new care model, it’s easy to get focused on following it to the letter. “It’s also important to use the model as a guide and let the relationships naturally occur,” she says.
For anyone in attendance at the January QPM meeting, it was obvious that’s what had transpired in this case. Carol and the biological father bravely told their story of shared parenting, as emotional as it was at times.
“Success happens when a strong bond is formed between the bio and foster parents and it lasts as long as the case progresses – or even lasts beyond reunification,” says Bolli. “This shared parenting bond may even help speed up the path to reunification.”
For both Bolli and Keefe – and likely everyone in attendance that night – the most memorable moments occurred as the biological father beamed with visible pride when Carol provided positive feedback on his improved parenting.
For those who were listening closely, he said, “I love you.” To which Carol replied, “We love you, too.”