Jacqueline Israel, a former parent advocate whose children spent six years in foster care, explains how to make the most of your visits:
1. Bring Toys and Games
When you visit at the agency, the room just isn’t a home environment. Bring games, coloring books, toys, crayons, and books to read to your child. You can even play soft music and bring a visiting blanket to play on the floor. If you’re not sure what the rules are in the visiting room, ask your caseworker.
2. Expect Your Kids to Act Up
It’s normal for a child to feel angry or scared about being in foster care, or to feel sad and confused about being apart from you, and to act up as a result. When a child is acting up, we start thinking, “Why is this happening? Is someone hurting my child?” You might feel very scared that you can’t help your child, or even angry or explosive. But you can help your children by staying calm, reassuring them that you’re working to get them home, and letting them know that you love them even when you’re not together.
3. Make Visits a Time to Bond
Sometimes I see parents and kids sitting far apart, or kids playing videogames. But visits are a time to strengthen the bond you have with your child. You want to get down on the floor, play and talk with your kids. They miss you and need your full attention and love. Don’t use your visits to complain or speak to agency staff. That takes quality time away from your child.
4. Keep Visiting and It will Get Easier
Sometimes parents say, “It’s just too hard to visit my child at the agency.” But you need to prove that you care about your child. If you don’t visit, you can permanently lose your child. You and your child will feel better if you spend more time together. Even a week apart can feel like forever to a child, because children are having new experiences every day. Do your best to bond with your child, and the visits will get easier.
5. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
One of the hardest moments is when children ask, “When am I coming home?” Be as honest as you can be, while keeping in mind the child’s age. Tell your children, “I wish I could take you home right now, but I can’t. I’m working on it, and I’ll take you home as soon as possible.” Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. If you say, “You’ll be home next week,” and it doesn’t happen, your child won’t know who to trust.
6. Build a Relationship With the Foster Mom
You can help your child and your case by being polite to the foster parent. At visits, say, “Hello. How are my kids? How are they in school?” Even if all you can do is say hello, keep it positive and speak to your caseworker privately about any concerns.
7. Help Your Children Say Goodbye
Parents and their children don’t want visits to end. Children don’t understand why they can’t go home. They cry, have fits. Don’t let goodbyes go on and on. When it’s almost time to leave, say, “It’s time for us to go now. Please take care. I’ll see you soon.” Help your children say goodbye, and leave your child with the foster parent or caseworker.
8. Take Care of You
Leaving visits can feel lonely and discouraging. Think about what makes you feel good—a phone call or visit with a friend, a walk—and set that up in advance.