CYC-Online 39 APRIL 2002
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in a nutshell

Birth parents' connection with their children in foster care

Henry Maier

Over the past years there has been a pioneering service in an effort to assist children in foster care by maintaining valid connection with their birth parents. This social breakthrough occurred not 100 years ago, but right now in our midst. The originator of this innovation is Charyl Gerring, a social worker at the Catholic Community Services of Everett, Washington. The work is based upon the belief that the placed child has the right to have safe connections with the birth family and that the placing agency has the responsibility to enable safe, appropriate relationship building between the birth family and the foster and/or adoptive family.

This work proceeds with a team of Connection Specialists and their step-by-step planning, supervising, and assisting the birth parents during each visit with their child and foster parents. These visits are well documented by the Connections Specialists, are a part of case planning and the research data being developed by the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Washington. The private agency, Catholic Community Services, the school and state child welfare agency are collaborating on this research/demonstration project, funded by the Stuart Foundation.

The objective of Mrs. Gerringís birth parent involvement serves to assure each child of his or her original family connections, and to give the birth parents the support for their life development. Foster parents are respectfully invited into the visits and enabled in a joining with the birth family in decisions and care of the child as is appropriate to the child's requirements. Thus far there has been no incident, after solid preparation of all parties involved, which has brought about questionable encounters. In fact, the children in foster homes have been strengthened in their developmental progress. Moreover, more birth parents have been found to get positively involved in their child's life as they play happily with them, attend to their bathing, and other basic developmental experiences. Interestingly, foster parents speak highly of these added care interventions. Much of the projectís success thus far can be attributed to the careful planning, supervision and creative interaction during each visit.

Iím reporting on this project with the hope that others may also initiate this approach because we know that genuine family connections are basic to a person's and their parents' life development.

For me, itís exciting to report a successful, creative demonstration project, rather than to moan about our present shortcomings.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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