- Fairly common
- What DHS/Court-involved parents face
- Working with your team
- Reunification! And that fresh start…
Runaways to Bio Parents
A member of a foster care FB group I am a part of recently asked if anyone else had experienced a foster child running away to their bio parents. This, of course, is a somewhat regular occurrence when you are fostering older kids. While every child and every situation is different, I thought I would share a story here about one way you might consider handling it.
“Susie was in a great foster home but was still attached to her bio mother. Mom would send Susie texts asking her to “sneak away” from school to go see her. Because of this (and a number of other factors), DHS had suggested getting a no-contact order. On its face, it seemed to make sense, but it was really a terrible idea. I gently asked foster mom, “What do you think she will do if you forbid her to see her mom?”
She thought for a brief moment, and then said, “She will go see her mom.” I laughed and agreed. I asked if I could suggest a different strategy to the child—one where, instead of forbidding a visit, we would seek to manage it.
The first thing I said to Susie (after acknowledging that we knew mom was asking her to sneak away) was that we were not trying to keep her from her mom. Instead, we wanted to make sure visits were successful. I then asked Susie what she thought I meant by that. She told me that she thought that meant mom couldn’t be drinking at or before a visit. I agreed, and probed deeper, saying, “And why is that important?”
This child had had visits where mom had been drinking, so she knew that was a disaster. We agreed that when mom demonstrated she could do a visit substance-free, there would be a visit.
A week later, foster mom called to tell me that Susie had asked for a new phone number. Susie explained, saying, “mom keeps texting me, and she’s still drinking. If she wants to have a visit, she can call you.”
If a NCO had been filed, that would have pitted the foster parents against the bio mom, which never ends well, because the child will almost always side with their bio parent(s). And Susie would have gone to see her mom, which would not have been safe (mom was homeless), and would have created lots of other problems.
But by managing and setting parameters around the visit, Susie made the decision, so there was no one for her to push back against; in other words, no one imposed that prohibition on her. Additionally, kids often view their bio parents through rose-colored glasses. When Susie “remembered” that visits were bad when mom was drinking, she was willing to comply.
And in a sense, we took the emotion out of the decision, and helped her take a more reasoned approach.
 Some details changed to protect confidentiality, of course.