In 2019, Nebraska announced plans for a pilot project in which foster parents would play a starring role in the reunification process, going beyond the traditional role of a caregiver for kids. These specialized resource families, through a strategy known as shared or co-parenting, support and mentor birth parents in hopes that children can more quickly and safely be returned home.
Just before the coronavirus hit, New York City’s Rising Ground embarked on a similar venture, using a $200,000 grant to bring on a psychiatrist that would facilitate connections between the agency’s foster parents and birth parents. This project, which continues during the citywide shutdown, followed the approach embraced most widely by North Carolina, which has made it state child welfare policy that all foster parents adopt a co-parenting approach to the work.
Late last month, the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) gave an official endorsement to this approach, calling it a best practice to use “foster care as a support for families” to speed up reunification and reduce the trauma involved in removals.
“Utilizing foster care as a support to the family includes the practice of encouraging and facilitating family time, but goes beyond that to promote the restorative impact of the relationship between parents and resource families and the concept of shared or co-parenting,” said the memo, which was sent in late April and signed by ACYF Commissioner Elizabeth Darling.
The memo first makes the case for systems to adopt a strategy of shared parenting, and then lays out best practices gleaned from interviews in the field about how to implement it. The bureau specially emphasizes the need to train relative caregivers, who many states lean on to care for most of the youth who cannot safely stay at home.
The memo wraps up with three short profiles of ongoing co-parenting efforts in North Carolina, Georgia and Michigan.
For many systems, “it will take significant effort to undo years of practice that discouraged resource families from actively engaging in open relationships with the parents of children in their care,” the memo says. “Agency and court leaders must mobilize service providers, attorneys and resource families in every community to promote this vision and provide the critical supports that families need to achieve successful reunification.”
John Kelly can be reached at [email protected]ange.org.