Q: Do the biological parents know who you are? (This is usually asked in a fearful tone - as in - are you afraid that they'll find out where you live? Or, alternatively, in a disgusted tone - as in - do you have to mingle with that filth?)
A: No, not really. But in our case...
Foster parenting is full of confidentiality rules. All folks involved are supposed to keep all information confidential except when doing so will pose a harm to the child. SO, foster parents aren't allowed to share information from the case and you're really not supposed to identify your children as foster children. Of course those close to us know (otherwise, how else could we explain the frequent change of kids in our home?), but in general we don't go around identifying our children as foster children. Similarly, foster parent information (full name, address, phone number, occupations, etc.) are supposed to be kept confidential.
Interestingly, I recently re-read something about parent rights and saw that they have the right to meet the foster parents. This surprised me.
With our first case, I chose to transport our children to the visit. I was very nervous. I didn't know how it worked, so it was something new. As I drove up, a man who definitely looked of the criminal variety was out in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. I thought it was possibly the dad, so I waited until he went inside before I got out so he didn't see what car I got out of (of course, thinking that if he saw the car he could find out where we lived). Despite my efforts, when I got inside I found that the caseworker was late and so the dad (and grandmother) were waiting inside for the visit to begin. As soon as I got to the door the older child (they were 18 months and 2 1/2) went straight for her dad and he came for her. I was so nervous. I didn't know what to expect or how to handle that! Things got even weirder when the case worker was still running late so they asked me to help take the kiddos back while they got a sub to observe the visit. So, I was able to go back to the visit room and hang out with the bio-family while we waited for a caseworker. While I was there I was able to answer their questions - how they were sleeping, eating, playing, etc. The youngest didn't want to go to his biological parents and wanted me to stay. I was able to get them to agree to let me cut her hair (this is a big deal!). When a case worker did show I was able to sit in the waiting room for the rest of the visit and got to speak to a couple other parents who were waiting for their kids to show up. After that initial visit their caseworker told me the dad had chosen not to try and find any other kinship placement because he liked me so much.
And then I was hooked. It was then that I fell in love with fostering. We had originally started out "putting up with" fostering while we found children to adopt, but after having such a positive interaction with the family that day all of the harrowing ordeal of infertility quickly made sense. Not only did we have the chance to add to our family, but we had a ministry opportunity to help the biological families at the same time.
But back to the original question - in the 8 weeks I transported those kiddos to their visits, I only ran into 1 other foster parent who stayed during the visit, and only a handful of them who were transporting the kids themselves. All others appeared to be using state-provided transportation. In sharing this with my foster/adopt friends, the love of fostering (vs. adoption) appeared to be mostly unique.
Notice I didn't mention the mother in that case...she wasn't there on the first visit and was spotty at best. She hated me. Why do I say that? One time when I was getting the kids loaded into my car she gave her child an empty Gatorade bottle and showed her how to bang it on the seat...she told the little girl "here, annoy her with this on the way home". I allowed these parents to meet the kids at my car and help me put them into the car as well...I could have only allowed them to wait inside in the visit room...and every time mom was there she immediately picked up something to be angry with me about. "Why is she crying? Where is her earings? Where did she get that cut? He looks sick". It didn't help that her kids wanted to go home to me and after only a few days called me mommy, in front of her. - Sometimes it was all that I could do to say something mean.
Those kiddos went to a kinship placement - their grandparents - only 2 months after we had them.
Since then we've had two other cases. Our next case has been amazing. We've transported to 1 visit each week (they have 2). The parents love their child so much, it's obvious. We met them at the first court visit and we were able to show them that their child is safe and well cared for. It's been almost 8 months now and this child is going home in 2 weeks. I can honestly say that I am so excited. Yes, there is some concern that the parents will fall back into old habits and that will affect their child. But overall, we have watched them work toward getting their child back over the majority of a year and are now here to cheer them on. We setup an email account that's anonymous for biological families to contact us with questions about their child(ren). We've setup websites for each of our last two placements so the families can have ready access to information (pictures, stories) about their children that they can share with their extended family. It's gotten to the point that with this one case, after the little one goes home, we are willing to continue contact to support the parents as they get their child back - depending on how that goes we might even share more personal information like our address and phone number so we can stay connected ongoing.
Let me say that is not normal - and if it does happen won't be happening often. With our first case we would never have given out anything remotely personal due to the facts of that case. With our most recent placement we also won't give out any personal information - but in that case we haven't really had much interaction with the biological family partly due to the county and how they operate and partly due to the family themselves. To this point, we haven't shared anything confidential with any of the families. The most the one family knows is our first names, the city we live in, what type of work my husband does, the type of work I do, and that's pretty much it! (again, that's more than we'd share with most).
This is what we do. And we've found it to be wildy successful in the cases and rewarding for us. There's nothing like the situation where the biological parents are honstely and genuinely thanking you for caring for their child and where you can work with them to encourage them on how best to parent their own child. In all of the cases we could have chosen to remain anonymous and require that the parents stay in the visit room and don't have any contact with us. And, depending on our future cases that may be something we choose to do depending on the facts of the case.
I wish I could tell you how passionate I am about the opportunity we've been given to interact with biological parents as we foster their children. We didn't expect to love fostering this much. We are now faced with the possibility to adopt one of our foster children. Even if that does happen, we will continue to foster other children - though my husband started out saying we might do this fostering thing "3 or 4 times", we now think we might be one of those families you hear of that have near 100 foster placements over time. No matter if the children stay or go, interacting with the parents has been super rewarding and, in most cases, is probably best for the child as long as we are cautious.
This may be why, as a child, when I pictured myself being pregnant with my last kid, I could never imagine "being done". God has a plan after all.