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Foster mom and birth mom co-parent Children's Wisconsin foster care

It takes a village: In foster care, healthy co-parenting is the key to a healthy child

For foster parents, co-parenting with the birth parents can be difficult. It can be awkward, sometimes sensitive, maybe even contentious. But it doesn’t have to be. Foster mom Kristy and birth mom Amanda have an amazing and inspiring relationship that is 100 percent focused on the care and well-being of their 14-year-old boy.

Kristy: In the beginning of my and my foster son’s journey — I will call him B to protect his identity — I was very scared to meet his mom, Amanda. I was fearful that she wouldn’t like me or that she wouldn’t think I was capable of raising her son. And while he had been in out-of-home care for a while, she was still his mom. This was the woman who loved him his whole life. This is the woman who birthed him and cared for him. Had she made mistakes? Sure. But she was doing the best she could with what she had and still loved her children fiercely and completely!

We met at Culver’s. The first thing I remember saying to her was, “I am here to help you get your family back. Let me know what I can do to help with that. I am not going to keep your son away from you and you can call him whenever.” She seemed to relax a little. I wanted her to know I was just a temporary caretaker for her son until she could get him back. We discussed what she would like to see in her relationship with her son and how I could help her achieve that.

Children's Wisconsin foster care and adoptionAmanda: That is when I knew I could trust Kristy. She wasn’t there to keep me away from my kid. She was there to help. In past foster homes, even when I wasn’t incarcerated, I was treated like I was nothing. They saw me as an addict and nothing more. They didn’t view me as a parent. They showed me no respect and never cared to ask me about my or B’s history. They didn’t care where I was coming from or where he was coming from.

Kristy: I learned more about B’s history and his mom’s and how their relationship had been traumatized by foster care. B would ask if he could call his mom. I told him he did not need my permission to call his mom. He asked if he had to sit in the living room to talk to her. I asked if he wanted to, and he said no. I learned in the past placements that B was only allowed to talk to his mom with supervision from his foster family. That there was a restriction on when and how long he could talk to her. I recognize she was in a different place and needed different boundaries, but I never would stop a parent from contacting their child. My place isn’t to judge life choices, rather to help heal a family. I didn’t come into foster care to adopt — I came into foster care to help reunite families. My heart hurt that he didn’t feel he could talk to his mom whenever he wanted to. He very much loved his mom, and that communication was vital for the healing of their relationship.

Amanda: In the past, foster families wouldn’t let me talk to my kids. They would tell me if I didn’t call at the right time or date, I couldn’t talk to my kids. I couldn’t talk to them on their birthdays if it wasn’t “my day” and it caused more division in my family. They were gatekeeping my kids. I understood they may have been trying to protect them, however, it was causing more hurt and pain for them and me. They were making my kids think I didn’t care about them or want to be with them.

Kristy: Soon, I found myself calling Amanda weekly. Letting her know what was going on in B’s life, issues we had come across, asking for ideas on how to handle situations. I also found myself calling because I would hear “well, Mom said…” and I wanted to verify the authenticity of the story. Amanda and I soon found that B was very much triangulating, and so whenever the phrase “Kristy said” or “Mom said,” we would be calling one another to check. It was not long before I called regularly because if anybody understood the frustration that B can sometimes cause, it was Amanda. She would call me for advice on situations that arose when he was at her place or call to vent about situations with B or her daughter. I learned she trusted whatever decision I had to make without her input. In the beginning, she would ask if he could go to the park or go to a friend’s house. Instead of answering, I would ask her, “How do you feel about him doing that?” For the first time in years, she was trusted to make everyday decisions for her son without permission or approval. It took a little while, but soon she started trusting herself and trusting I wouldn’t second guess her. About a year into his placement, Amanda and I started to attend Parent Coaching together with a certified parent coach. We were learning together how to handle different difficult behaviors and how to parent this teenager together. She learned skills to help her succeed with both of her teenagers. 

Amanda: Communication is necessary to make co-parenting work. It allows birth families to feel like their feelings matter in decisions. A lot of times, birth parents feel like they lost so much control with their kids, and in a lot of ways they have. But communication between the birth parents and foster parents helps the birth families feel like their opinions are heard and that they matter.

Kristy: We continued to co-parent and show B that family can look different. We had our first Thanksgiving and Easter together with his mom, sisters and grandma. Amanda and her daughters came with us to fulfill a dream of mine — to pet a sloth for my birthday. I try to make sure that B gets to be with his family for as many holidays as possible, even little ones like Valentine’s Day. It is important to me that they get to start building a “normal” around holidays and big events. For Mother’s Day 2023, we all went out to dinner so B could be with his mom. 

Amanda: Kristy treats my family like hers. She got to know my mom and my daughters. She is there when I need advice for any of my kids. She has learned our history, both trauma and joys. 

Kristy: This is co-parenting, coming together for what is in the best interest of the kid. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is inconvenient, but it is always worth it. Since B has been in my home, he has built a stronger relationship with his family. He has a little toddler sister that ADORES him and will choose him over their mom every time. It is the sweetest relationship, how she carries his picture around when he isn’t there, how she runs to him when he comes home, how she cries when he goes upstairs to go to the bathroom. This relationship continues to be his motivation to do better. 

We soon started talking about B’s future and what reunification looked like. Amanda very much wanted her family back together, but, she also knew that B was in the best place for him. She knew that if B were to move back in with her and her two daughters, life would become pure chaos. B would get into more trouble. He would be right in the city, so he would have more access to…everything. As much as B has grown, he needs a place that offers consistency, boundaries and is away from a city. So, at the two-year mark, I will end up getting guardianship of him. For the first time in six years, he will have permanency. It is not what I thought it would look like or what we wanted. It will happen right before he turns 17. However, everyone agrees it is what is best for B. I went into foster care to reunite families, and for B’s family, it looks like guardianship. He will have as much access to his mom and family as possible. He will continue to be able to have visits as often as possible. He may not be able to live with his family, but it will give him the consistency and stabilization he needs to be a successful adult. It isn’t what anybody was looking for going into this, but everybody in the situation agrees it is what is in his best interest.

Co-parenting is hard because there are so many things that can get in the way of that communication. But foster parents MUST open that door to birth families. As a foster parent, it is my job and duty to protect the child and that means having as much access to family as is safe to help the family rebuild those relationships. No, I am not a therapist, but I can still help build that bridge. As foster parents, I feel we are NOT the keepers of these relationships. We are to be healers of these relationships and we start that by co-parenting with the people who loved them from the beginning.

Learn how you can be part of the story and becoming a foster parent here.