Research tells us that visitation is a critical component of a successful reunification. Typically, the agency will determine the frequency, length, location and transportation responsibility for the visits. However, you can still help make the visit a positive experience for the parent and child.
Generally, the first few visits will be at the agency, supervised by agency staff. When the child and parent(s) are ready, visits may occur in the community, your home or the parent’s home. It is your job to help pave the way for a successful visit. If the visit is in your home, try to make the parent(s) feel welcome and treat the visit as naturally as possible. Provide an area where the child and parent(s) may visit privately.
Be sure to keep the child’s parent(s) updated on his or her progress in school and other special activities. If appropriate, encourage the parent(s) to attend school meetings, sporting events and other activities.
If the child is upset after a visit, do not assume that the visit was harmful to the child. It is common for a child to react this way because saying goodbye to a parent can be very difficult. Be sure to tell the child when the next visit will take place.
If something unusual concerns you about a visit, or if you see any signs of physical abuse after the visit, let the caseworker know right away. If you are concerned that the parent may arrive intoxicated or visibly angry, meet with the caseworker before the visit to develop a plan for how to handle such situations.
Each participant will have a different goal and experience with visitation.
From the Child’s Viewpoint they may
- be reassured that he or she is loved and lovable
- be reassured that his/her parents, siblings, and other family members are ok;
- obtain permission to be happy with the foster family until he or she can return home; and
- be reassured that the family and the foster care team are working together toward strengthening the family.
From the Parent’s Viewpoint they may
- be reassured that the child is being cared for;
- reassert their commitment to the child;
- be reassured that the child has not forgotten them and that they are still a meaningful part of the child’s world;
- maintain a sense of continuity regarding the growth and development of the child;
- develop more competence in parenting the child.
From the Foster Parent’s Viewpoint they may
- keep in touch with changes in the family situation as they pertain to the permanency plan for the child;
- better understand the child’s relationship with the primary family;
- provide support to the child in the child’s attempts to understand and cope with the situation.
Preparing for the Visits
In preparing for the visits the following points will help.
1. Coordinating visit arrangements
- Have a clear understanding about location, time, length, who, and role of each player
- What are the transportation details with backup plan when things do not go as planned. Example: If the foster parent is traveling far to get to the visitation center, a confirmation phone call from the parent to the visitation may be set up so the foster parent can be notified before getting on the road.
- What are the procedures for cancellation. Who calls whom and what are the time lines for calling.
2. Preparing the parents for the visit
- Social worker takes responsibility for preparing the parents on what to expect, what is appropriate behavior, and how to get the most out of a visit.
- The visitation schedule may be part of case plan but the details of each visit may need to be clarified as movement is made with the case plan.
- Parents will need to be prepared for a variety of reactions from the child and need an empathic resource to follow up after the visit regarding the reactions they have seen.
- The social worker can help the parent plan appropriate activities for the visit. Clarify what the foster parent is to bring with the child to the visit and what is expected for the parent to bring.
- Helping the parent say goodbye and extend a positive attitude to the child during the transition is very helpful in making a smooth visit.
3. Preparing the child is the foster parent’s responsibility.
- Assist the child in having a clear understanding of arrangements
- Help the child prepared for the parents’ reaction to seeing them after the separation.
- Talk with the child to prepared for his/her own feelings and reactions
- Deal with safety concerns that you are aware of.
4. Preparing the siblings who may not be residing in the same home
- Depends on where the siblings are and the frequency of visits the siblings have had with each other.
- Your child may need extra help in relating to siblings that only meet together in the visitation center
- The child may need preparation for his/her own feelings & the potential response of sibs to them.
5. Preparing the foster family
- Working with the case worker to get a clear understanding of visitation arrangements and what your role is during the visitation
- If you have multiple kids in care you may find getting to visits to be a chaotic time. Ask for help from friends or the agency in getting all kids ready for the visitation.
- Be prepared to have time to deal with the child’s reaction before & after visit. Rushing to a visit or other activities after the visit may not give you and your family enough ease in the experience.
- Be prepared for your own feelings and reactions. Working through the issues that you find unpleasant in the situation may require talking with mentor foster families who have worked through visitation issues before.