How carers and parents can support kids
Helping kids, tweens and teens in care spend positive time with their families is one of the most valuable things you can do for them.
Some of you may be managing or preparing to manage family time yourselves, while for others arrangements are made by case managers. Either way, as their primary carers you are the most important support a child can have. The My Forever Family Carer Support Team have put together some tips to help you with this sometimes challenging, but truly rewarding aspect of being a carer, a guardian or an adoptive parent.
Why do kids continue to see their families?
Family time (referred to as ‘contact’ in the past) is an opportunity for children and young people to spend time with their parents, brothers and sisters and other extended family. Family time is how kids maintain their relationships and keep a strong sense of their own identity and culture as they grow up. It is also an opportunity for them to adapt to loss, to feel that they are still loved, and to help reduce their sense of abandonment.
Family time is just as important for children and young people who are in long-term care, who live with guardians, or who have been adopted, as it is for children who are in care for a short while.
Use your empathetic super-power
Remember that it’s very common for kids to become anxious, and to express their feelings with challenging behaviour both before and after seeing birth family. It can be tough for them, but it is also a normal part of them working out how to be part of two families.
- Keep an open mind about the child’s family; and remember that they love their children.
- Always stay positive when discussing family and family time with the child or young person.
- Make an effort to connect with a child’s family when possible, by sharing updates and photos, and by being respectful and friendly at all times.
- When carers are directly involved in family time by taking the child or young person to the meeting place, or being present during the visit, it can help a them adjust to being in two families, and give family some peace of mind.
The needs of the children are the most important thing to keep in mind
The goal is for children to experience positive time with their family, in a safe and nurturing way.
- If you can, consult with the child’s family, and with your case manager, about when it’s best to have family time. For example, holding family time just before school camp may not be a good idea for children who experience high levels of anxiety.
- Choose a location that the child is familiar with or you know that they’ll enjoy.
- If they are old enough ask them where they’d like to spend time with their family.
- Try and avoid a meeting place where you have a distance to travel, as it will be harder for kids to manage their emotions if they have a long drive.
Before family time, make sure that you help the child or young person to prepare.
- Tell them beforehand where and when family time will happen. (Some kids might like to know a long way in advance, while others might not cope with the waiting and it may be better to tell them closer to the day.)
- Be very positive about the visit and their family.
- Let them know who is going to be there, and what is likely to happen, including that afterwards they will be going home to you.
- Encourage the kids to talk about how they are feeling – it’s common for children and young people to feel a lot of anxiety and other big emotions before, and after, a visit with family.
- Give them items to show their family, such as drawings, photos or schoolwork.
- Take an activity for kids to do with their family. This can be a nice way for them to connect with one another.
Have plans for after family time
- Develop a ritual to help kids transition, such as watching a DVD together, cooking their favourite meal, or going for a walk. Some kids, especially teenagers, might want some time on their own to process their feelings.
- Make sure that children have access to their life-story books, photos and other things that remind them of their families.
- Be prepared that it may take some days for kids’ emotions to settle after seeing their family.
It’s not always possible for family time to take place in person.
Telephone or Skype/Face Time calls, letters, photos, short video clips, email are other ways of staying in touch and keeping kids connected to their family and identity
Sometimes a child or young person might refuse to see their family. There are lots of reasons why this might happen from time-to-time as kids struggle with big feelings and go through stages of development.
- Give them lots of empathy and let them know that they can always change their mind.
- If they are able to tell you how they’re feeling, or why they don’t want to go, stay empathetic and just listen. It maybe that you will gain some insight and find a way of supporting them to go the next time.
- Suggest that they make a phone call or write a letter until they feel able to spend face-to-face time with their family again.
- Remember to let your case manager know, and to get their advice on how to support the child.
Our Carer Support Team is here for all NSW foster carers, guardians and parents who have adopted children from out-of-home care, so please contact us for support and advice.