Imagine your favorite potted plant. Now picture someone taking that plant and cutting it off where the plant meets the soil and sticking the remaining stem into a new pot of dirt. The plant doesn’t thrive and yet you gave it a great new pot with fresh soil, water, and organic fertilizer. Must be something wrong with that plant . . .
Or is it that we, as a system, have just cut the child off from the roots of his family and taken him out of his familiar soil? What if we can help him to retain his roots while we’re temporarily replanting him until the first pot is able to mend a few holes? (Thanks to the Institute of Human Services for the example.)
Shared parenting is the newest term for what some foster families have been doing all along—welcoming a relationship with the family of the child in care. It happens successfully when foster parents and parents work together to raise children.
Toni, an experienced Wisconsin foster parent, says that, “Shared parenting involves opening your home to a child’s family for visits, frequent communication, and making decisions together.”
Shared parenting is a philosophy that governs the way foster families and families involved with the system work together. It emphasizes the key role foster parents play in keeping children connected to their families, while at the same time allowing the children’s parents to remain the experts—the parents— on their children. Foster parents are key in helping to give the natural parents credibility and confidence.
When kids in care see two families working together and giving the okay to have a relationship with both families, they experience less stress and don’t have to worry as much about loyalty to either family. Shared parenting can result in kids having shorter placements and quicker returns home. Even in cases where kids can’t return home, shared parenting often helps kids put the pieces of their life together more easily.