Heather and Haylee’s Reunification Story – Part Two

Guest post by Tim Burkowske, Eckerd Community Alternatives Licensed Foster Parent. Tim and his family cared for a young girl named Halyee while her mother Heather was overcoming drug addiction. In part one, we heard from Heather, the mother. Here in part two, we hear the story from the point of view of the foster parents.

Being a foster parent is hard, but being a parent in any circumstance is challenging. One of the hardest parts of being a foster parent is taking in a child that you open your heart to and allow yourself to fall in love with them, knowing all the while you will have to let them go. But, the good news is that reunification doesn’t need to be the end of that relationship. Too often, foster parents are so focused on caring for the child that comes into their home that they forget to connect with the bio-parent.

It is important to keep in mind that the bio-parent is going through a very difficult time, often one of great loss and emotion. They need our love and support as much as the children do. From their perspective, they may not know whether this new family their child has been placed with are friends or foes. Case workers, therapists, transporters, doctors and an entire system of support to learn to work with can be very intimidating. As a parent that is focused on doing what is right for the child on a very personal day-to-day level, foster parents and bio-parents have more in common than anyone else in the system of care.

Rather than looking at each other as adversaries, we can and should be working together to create the best possible outcome for the children involved. Thankfully, Heather was open to accepting us for who we are, and we have overcome any challenges and bumps in the road to reunification. My family was blessed to take care of Haylee for the year she was in our home. To her great credit, Heather overcame incredibly difficult situations and successfully reunited with her beautiful daughter.  While it hurt to see Haylee leave our home, we worked hard along the way to build a relationship that would be able to carry on after reunification,  but there had to be a foundation to support that relationship.

One of the keys to building some form of trust between us was supervising visitations. I personally transported and oversaw visitations for a number of months early in the process. We wanted Heather to see the kind of people her daughter was living with, and we wanted to gain a better understanding of where Haylee and Heather were coming from. We were there to encourage and advocate for Haylee as well as Heather. We invited Heather and her family members to come to holiday outings and birthday celebrations. Thankfully, she accepted and was able to remain an active participant in her daughter’s upbringing for that year out of the home.

We feel exceptionally grateful to call both Heather and Haylee friends. They have been reunited and still come to have play days at our home as well as join us for various outings. We will continue to love Haylee and advocate for her best interests and support Heather as she establishes herself anew.

While it is a great risk to open your heart and love a child with everything you have, it is one that is absolutely worth it. If you are going to care for a child, do it all the way. Putting a roof over their head for a time and sending them back home a number of months later may feel easier, but it robs everyone involved of the incredible gift that the love of a child can be.  If we build relationships with the bio-parents, it doesn’t have to come to an abrupt end.

I want to thank everyone involved along the road to reunification as it is often a thankless and difficult job. Foster parents can and should be involved with the case plan and are an incredible resource to the case workers and others in the system of care. No one has as much exposure to the child’s development and well-being. It is our job to stay involved and provide them with the information they need to make the best decisions for the children’s future.

Seeing all of these families here today that have been able to overcome the difficulties they have faced and been reunited is very encouraging. At the end of the day, we are all here for the same reason: to love and care for these precious angels placed in our lives.