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Visitation is the chemotherapy of foster care

Visitation is the chemotherapy of foster care. It provides a benefit that you just flat can't get any other way, but the side effects are terrible.

Some people believe that the side effects are so bad, you shouldn't do it. But again, there's no substitute for it. You can't get that benefit any other way.

The goal of foster care is to help children reunify with their biological parents because that's what's best for the kids and what's best for society. Kids are happier and perform better in school when they are with their biological parents. That's just a fact.

Sometimes people don't what that to be true. They would rather live in a world where they, as virtuous citizens and helpers, can rescue innocent children from evil parents, so they act as if that's how this works. Rarely does it. People who think that are wrong. More on that in a minute.

But, in some cases in order for kids to live safely in the care of their biological parents, they need to be removed from them temporarily so that their parents can get safe, healthy, clean, and sober. We call that temporary condition, foster care.

Now, since it is a temporary condition, and kids experiencing it will eventually return home, it is critical that we preserve and cultivate the bond between children and the biological parents which they are separated from.

How do we do that safely? Supervised visitation between the parent and child.

There is a ton of research which shows a strong correlation between the quality and quantity of visits and the likelihood of reunification.

So far no one has demonstrated causation. Meaning we aren't sure if lots of high quality visits make reunification more likely or if it is a symptom that would indicate reunification is likely.

But I can see how it might be causal. Imagine being a parent who's child was removed from them. If you see that kid twice a week, that's a very strong motivation to keep working the steps. So, not proven but I can see how it could be causal.

So then, conclusion: if it is true that it's our goal to help kids reunify with their parents and visitation is stronly correlated with the likeliness of that happening, then visitation is a high leverage activity for anyone working in foster care.

And yet, it creates some nearly unbearable symptoms.

Scheduling is a nightmare, for one. Attempting to triangulate the child's routine, the foster parent's schedule, the bio parent's schedule, and the visit-supervisor's availability can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack if that needle won't text you back.

Second, visits bring up some complicated emotions for children. And complicated emotions lead to troubling behaviors.

And of course, when biological parents are fearful, angry, and ashamed, they sometimes lash out by making accusations about the people who are trying to help them. Supervisors

But, those symptoms are, in my estimation, worth the benefit we get in exchange.

Personally, I wish visitation were more frequent when a parent is participating in the case plan and less frequent when they're not. Our courts tend to cookie cutter, because they deal with such a large volume of cases. You can't be as nuanced and agile when you're dealing with large quantities.

But that is different than being opposed to the institution of visitation. Back to the great white hope problem from earlier.

There is a kind of foster parent who sees the side effects of visitation, and begins to resent the court or the department or whoever their anger settles on, for putting the child through this painful experience twice a week. And if you aren't interested in reunification, than you don't value the benefits of visitation. I can usually gauge someone's support for reunification efforts by their willingness to participate in or facilitate visitation.

The role of foster parent is to deal with the side effects created by these attempts to cure or reunify a family. And it's hard. It's really really hard. But the fact that it's hard isn't a reason not to do it. The side effects are quite likely a signal that the treatment is working.

And Skookum's role is to help you manage those symptoms, and to help you remember why we're doing all of this. But it's not our role to make those symptoms go away. Because that's not possible.

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