'This Paper You Gave Me? I'm Going to Try It'
I shared Making the Most of Visits with a parent who kept discussing the foster home with her children in a negative way during visits. She also needed to structure her visits so the kids would know what to expect. In fact, she had lost her visits for several months. That was her first day visiting again after her visitation was reinstated.
She was in the lobby and I showed her the TIPS and said, “Just in case, I know you might be a little nervous. Here’s a sheet about visits that’s not from the agency or ACS; this is from parents. It shows what you can do, and what kids like and don’t like.” She looked at it, and over the next few weeks, she mentioned to me that she wanted to structure her visits.
This parent always brought food but now she has a time for eating at the beginning of the visit. She washes the kids’ hands, they eat, and then when the meal is done, they play. It’s more orderly. At first, it was challenging. The kids wanted to play and she had to say, “We eat and then we play.” Now they know the routine. Kids work better with routines.
Another tip is to keep the visits positive. Before, she would try to find out every bad thing and assumed the worst. It was negative for her children. Now she speaks about positive things: “How was your week? How was school?” The TIPS helped her understand why positive conversation is important for her children and now she spends more time having positive interactions.
When parents come in, we tell them they have visits but we don’t tell them what’s effective. I know we don’t want parents to feel like, “Even when I see my kids, there’s a certain way of doing that, too?!” But parents need to be informed about what we expect.
The TIPS is something put together by parents. When parents see that it’s not from you, some may be open. This mom didn’t read the TIPS in front of me, but later she referred to it. She said to me, “That paper you gave me? I’m going to try it.”
-- JCCA Case Planner
'An Outlet to Help the Conversation Along'
The challenge I had with one mother was that she was not listening to her daughter during visits and was shaming her a great deal. I have a history with this mom; she was not usually receptive to my opinion or any assistance. So I waited until after a visit and I politely asked her if she would mind staying in the room to talk with me. She said, “As long as it isn’t long.” I reminded her that we set an action plan to check in on the visits, and I walked her child back to the foster parent.
When I came back, I gave her Helping Children Heal and explained, “This is created by parents. They came up with these sheets. I was wondering if you would find it helpful.”
During the visit, the parent and her child had been playing and her child had brought up something positive about school. Mom was dismissive. If the child says she’s doing well in school, Mom will say, “You could do better.” I told her, “Do you notice that when you say things like that it changes her mood and causes her to become silent? She’s very emotional and you need to try to help her. It’s not your fault but you can help her heal.”
I had also seen that it was affecting the visit that Mom was coming late. If her child arrived early and had to wait a long time, the child's mood was getting worse and worse. I told Mom, “I think you coming late is really affecting her.” I showed her the checklist to help facilitate the conversation. It describes steps parents can take to have positive visits, like coming on time and bringing toys. I said, “Maybe you can do this one and that.” I suggested that she could ask her other program to let her leave early so she could get to the visit on time.
She was very dismissive, but later I saw her in the lobby, reading the TIPS. And she took the advice.
Since then, she’s been on time, bringing activities, and wanting to talk more. Now each week she says, “Can you make sure you have these toys for our visit?” She doesn’t have the money to go out and buy toys but I have UNO and other games and she tells me what she wants. If they do an art project, she says, “Can you save this for next week?” I was so surprised—that’s all it took.
The TIPS started the conversation. It wasn’t the TIPS alone but that was an outlet to help the conversation along.
Reading the TIPS helped me, too. Reading someone’s story of what they’ve been through, it’s a reminder, “These are people. No matter what these parents did, they were ripped from their child.”
This mom had been very rude to me. I was starting to give up. I didn’t want to be bothered anymore. I was telling myself, “I’m never going to be able to help this person. It is what it is.”
Reading the TIPS, I was able to look away from the situation and remind myself that my role is to help. This mom actually told her lawyer that I was the one who took the time to help her.
-- JCCA Case Planner
'I Know This Is Hard'
I used the TIPS on Helping Children Heal to give me guidance about responding to a parent. When we first started the visits, this mom usually cried a lot. She's young and she didn’t understand why her kids were in foster care.
This mom does well in her visits. She’s always on time, she brings her kids whatever they need. Once, though, she had a setback and she cried the whole visit. She thought she would get her kids back quicker. She felt helpless, and so did I.
I didn’t know what to do. I’m not a mom. When I went to my office to get her carfare, I read through the TIPS and saw the Words That Heal: “I know this is really hard but we will get through this.” That helped me know how to respond to her.
When I went back to the visit, I repeated those words, and I offered the feedback that it’s not going to be forever. That helped her—and me—calm down.
-- Graham Case Planner
Case planner names have been left off for the parents' privacy.