National Foster Care Month:
Featuring Family Reunification
In recognition of National Foster Care Month and the valuable support resource parents provide in the family reunification process, The County of Orange Social Services Agency is proud to highlight resource parents Paul and Jennifer Snider. The Sniders, like all resource parents, play a critical role in cultivating and maintaining positive relationships with birth parents, increasing the likelihood of successful reunification. More resource parents are needed who are committed to doing what is best for children in care. For information on how to become a resource parent, click here.
Meet The Sniders
For Jennifer, the calling to become a resource parent became clear in high school. Her best friend’s mom fostered through SSA and later worked at Orangewood Children and Family Center. That influence prompted Jennifer to ask her parents to become resource parents. They said yes. Jennifer also became a resource parent at the age of 18. Nearly 30 years later, fostering continues to be part of the family’s way of life.
Currently, Paul and Jennifer are Emergency Shelter Home (ESH) resource parents. The ESH program supports resource parents who agree to provide short-term care for children and youth, up to 30 days, while longer-term solutions are explored. They are also parents to four biological children.
Supporting Birth Parents’ Reunification Efforts
Paul and Jennifer embrace the shared parenting approach of building positive, child-focused relationships with the birth parents. They helped a single mom clean and repair her home so the children could begin overnight visits — an indication the case is moving toward reunification. Paul and Jennifer replaced broken windows, built cribs and ensured the rooms were safe for young children. Paul also helped several birth moms create resumes and the couple traveled out of state to assist with the transition of care to a relative.
“We try to involve the birth parents in decisions regarding their children as much as possible,” Jennifer says of the importance of supporting reunification. “When we pick up a newborn from the hospital, we ask about the type of bottle the parents want us to use.”
Benefits of Supporting Reunification
Children experience an increased likelihood of successfully reunifying with their birth families when resource parents partner with birth parents. “We are an open book from the start,” Jennifer says. “We tell the birth family that while we have your child, use this time to focus on yourself — getting healthy and doing all that you need to do to get your child back.
“I was lucky to have a great childhood and supportive parents. Many of these parents did not have a good childhood. They have lived a life we cannot imagine living. Several parents have shared the first time they got high was with their parents. They have little to no support system. If we can be a cheerleader and boost them up to succeed, then they get the help they need and reunify with their children.”
A positive connection between resource and birth parents helps the children avoid feeling divided loyalty. It also serves to ease the transition from resource home to permanent home.
“As a resource parent, if your mindset is family reunification and you work as a team with the birth parents, the child will feel it,” Jennifer says. We also keep in touch with many birth parents. Our flower girl at our wedding was a child I cared for as a newborn and she reunified with her mom. We have a good relationship with her. Even her extended family is like a second family to us now.”
Navigating Family’s Emotions During Times of Transition
It is natural to experience feelings of loss and success when children return home. When resource parents are prepared and equipped to cope with their own emotional challenges, they become more resilient caregivers.
“When children leave our home, it’s always bittersweet,” Jennifer says. “We are happy the child is reuniting with parents or family — or that we are helping complete someone’s family if the child is going into an adoptive home. My [Jennifer] motto is if you don’t shed a tear when they leave, you did not do your job as a foster parent.
“Our four biological children are sad when a child leaves, but they know another baby or child needs our help. All of our kids love fostering. They see the transformation from when we first welcome the children to when they reunite with their families. They know they played a role. Our children know from the start that this child coming into our home needs our help. Our role is to help them feel at home and as comfortable as possible while the parent gets help. Usually, when reunification happens, the visits will increase and the child will eventually have unmonitored visits. We start preparing the kids and put a positive twist on it. It’s good that they [the children] are going home.”
Paul and Jennifer’s Tips for Resource Families to Actively Support Reunification
Partnering with birth parents to support reunification can be challenging. Here are a few tips Paul and Jennifer recommend based on their almost 30-year fostering career.
- Have a Positive Attitude Toward Birth Parents
“Try not to judge or talk negatively about the birth parents in front of the child.”
- Be Flexible
“Birth parents have a lot to do in a short amount of time. To improve their responsibility and remain accountable, they need to attend classes and counseling, take drug tests and visit with their children. Most of the parents do not have personal vehicles so they ride public transportation for hours in order to see their children. A little flexibility and understanding can go a long way.”
- Get Organized
“Being a mom of four children, three with special needs, and fostering one or two children, we are busy with sports, appointments, therapy and visits. Things go smoothly when you are organized and prepared. If you receive paperwork in the mail, place it immediately into a folder designated for the child. I also meal plan and prep as much as I can because fussy time and homework time usually occurs at dinner time.”
“Try to make time for you whether it is going for a walk, working out, getting a massage or going shopping. Give yourself time to recharge without any interruptions.”
- Get in a Group
“Find a resource parent friend group. Your friends and family won’t understand your new world of craziness and what you are going through. Other foster friends will. They have traveled the road you are on many times before.”
- Humor Helps
“You must have a sense of humor. I could write a book about all the things that have happened. At times, I think I could not even make this stuff up. Having a sense of humor has helped with the good, the bad and the ugly. Being a foster parent is not easy, but it is so rewarding.”