Building a Bridge: Stories about Connections between Parents and Foster Parents

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Edited by Nora McCarthy
Rise Magazine
133 pages. $18.95.

Can foster parents and child welfare professionals collaborate with the parents of children in care? This book provides powerful evidence that improved communication makes enormous differences in foster children’s lives.

Designed for use in child welfare staff training, parent support groups, parenting classes and mediations, this resource contains 10 stories by parents and five stories by foster parents. Working closely with editor Nora McCarthy of Rise Magazine, where such stories are also published, writers portray personal experiences with the child welfare system. In sections on connection, negotiating conflicts, and loss and renewal, each story provides a focus for one session. Leader’s guides identify discussion and activity goals and offer group and personal reflection worksheets.

In “Your Mother Doesn’t Want You,” Pamela Hughes, who placed her children with family friends during her drug treatment, is anguished when her children reveal that their foster mother called Hughes a crackhead who doesn’t care about them. Hughes must work out a way to explain her addiction to the children – and to win them back. Her story’s guide directs readers to “identify appropriate ways to talk with children about why they are in care.”

The following “teen perspective” by Rita Naranjo, the daughter of an addicted mother, supports Hughes’ points. No one explained to little Rita why her mother gave her up. “Social workers and judges couldn’t seem to understand my mother’s actions or how their judgments of her affected me,” Naranjo says. Both she and her mother felt worthless. Only understanding and support can “break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect and pain,” concludes this young woman. Four other teen perspectives expand on accompanying stories’ themes.

Some foster parents have the right instincts. In “Time to Talk,” Ruby Awtry describes fostering a “special needs” sister and brother, whom she eventually adopted. Now that the children are older, she is preparing to explain “the delicate subject” of how they came into her life. She will help the children find their birth mother if they wish.

Agency workers are represented by a parent advocate’s story and an interview with consultant Denise Goodman, who has “seen that when parents and foster parents work together, kids go home more quickly and stay home.”

An introduction suggests various types of training. Although a chart organizes stories by three topics – grief and loss, visiting and communication – further identification of themes would provide access to subjects such as adoption and kinship care. The sketchy table of contents fails to list one story, cites an incorrect page reference, and leaves out helpful headings, such as “Teen Perspective.”

These accounts reveal how the bleak cycle repeats itself; many parents of children being fostered were foster children themselves. Insight gained from such honest stories lights the way toward family healing. (212) 279-0708, ext. 115, http://www.risemagazine.org/buildingabridge.html.