Methods. Narrative interviews were conducted with triads of birth parents, foster parents, and caseworkers of children ages 5-13 living in non-relative homes with a goal of reunification (N = 35). Birth and foster parents were asked about their relationships with the other parent, from their first meeting to current time. They were also interviewed about how their relationship impacted them, their children, and the likelihood of reunification. All members of the triad were asked about how caseworkers supported these relationships, or how ideal casework practice could help them have better relationships. Narrative analysis of triad interviews focused the analysis on how parents constructed their stories, what their stories meant to them, and key moments or turning points in the relationship. Narrative analysis is best suited for understanding how practice models can be responsive to the lived experiences of those involved in collaboration.
Findings. Three main themes will be presented. The first theme permeated the rest of the themes, and was that birth parent vulnerability was a key aspect for understanding how they showed up in the relationship. Additional themes were that fosters parent drove the relationship (and not the caseworker), and that there was limited structure for the initial meeting between the birth and foster parent. In the absence of a standard for birth and foster parents to communicate, most families defaulted to minimal communication, which was often experienced as troubling to birth parents and their children.
Implications. A critical feminist lens helps explain how power differentials play out to further stigmatize families in care, and suggests that these dynamics must be addressed in order to most effectively support relationships between birth and foster parents. In order to reduce stigma, child welfare agencies can create more inclusive cultures that signal their commitment to reunification. Structuring initial meetings as a basis for trust could also be important for understanding how to improve birth and foster parent communication over time, thereby creating more empowering child welfare experiences for families in care.