The goal of foster care is to remove children from unsafe or unhealthy environments and place them in a safe home while their birth family works toward reunification. Foster families get to be a part of that process by providing a loving, family environment for the child to live in while a permanency plan is made.
In some cases, the foster family is able to build a relationship with the biological family that helps aid in the reunification process.
Taylor Zreet is the kinship care specialist for Buckner Foster Care and Adoption in Fort Worth. She shares the story of a foster family who has been successful in working with the biological families while their children are in care and how that relationship is a blessing to both families.
After five years, eight placements and one adoption, Scott and Rebecca Cheney are used to having foster children be reunited with their families. In fact, reunification has been the norm for them. Their adopted son, Ethan, who is now 4 years old, was the only one whose parents were not involved at all from the beginning of the case.
Despite the lack of contact with Ethan’s biological family, they’ve had several other instances of biological families wanting to maintain a relationship with them, even after their child was reunited with the family.
In the spring of 2019, the Cheneys fostered a 10-month-old boy. He had several older siblings with another foster family, but his mother never missed a weekly visit with her children. The first time Rebecca and Scott met her was at the first birthday party they hosted for him.
Rebecca asked his mom lots of questions about how to care for him, including how to fix his hair, his favorite foods, and how she liked to celebrate holidays with her children.
“Not only was she very open with us and grateful, but we just kind of hit it off,” Rebecca said.
After eight months, this little boy was reunited with his mom, along with all three of his older siblings. They exchanged phone numbers and asked what her specific needs were.
“She moved into an apartment close by, and we were able to continue that relationship,” Rebecca said. “She recently moved into a house. A few weeks after the kids were returned, we had their whole family over for Christmas dinner.”
COVID-19 made in-person contact much harder, but the Cheneys were still able to maintain a relationship through phone calls, texting, dropping off food and contacting organizations who could help meet her needs.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, the Cheneys also fostered a 1-month-old girl. After one month in care, she was reunited with her grandparents.
The Cheneys left a photo book, wrote a letter and gave their cell numbers in case they needed anything. The grandmother called Rebecca and still texts updates about the baby over a year later.
“When most children return, there’s very little contact afterwards,” Rebecca said. “It’s sad, you pray for them, and you just have to trust that the Lord is taking care of them. Forming a relationship is a gift that makes the goodbye easier.”
The Cheneys believe that fostering “is not an us versus them” mentality.
“We are all working for the betterment of their family,” Rebecca said. “We come in with humility and grace, and the ultimate goal is for their family to be back together. It’s such a gift from God when we can see the children with their families, and we can welcome the whole family as a part of our family.”