Amara recently started a Family Time Services program through which we contract with DCYF to provide visitation for families separated by the foster care system. We coordinate scheduling, assist with transportation, supervise visits as needed, and do required reporting to the state. 

“Not knowing when you’ll see your parent is hugely destabilizing.”

Imagine sitting with a child who is asking you, “When will I see my mommy again?” and having to answer, “I don’t know.”  When families are separated by foster care, it is traumatizing. It’s important for parents and children to stay connected since the goal of foster care is to safely reunite children with their families. Family visits help maintain and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Visits can be tough for everyone involved. Some parents rely on public transportation and take several busses and trains to get to their visits. Children are often excited to see their parents but also angry and confused. Foster parents can become frustrated with cancelled visits and changes in a child’s behavior.

Family time is important for everyone, even though it can be challenging.  As one Amara Foster Care Specialist noted, “Not knowing when you’ll see your parent is hugely destabilizing.” At a time when so much is uncertain and unknown for children, it is important to provide as much stability and familiarity as possible. And seeing their children helps parents feel connected and hopeful that they can do the work to reunite with them.

“I feel my visits at Amara are very positive and a good bonding time for me and my son.”

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Parents working to be reunited with their children face immense challenges. The child welfare system is complex and can be challenging to navigate. We strive to make their path a little smoother and a lot more compassionate, through Family Time Services.

How do we do it? First, we offer a kid-friendly, supportive environment that makes visits more likely to be successful for everyone. Family visits in an office or in public spaces are not always conducive to meeting children’s needs or set up to help bonding. Cozy meeting rooms with toys and books, an outdoor play space, and a kitchen for snacks and bottles may seem like small touches, but they can be hugely helpful for both children and parents.

Second, we have “Family Time Visit Specialists.” They attend visits and help parents understand the rules, support parents during the visits, take notes for DCYF, and allow parents to review their observations at the end of each visit.

We provide transportation for children to and from visits which helps with what can sometimes be a difficult transition for kids. Our Visit Supervisors provide trauma-informed, sensitive care for kids during the drive and help them manage their emotions in a variety of creative, caring ways such as allowing them to choose music for the drive, singing songs together, talking through what they’re feeling, or just being a calm, open presence focused on the child’s needs.

Additionally, our Visit Supervisors encourage communication between parents and foster parents which helps everyone better care for the child. Sometimes this is a journal passed back and forth where everyone writes notes and stories and shares pictures of the child. This kind of simple information sharing makes a big difference for everyone involved.

“All these parents love their kids so much.”

Amara’s Visit Supervisors have a unique window into the experience of parents who are working to reunite with their children. What they’ve seen, in stark contrast to what we sometimes see on TV and in movies, are parents who love their children very much and are working hard to get them back in the face of immense challenges.

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“All these parents love their kids so much,” says Cristina, one of Amara’s Visit Supervisors. “The way they’re going about it looks different sometimes because they might be dealing with mental illness or addiction.”

With this in mind, our Visit Supervisors strive to treat parents with respect and compassion and support them on the path to reunification. As Danielle, one of Amara’s Visit Supervisors, says, “We want to act as a resource, not an enemy.”

For example, during one family visit, a Supervisor noticed the mom was struggling to keep her crawling toddler corralled while changing her infant’s diaper. Our Supervisor stepped in, assuring the parent she was keeping an eye on her toddler so she could focus on what she needed to do for her baby. The mother was so appreciative and noted that other visit supervisors she’d had wouldn’t have helped out; instead they would have just sat in the corner “judging me.” In contrast, our Visit Supervisors strive to create a supportive environment to help parents demonstrate the skills they need to care for their kids.

Sometimes, the best thing a Supervisor can do is to offer empathy and understanding for the difficult circumstance parents are going through. “I put myself in their shoes,” says Danielle.  “I don’t know what it is to be one step away from homelessness. Or to not have a car.” Our Visit Supervisors see the many struggles these parents are facing, such as a mom who recently asked if they could provide snacks for the visit since she was staying in a hotel after fleeing domestic violence; or another parent who shared that his support system had crumbled with the death of his mother. Good listening, understanding, and respect can make a positive difference for these parents who are often struggling with the shame and guilt of having their children removed, in addition to the practical challenges mentioned above.

Our Visit Supervisors are the people who connect children and parents. They are also the professional parents, children, and foster parents see most often. We strive to ensure that children, parents, and foster parents have a positive experience with Family Time and that the time children and parents spend together, while they are separated, is as positive as possible.