Supporting Virtual Family Time Visits - An Opportunity for Kindness
As we scramble as a society to figure out how to deal with Covid-19 and the resulting huge changes to our daily life, we each have unique situations we need to navigate. One situation foster families are facing is how to support family time (also known in some regions as parent-child visitation) while still following the public health recommendations. I predict that for many families, family time will soon move to primarily virtual visits, which may be a new experience for many foster families. This blog post will provide tips for supporting virtual family time visits. If you are a foster parent familiar with virtual family time visits and have tips of your own, please feel free to share them. This is a time to reach out and support each other!
While we navigate these uncharted waters together, let’s try to keep a few things in mind. This is a stressful time for ALL OF US. Uncertainty is high and things are changing for all of us. With that in mind, realize that none of us knows how to perfectly cope with all of the unknowns. This is the time to give each other grace.
So how do you support virtual Family Time as a foster parent or relative caregiver?
Figure out if you have access to technology that will allow for a virtual visit, be it Skype, Zoom, or some other type of video conferencing. If you don’t, ask your social worker for assistance.
Determine where in your home you and the child(ren) want to hang out during the virtual visit.
This is a time to explore and define what feels most comfortable to you personally. Are there rooms that are for sure off limits while visiting? Are there rooms the child is welcome to show their parents? One thing I’ve learned over the years is that kids LOVE to show off their rooms. Parents also have told me it really helps them too to see where their kids sleep. Not comfortable sharing your address? Maybe the front yard is off limits, but the backyard is totally fine. Be creative, but also feel free to define boundaries that are comfortable for your family.
If age appropriate, sit down with the child(ren) ahead of time and have a discussion about virtual visits.
Let them know that just like schools are closed due to Covid-19, we are having to figure out some new ways to make sure they are still able to see their parents. Let them know where in the home the video visit can take place, and how it will work. It’s ok to let them know that this is a new way of visiting for both you and their parents, and it may take some time to figure it out.
If the child is younger, you will likely need to be very involved in the visit. I realize that this may feel uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t previously met the child’s parent(s). If this will be your first introduction to each other, try to think of some things you and the parent(s) can talk about. Some ideas include:
Tell the parent a bit about you and your family.
Who lives in your home?
What are some things you do for fun?
What kind of adjustments has your family had to make due to this virus?
Ask the parents how they are doing with all these life changes?
Do they have any questions or concerns about their child and this virus? As a parent, I am very worried about my children and this virus. I’m grateful that it doesn’t seem to be affecting kids, but I’m still worried. I can only imagine how much scarier it would be if my children were not in my care. Reassure parents you will do your very best to keep their children safe during this uncertain time.
Ask parents if there are any special songs, books, foods, routines or comfort items that you can use to help the child feel safer.
Ask parents if there is anything else they would like you to know about their child.
Before the visit starts, figure out some activities you can do during the visit.
Put out a bunch of toys, and let the parent watch the baby play. Talk with the parent about baby’s likes and dislikes and current routines.
Since toddlers are SO active, get ready to get your steps in! The majority of these visits are going to be you following the child with the phone or computer. If it’s nice outside, watching the child play in the backyard might be nice.
Set out some toys at the beginning of the visit, and engage in some pretend play with the child. Maybe it’s starting a Duplo block boat, and then holding the phone so the parent can engage with the child about their creation. Maybe set up a teddy bear picnic, and set the phone or computer with the parent up on a small chair so the child can serve them tea and those delicious pretend cookies! As the foster parent, this age group will need a lot of continued involvement from you to keep the interactions going, but try to watch for opportunities where you can fade into the background and let the parent engage with their child.
My preschooler loves to tell jokes. Giving him a platform to tell endless jokes brings him all the joy. Look for similar ways to engage children's current interests during the visit.
Try to figure out an activity they can do and prop up the phone so parents can be involved. Maybe it is doing an art project? In my experience, kids at this age are much more talkative if they can have a conversation while doing something else.
Ask the kids what they want to do during their virtual visit. Help them to brainstorm some things they want to show their parents.
Ages 10 and older
Involve the child in planning the virtual visit. Ask them what they would like the visit to look like, where they want it to occur, etc.
For all ages, realize that these visits may be much shorter than typical in-person visits. Even with the best of intentions and preparation, kids have short attention spans. Ask the social worker or visit supervisor to help parents understand that visits may need to be much shorter when done virtually. Of course, if the virtual visit is going well and the child is engaged, the visit can go longer. When it is time to end the visit, have the child say goodbye, and then take a second to say goodbye to the parent yourself.
Foster parents and relative caregivers, virtual family time is going to require more effort from you. I know your plates are full, especially with schools suddenly closed. I get that right now things feel pretty overwhelming. I’m hopeful that these tips will help you figure out how to make virtual family time work well for your family. But I want to acknowledge that things aren’t super easy for any of us right now, and it’s ok to admit that.
One thing that helps me is to remember is how valuable it is to maintain essential connections for kids in any way we can right now. During these uncertain times, it can be greatly comforting to children to see their parent(s) and foster caregivers have positive, warm interactions. It will also be comforting for parents separated from their children to be able to see that their children are doing ok. It is going to take some flexing and learning from all of us, but iin the face of great uncertainty, this is one thing that we can do to help kids and parents remain connected.