Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meeting the birth mom by phone

Caterpillar's birth mom gave her phone number to the caseworker to give to me.  After thinking about it for a little while, I wanted to extend some contact over phone.  First, she made the first move, and second, I felt for her.  I always feel pangs of sympathy imagining mothers lying awake at night, not knowing anything about the strangers their babies are with, not able to tell them anything.  Wondering if they know that gas drops help him.  Wondering if they will figure out that she likes her back rubbed to get to sleep.  And this case in particular has had a bumpy start in ways that are not her fault.

There were two obstacles to this phone call.  The first is that I get very anxious about phone calls.  Even if I'm just calling the dentist's office, I get a little sweaty and flustered.  When I've had to make calls in my second language, Spanish, I have to talk myself into calling, literally pep-talking myself out loud sometimes.  I vastly prefer talking in person or by e-mail.  Sometimes I avoid phone calls completely.

The second obstacle is privacy.  Many birth parents would not abuse having information on foster parents, but some would.  With landlines, there is the insecurity of knowing that your address is out there.  I know it differs by areas, but here the address of the foster parents' home is kept confidential.  Then with any kind of phone, you can invite more calls than you bargained for.  Birth parents may have addictions or mental illness (or just desperation from missing their children) that inspire 2 am calls or constant texts, and most other foster parents have advised me against giving out a number.

Then I saw Google Voice suggested and found it to be a great solution.  I'll try to explain it because I didn't get it at first.  You can create a new number.  For outgoing calls, you can type the number on the website and it calls any phone you have set up to be connected to your Google Voice number.  When you answer your phone, it connects to the number you entered on the website.  The person receiving the call sees only the Google Voice number, not your landline or cell number.  Then for incoming calls, any phone you have connected to your Google Voice number rings.  Here's a great feature: there is an option for calls during a certain time to go straight to voicemail.  I set that up from 9 pm to 8 am, and ta-da, no after-hours calls.

So, with the privacy obstacle overcome, I said a few prayers to get past my phone fear, and called Caterpillar's mom.  It was a really positive conversation, and I'm so glad I called her.  I don't know at all where our relationship will go or how this case will go, but I am glad that it started off better than my rushed awkward conversation as I drop off her child for a visit.  I introduced myself as the foster mom taking care of her son, and tried to learn as much as I could of how she has been taking care of him: products, soothing tips, etc.  She was calm and thorough.  Talking at visits and keeping a two-way journal have been mostly positive, but after today, I really want to attempt phone contact with future birth parents.  I want to give my Google Voice number to the worker dropping off the child, because this conversation would have been even better if had happened sooner.

What communication methods have you had with birth parents?  Your good stories, your bad stories?


  1. Thank you! I've been trying to figure out how google voice works, but could not quite understand it. It sounds like a great option for phone communication with bio parents.

  2. I think this is great! I've heard about google voice from other foster parents and it sounds like such a great idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like its available in Canada. I think my mom usually gives her cell number to bios, since her cell has call display unlike our landline. And she's only given it out at reunification. Most of the time my mom drives the baby to the visits and has face to face communication. We've done communication books, but find that the bios don't write back to us about the visit which is so frustrating. We have found email to be a pretty good way to communicate, but usually do that close to/after reunification. I think one of the fears about phone calls is that it would be easy to get into a 'he said, she said' situation. Email helps with that since it's all documented, and can easily be forwarded to a case worker. I'm glad your conversation went well though!

  3. Karen, I've had the same experience with communication books so far, except Beetle's mom, who wrote really nice and helpful messages in it, but he was with us less than a month. As much as Caterpillar's mom wants to communicate, she admits she hasn't read the book at all yet. I read where one blogger sent regular updates by text. I might try that (via Google Voice) because a) you have a written record rather than he said/she said, as you pointed out, and b) I think it'll take less time as phone calls get more rambly and off-topic. E-mail would work, too, though I like having other options if bio parents don't have regular e-mail access. When to start this sort of communication is a good question, too... I like that it started off our relationship as positive and collaborative right away. However, I don't know her hardly at all and waiting might have been better to know what boundaries are needed. Pros and cons to both, I think.

  4. We've only had two placements, but we've been blessed with the ability to communicate freely with the grandparents of our first and the parents of our most recent kiddos. With this last placement, I verified with our social worker that it was "safe" to swap numbers, and then I offered my cell phone number. We texted almost exclusively because I knew that everything was trackable this way. In our situation, I was able to advocate for the parents more confidently because I had so many conversations to "show" the workers. The girls have been home for three weeks, and their mom is still texting pictures and updates about the girls' readjustment. I so appreciate that we are able to know what they're up to. Were it not for that personal communication, the girls would've gone home and we wouldn't have any more information.

    I'm sure I won't always be able to do this, but I try very hard to treat the bio parents the same way I would want to be treated if my kiddos couldn't be with me.