Birth families may be facing temporary hardships. They, too, nevertheless, are among the protagonists of a foster care and placement project. Foster care is not about severing existing ties: it is a way of creating new connections. Birth parents must be kept informed and actively involved in the foster project. They should keep in touch with their children and their foster family, according to the stipulations of the judge and the recommendations laid down by social workers. Crucially, a foster child’s birth family will need to be supported and helped along by the Social Services to realize the full import of its difficulties and acquire a new parental competence that may warrant the return of the children to their birth home.
Minors in placement and the foster family’s natural children are the core of every foster plan and arrangement. These are young people between 0 and 18 years of age, occasionally between 18 and 21. They are issued from problematic backgrounds and can be experiencing difficulties on the emotional, relational or behavioral plan. For this reason, they may be in need of ad hoc support, both for themselves and their foster family. It is crucial that adults around them are constantly listening to whatever the children in placement and the family’s natural children have to say and, when possible, involve them in the foster project, or at any rate take their wishes and goals into account.
After going through a process of training, caretakers will welcome the children into their homes and act as a support family. Singles and unmarried couples, too, may serve in this capacity. Caregivers need to be aware of the fact that foster placement is a temporary arrangement and that their role is vicarious: they are never meant to replace the child’s birth family.
Foster parents are an additional source of care that may help children develop harmonically and achieve that “normal” condition that allows a minor to grow into an adult.
The foster parents’ experience is never a merely private matter, because placement is by definition a social occurrence that involves the community at large.
The protagonists can rely at all time on a network of public and private services, and apply for training, support, and attention. It is the network’s responsibility to cooperate with all partners and tap into the added value that lies in every participant’s individual profile, so as to guarantee that fostering will be a fruitful and rewarding experience. Social services are not the only subject involved: private associations with a mission of social solidarity and family networks are also playing an increasingly relevant role, covering needs that institutional subjects may tend to overlook or are partly unable to address.
The judiciary, to be sure, plays a crucial role in shaping fostering plans when placements by court order are involved, but it also supervises consensual placements. The role of the magistrate and other public officials serves as an additional guarantee of the respect of the juridical principle of the child’s “best interests”, to which all legislation on the subject refers in the most formal terms, and which constitutes the pivot of all fostering initiatives.