fbpx Engaging Families Despite Their Pasts
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on October 7, 2021

I recently attended the 2021 Family Focused Treatment Association (FFTA) virtual conference. One of the keynote speakers, Alise Morrissey, who is now the Director of Family Impact at the Children’s Home in Washington, spoke about family engagement from a unique perspective. Alise shared a profound story of her life experiences as an individual who had experienced past trauma, was homeless, struggled with addiction issues, and had her child removed from her care upon giving birth.

Impacts of the Child Welfare System

Through her story, I learned the many ways in which the child welfare system impacts a parent’s ability to reunify with their child in a timely manner, and how it can make a parent’s recovery from addiction complicated. Because of the difficulties, families may dwell on the brokenness of a system. I learned it is the child welfare workers’ responsibility to positively impact services by understanding how complex trauma affects the lives of the parents whose children enter the foster care system.

Understanding parental trauma allows us to really listen to parents’ lived experiences and how this can be used in helping them receive appropriate services to heal. In order to help parents find purpose and meaning, they need to heal and mend from past wounds. We have learned this with children; their healing doesn’t start until they feel safe. The same is true for their parents.

There is an incredible need for parents who have lived this experience to serve as mentors to support and inspire the parents currently working on recovery and navigating the complex child welfare system. On the other hand, there is also a great need to recruit foster parents who believe in reunification and can support the process.

Family Engagement Is Critical for Successful Outcomes

Nexus Family Healing believes in family engagement as a key to successful outcomes for children. We feel a great responsibility to train foster parents and our staff about the importance of an involved family during a child’s time away from the home.

As we orient new foster families and work with seasoned ones, it is important for us to be authentic and transparent about the need to partner with parents and help to move foster parents away from a potential “hero/victim” mentality that can sometimes exists in the dynamics between parents and foster parents. It takes a great deal of vulnerability to accept the past behavior of a parent and separate that from the person they are working to become.

In time, foster families and parents of the child in care should be able to develop a relationship that is supportive, non-judgmental, and understanding. We know that parents can make poor choices, but they can also move forward, making positive changes even when the circumstances seem insurmountable. With an open mind, foster parents gain a better understanding of family struggles and can find ways to support a parent who desires a different outcome. We are fragile as humans, yet our strength comes when we have the support to heal and grow, and a belief in ourselves and those around us that change can happen.  


This blog article was contributed by Genelle Olson, Nexus-PATH Foster Care Director.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org