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With mobile devices being more common with school-aged children, many kids come into care with a phone or device they can use for phone calls and video chats. If foster kids having phones is news to you, then start here.

What to Do When a Child Has a Phone

Their parents or former caretakers might even have an expectation with them to hold calls frequently, possibly multiple times per day. These calls are very important to help the family stay connected with each other and serve an important role between in-person visits.

The bio family might be worried about the safety, happiness, and well-being of their child and the child might also have a strong desire to know their family is okay and be comforted by the people they love; this is especially true immediately following removal from the home or during major changes.

child with phone under a stool

Are Phone Calls Supervised?

Phone calls could be directly with their bio parents but could also be scheduled to include the social worker. Depending on the child, they might have calls with their siblings in other homes, extended family, friends their age, or family friends.

At times, other adults that are involved with their case, like a therapist, Guardian ad litem (GAL), or CASA could have contact with them; these calls can be harder to navigate if the child doesn’t have much of a relationship with these adults and could trigger anxiety due to the nature of the relationship.

However complicated, these calls may be important for the child to retain a sense of normalcy, have a channel to repair their relationships, and provide a safe space for the child if they are lonely and miss their family.

Communication Challenges

While phone and video calls are a great service for children in foster care they can prevent challenges and add stress as the foster parent trying to manage their home on top of everything else. We’ve identified some helpful phone call tips here, but understanding the basic “blocking and tackling” can help when you are starting.  Keep these key facts in mind as you start this journey to avoid issues that can negatively impact your foster or adopted child.

Tips for Positive Phone Calls

  • Have a conversation with the child’s social worker first: Before beginning contact with the family, talk to the child’s worker to get an understanding of the child’s relationships and what’s appropriate contact at that time. It’s helpful to understand the relationship dynamics and to ensure that the child’s emotional wellbeing is the first priority.
  • Know if you need to supervise: Many relationships will be extremely healthy for the child and they will be able to hold the call independently. Depending on the situation and the child’s age you might need to stay within earshot to address issues that come up or steer the conversation off of sensitive topics.
  • Be prepared to pick up the pieces: Calls will be emotionally charged and can be the time that pent-up feelings come out. Be ready for challenging behaviors or meltdowns at times and have patience with your child as they are processing things without the resources they might need like a social worker or therapist on hand.
  • Make sure details shared with the child are consistent: If the child isn’t yet aware of certain status changes or negative issues impacting their case it can be very hard for them to hear this virtual. Furthermore, if you aren’t prepared for a “bomb to be dropped” you could be caught off-guard and might not know if this information is even true. Checking in with the person before the call if there is a new change the child isn’t ready for yet is really important to make sure the child isn’t learning new information out-of-turn or from the wrong source.