Before we became foster parents (around this time last year), the aspect of this whole system that intimidated me the most was birth parents. Now, there’s much to be said about birth parents, and I won’t be able to say it as well as others, so I’ll just leave a few article links at the bottom of the post and you can read for yourself. But suffice to say, I was worried, even scared, about how birth parents might treat us, talk to us, and otherwise intimidate our family while we care for their children.
So far, I can say that we’ve had none of the scenarios play out that I had envisioned – no spooky encounters of people driving by our home, no situations where I’ve been cussed out over the phone, etc. And we have pretty frequent contact with our kid’s birth family – weekly visits, weekly phone calls, one of them had twice-weekly Skype.
All of that being said, there’s one easy solution we have used to keep birth family contact within the foster care guidelines set forth by our case worker, and that is Google Voice.
If you are unfamiliar with Google Voice, it is a service offered by Google (obviously) where you can make and receive phone calls, voicemails, and texts at an anonymous number – for free! There are lots of ways you can use it, but here are the basics of how we use it as foster parents:
- Birth family members only get the Google Voice number – Social workers are instructed to NEVER give out my personal phone number. So far, that has worked. I’ve heard from many foster parents whose personal numbers have been given out and it hasn’t been a good experience for them, so I’m hoping Google Voice continues to help us.
- I have several phones set up that Google Voice will forward to. I have my phone number, my husband’s phone number, and even my mother’s phone number. That way, depending on who is watching the kids, if it’s time for a scheduled call, we are set up for calls. It just takes a few quick clicks on the mobile site to select the appropriate phone for the call to ring at.
- We enable Do Not Disturb on Google Voice and ONLY turn it off when a call is scheduled. THIS IS KEY. Without using Do Not Disturb, all Google Voice does is block my phone number. But using it preserves the boundaries that have been established for us with the birth family.
So that’s the HOW, here’s the quick version of the WHY:
- Privacy – I don’t know about you, but I don’t share my phone number with just anyone. I don’t like to get unwanted calls. This one is pretty simple. Also, we have a Connect-To-Cell phone at home (basically a cordless phone that our cell phones ring to when we are home), so anyone in our home could pick up the phone. Our kids don’t answer the phone at their ages, but if they did, I feel the need to protect them.
- Boundaries – Even when they are told what the “rules” are, people will still try to make contact when a phone call is not scheduled. I have no desire to receive multiple calls that I have to silence or ignore throughout a day, let alone listen to hateful voicemails. The Do Not Disturb feature lets me have a small piece of control in a system where we have very little. We preserve the relationships are asked to preserve, but we still respect and maintain the boundaries that are put into place.
- Cost-effective – Google Voice is F-R-E-E! Unless you need to make international calls, there’s no cost whatsoever. We started out using a TracFone in foster care, as suggested somewhere on the countless blogs, Pinterest Pins, and podcasts I scoured as we started our foster care journey, but it quickly became a hassle. Making sure we had the phone, that it was charged, that it had minutes available (and those can be $$!) – it was just too much. Having access to a semi-private/secure line from my own cell phone was a much better option.
That’s the short version of how and why Google Voice works for us in foster care. Do any of you foster parents use Google Voice or can you see it working for your family?
If you need help navigating this feature or want to learn more, here is the official Google Voice Help page, which should get you started!
Looking for those articles I mentioned about birth families? I’m so glad you asked! 🙂
- Forgotten Friday: Birth Parents Are Not the Enemy
- Make a Difference Monday: We’re Not Trying to Steal Someone Else’s Kids
- Respect for Birth Families, Please
- The Other Mother