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May 2020Vol. 21, No. 4Icebreakers Aim to Create Birth-Foster Parent Alliances

Icebreaker meetings, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Family to Family initiative, are facilitated, face-to-face, and child-focused meetings between birth and resource parents that often include input from the child. Icebreakers aim to encourage birth families to remain involved in caring for their children while they are in foster care and to build connections and open communication between the two families in order to meet the full spectrum of the child's needs, encourage mutual support, and expedite reunification. 

Icebreakers, which should be held no longer than 3 to 5 days after the child is placed, usually adhere to the following specifications:

  • Icebreakers include the child, birth and foster parents, and caseworker. Siblings are included on a case-by-case basis. 
  • All three participating parties—birth and foster parents and the child—are prepared ahead of the meeting so they are confident in what they want to say, share, or ask. The preparation and the meeting itself are facilitated by the caseworker.
  • Icebreakers should run no longer than 30-45 minutes.
  • The child and his or her needs should be the sole subject of the meeting. 
  • If having a face-to-face meeting is not possible, Icebreakers can be held using Skype, teleconferencing, or through other alternative methods of communication.
  • During the meeting, resource parents, birth parents, and the child each have an opportunity to ask questions or contribute information.
  • During the meeting, the caseworker shares visitation information.
  • After the meeting, the caseworker debriefs participants privately to find out whether they have further questions or concerns and to get a sense of whether the Icebreaker met their needs.

Icebreaker Meetings: A Tool for Building Relationships Between Birth and Foster Parents is a toolkit that provides information on how to plan, structure, and facilitate Icebreaker meetings and includes sample documents, tip sheets, and more.