Contact Between the Child, their Family and Others
Standards and Regulations
Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:
- Standard 1 - The child's wishes and feelings and those significant to them.
- Standard 9 - Promoting and supporting contact.
Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care:
- Standard 2 - Understand your role as a foster carer.
- Standard 4 - Contact Between the Child and Their Family.
For many children, relationships with family members, previous carers, friends and others are valued. Contact can be very important in helping children develop their sense of identity and understand their lives.Research says that maintaining links between a child and their family increases the possibility of them returning to their family home.
Contact with family and friends will be set out in the Placement Plan. This will detail where, when and how contact will take place including whether it will be supervised. Contact may take place in the foster home or somewhere else depending on what might be best for all those involved.
The child's social worker will provide you with the necessary information including any assessment of risk for those involved. The child's welfare is the paramount consideration at all times. The needs, wishes and feelings of the child are also important when planning contact, and should be gathered. This may involve using advocacy or other ways to understand the child's views. It may be useful to find out how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or Playstation) so that this can be taken into consideration and an agreement reached about how safely to do this.Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child's needs. The child's welfare is the paramount consideration at all times.
The fostering service through your Supervising Social Worker will give you practical advice and support including financial help where needed to make sure contact is appropriate and safe.
Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, phone calls, photograph exchanges, cards etc. can also play a part.You should also talk to the child's social worker to explore how electronic communication, such as video calls, can support positive relationships for children. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of contact being avoided. Childnet have produced some helpful information to help foster carers consider contact with a child/young person's family through the use of social media and digital devices.
It is important that children from a dual heritage background or who are not a cultural match but placed with you, maintain their links with their family, friends and community so that their cultural history is encouraged, developed and valued.
It is not unusual for children to ask to have contact with relatives or friends they may have lost touch with before becoming Looked After. If this happens speak to the child's social worker.
You should record the behaviour and reaction of the child before and after contact. This may identify patterns which can contribute to future decision making.
You should discuss contact in your supervision meeting with your Supervising Social Worker so that problems can be identified and hopefully resolved.
Contact can increase a child's sense of security when the people who are important to them are comfortable with each other. This can also help parents and other family members to feel less awkward and threatened.
The child may be allowed to visit their birth parents at home. These visits, which may include staying overnight, must be planned in advance, with the child's social worker.
Sometimes the child may appear anxious and upset by a visit. This may be because the visits:
- Remind them of feelings of loss and separation;
- Remind them of feelings about past experiences;
- Highlight feelings of divided loyalties.
If you have any concerns at all you must speak to the child's social worker.
Working with birth parents is an important part of fostering. A vital element of this is trust and confidentiality.
In sharing the care of a child, you will receive a lot of confidential information which you may wish to share with those closest to you; discuss this with the child's Social Worker in the first instance.
You may also talk to other carers about children you are caring for perhaps in general or to seek support. You should remember to treat any discussions in confidence and children should never be specifically identified or named.
Problems with Contact
Contact can cause distress and upset for a child/young person and you are often the person who has to deal with this when a child feels confused, angry or disappointed. You may also have mixed emotions when this happens. You should be offered practical support including financial help if needed to support appropriate contact.
You may feel that the family is letting the child down, but, there could be many reasons for this.
- The family may feel guilty or angry that their child is in foster care;
- A child may have been placed in an emergency when the family was experiencing problems;
- Parents may feel angry that their children are living with you if this is against their wishes and resent having to comply with plans they don't agree with;
- Parents can also worry that you will take their place in the child's life and may have heard in the media about foster carers wanting to adopt fostered children;
- Parents may also feel they have let their child down which can impact on their motivation and reliability.
These reasons and feelings can lead to parents behaving in ways which appear inappropriate during contact. They may be very emotional, give the children unrealistic messages or make promises.
Understanding the parents experience can help to make sense of the situation for the child as well as the family.
Any restrictions on communication by the child with their parents should be agreed by the child's social worker and reviewed alongside the child's wishes and feelings.If you feel that changes should be made to contact to protect the child from Significant Harm the child's social worker should be told immediately or within 24 hours. If the child returns from contact and you are concerned in any way about something that has been said or done particularly if you think it has harmed the child in anyway, you must report this to the child's social worker or a duty worker in their office immediately or within 24 hours.