The importance and impact of foster carers staying in contact with children and young people who have moved on.
“The importance of children staying connected with their former foster carers must not, under any circumstances, be underestimated.
However, despite the thousands of foster carer voices and The Fostering Network launching the Keep Connected campaign 3yrs ago and advancements in the understanding of trauma and attachment, it seems to go largely ignored. Sadly the reasons for not keeping connected are rarely about the children and seldom in their interests”
Sarah Anderson, Founder FosterWiki
Since then there has been no significant progress; young people are still losing touch with the people that matter to them when it is not in their best interests. We need a culture shift to ensure that the starting position in any transition planning is for ongoing contact.”
Kevin Williams, CEO of Fostering Network
Introduction to Maintaining Connection
There are many reasons that children and young people move on in foster care. This can be because foster care may not be the most appropriate setting for them, a placement may have broken down, moved into residential care, independent living, been adopted, or are moved due to an allegation and never returned (even when foster carers reapproved and allegation ruled unfounded).
Previous thinking in social work was that the relationship with former carers should be stopped so that they could replace with a new one. It meant that children could wait months or years before they were allowed to see their former carers again. It is quite normal for foster children never to see or be able to contact their carers again.
However, it is now widely recognised how important it is to maintain these attachments and connections in children’s lives, modern approaches and research into trauma-informed practices, attachment and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have established how damaging it is to prevent this from happening and how it can negatively impact their mental health, now and in the future.
Despite the issue being highlighted in The Care Inquiry in 2013, and subsequent recommendations by the Government in the Fostering Better Outcomes report and a campaign by the Fostering Network in 2019, it seems from extensive foster carer feedback that there has been little or no significant progress.
*There will be some occasions when it is not in a child’s best interests to keep in contact with their previous foster carers, however, these will be the exception rather than the rule.
Why is it important to maintain a connection?
Maintaining attachments is crucial for children in care, most of whom have attachment issues, and trauma and have suffered many adverse childhood experiences.
Attachments can affect a child’s sense of self, confidence, self-esteem and problem-solving abilities, it can also be influential on their resilience and mental health.
When children are suddenly separated from a carer, sometimes for many years, they can suffer loss, rejection, trauma and other complex emotional issues. It can also prevent them from developing further secure attachments and lead to a loss of trust in attachments.
Maintaining important relationships and connections in their lives can mitigate these feelings and effects. Abrupt endings and blocking connection is likely to lead to severe separation and loss issues for a child or young person.
A secure relationship with an adult can also buffer a child against the effects of longer-lasting and more severe stress and therefore protects the developing brain from the potentially harmful impact of trauma.
Former foster carers can be influential and key in children’s lives, in their transitions, stability and enabling them to make sense of their past. A strong support network of people who know a child well helps them to feel loved, develop a strong sense of self and maintain healthy relationships in the future.
What is considered good practice?
- It is now recognised that these attachments are of paramount importance. A culture shift is needed to make sure that in any transition planning, ongoing contact is prioritised.
- All those in the team around the child should understand the importance of ongoing contact and manage the transition accordingly, abrupt endings and blocked contact re-traumatises children.
- Children, where possible, must be listened to and consulted about their important relationships.
- Maintaining contact after a child has moved on should be seen as standard practice for both services and the foster carers, and the relationship between the foster carer and new family (whatever that looks like) should be treated as an ongoing relationship that should be properly supported and encouraged.
- Contact takes many forms, face-to-face contact, letters, emails, phone calls, Zoom/FaceTime/WhatsApp, and messages. However, face-to-face should take priority where possible.
Is it happening?
It seems, from FosterWiki feedback and from the Fostering Networks reports that this is not happening as it should.
It appears that a significant percentage of contact going forward is prevented, for a variety of reasons, including the now-discredited understanding that bonds can only be formed one at a time, or that you need to break one to form another. Unfortunately, this has led to children waiting months on end, mostly never, to see former foster carers, some of whom they may have been with for years.
This is having a critical effect on children in care, without the right support former foster carers, adopters, new foster carers, special guardians and birth family are being placed in the untenable position of creating their own framework for maintaining connections, including the boundaries and expectations during the transitional period.
It also has a critical effect on foster carers, who experience grief and loss of a child without ongoing contact leaving them feeling unable to allow themselves to attach to the next one.
More than two-thirds of foster carers told the Fostering Network they received little or no support to maintain contact with their former fostered children, while fewer than one in six felt they got a great deal or a lot of support.
FosterWiki supports the Fostering Network’s recommendations
The Fostering Network launched their ‘Keep Connected’ campaign in 2019, this is what they had to say:
The results from our State of the Nation Survey support our previous findings that the care system is doing little to promote fostered children’s relationships when they move within or out of it and is far too often, in fact, obstructing them.
Planning and preparation are essential to set expectations and make practical arrangements. It is imperative that local authorities include foster carers in transition planning from the start.
When children’s services have this proactive approach, it helps to create a culture that prioritises children’s relationships.
The level of support that children receive to maintain their relationships is inconsistent. They are reliant on their adopters, foster carers or family to facilitate contact, often without training or guidance.
The sector must work together to end the outdated practice that sees children lose touch with their former foster carers when they move on. Contact should be discussed during planning for every transition and enabled unless it is decided that it is not in a child’s best interests.
- The UK’s governments should ensure that guidance and regulations require that children and young people in care are enabled to remain in contact with their former foster carers and that foster carers are enabled to support their former fostered children as they move home, to a permanent placement, or through the leaving care process.
- Local authorities and trusts must ensure that contact between children and their former foster carers is encouraged and supported, challenging the prevailing culture where necessary.
- When local authorities, trusts and independent fostering providers are inspected, proper attention should be paid by the inspectors as to how these relationships are being built and supported for children and young people in care.
- Maintaining contact after a fostered child moves on should be routinely considered part of the role of a foster carer, and foster carers should be supported to carry this out.
- All relevant parties should adopt the Keep Connected principles and embed them in their policies and practice accordingly.
Foster carer’s comments
- Help and Support for Foster Carers
- Foster Carers’ mental health
- Contact FosterWiki
- The Care Inquiry 2013
- The Fostering Network Keep Connected campaign
- Not forgotten: The importance of keeping in touch with former foster carers The Fostering Network, November 2019
- Fostering Better Outcomes – The Government response to the Education Select Committee report into fostering and Foster Care in England, July 2018
- Keep Connected: Maintaining Relationships When Moving On research report
Information, Help and Support
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