What is Contact?

  • FosterWiki
  • Author:Dominique Dunning
  • Published:2021
  • Country: United Kingdom

Contact can be positive for the child in our care but can also be traumatising, especially where a child has been exposed to abuse.

Carers ultimately pick up the pieces following contact and are often left with an angry or distressed child who is confused and depending on their age may not understand why they are no longer with their parents. This will often lead to a period of instability for the child who will possibly behave in a challenging way or exhibit some form of regressive behaviour.

Despite this carers will often find that even though the child may have experienced a chaotic and dysfunctional home life they will still want to be with their family.

Who decides?

Contact arrangements will depend on the order a child is placed on, if a child is accommodated under Section 20 there will be an expectation by the local authority that the parent works with plans agreed at a planning meeting however as the parent retains parental responsibility they can have contact with the child at any time they wish. If the local authority considers that this would potentially put a child at risk they have the option to take the case to court and request an Interim Care Order.

If the child is on an ICO there will be specific plans for contact in place as this is a period for the local authority to continue assessments to establish whether a child will return home or a longer-term foster care or special guardianship order. For babies and much younger children, a parallel plan will potentially result in adoption.

As the intention should always be to support families remaining together this can also mean that reunification for a child could be considered at any point.

Contact arrangements should be clearly set out by the Child’s Social Worker in their Care Plan and should be reviewed regularly.

How does Contact happen?

This can be in a variety of ways:

  • Face to face.
  • Telephone.
  • Virtual, particularly since Covid-19 this has been more common place.
  • Written or letterbox (usually for Adoption).

Where does it take place?

If face to face contact is agreed this can happen in many ways:

  • Supervised in a contact centre (this is usually to provide an opportunity for assessments and feedback by the contact team on how the parent interacts, behaves and how the child responds).
  • Supervised in the community (this can be with a contact worker or with a carer who will accompany the family and child).
  • Unsupervised in the community.
  • Unsupervised at the family home or another family member.

Concerns and restrictions.

If carers have concerns regarding contact it is expected that they share these with the CSW and SSW as soon as possible. Carers cannot restrict contact without the agreement of the child’s social worker this includes using contact being withdrawn as a sanction for behaviour.

The only exception to this is in an emergency situation where the carer reasonably believes that they need to safeguard or promote the welfare of the child; if carers take any such action, they must notify their Supervising Social Worker and the child’s social worker immediately afterwards or as soon as is reasonably practicable but within one working day.

What is your role?

Initial discussions regarding contact will happen at the Placement Planning Meeting. Often contact is more frequent when a child is first looked after and this can vary depending on the concerns and the plan. For a child who is accommodated the plan should be to work with reunifying the child with the family and there should be timescales in place. For children on more long term orders, contact maybe 6/7 times a year (usually during holidays to avoid disruption with school). During these initial discussions, it will be agreed who transports to and from contact, where contact takes place and the frequency.

Carers will be expected to keep recordings of how this may impact a child before and after contact. It is so important that Carers support plans and understand that even though this may be unsettling it is an expectation to work with the local authority plan at all times. This does not mean you cannot challenge or advocate for a child in your care but doing this professionally and avoiding making decisions that may affect your role as a carer is crucial.

What can you do to help?

Children should always be supported to keep family connections in whatever way is possible, this may feel very challenging for Carers particularly when they know that a child has been harmed by those they have contact with.

Remaining calm, supportive and reassuring to a child is essential for them to know and trust that you are not judging their family, that you will be there for them, not just to take and collect or supervise but emotionally available and resilient enough to manage the feelings. These are huge expectations from carers, who are human and often take on vicariously the pain of the child they care for.

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