Indirect and Direct Contact Arrangements

The issue of post placement and post adoption contact is highly complex and potentially contentious and decisions must be based on careful assessment of the immediate and likely longer term needs of the child. Research evidence can be conflicting and may leave social workers unsure of what is best practice.

Some of the key issues to consider when making decisions about future contact in the context of a placement for adoption are:

The purpose of contact for each child (it is essential that this is defined at the outset of the process).Any contact plan must be child focused and driven by the child's needs not those of the birth parent(s) or the prospective adoptive parent(s).

If siblings are to be placed either together or separately each child's need for contact must be considered on an individual basis

Children need to be able to make sense of their past and to have a sense of connection with their heritage - this can be achieved in a variety of ways

A child's need for any level of contact with his/her birth relatives will often vary over time and all those involved in any contact arrangement will need to understand this and accept that plans established at the time of placement may well need to be changed from time to time to reflect the child's changing needs.

A child's wishes and feelings must be taken into account but these must be considered alongside the professional assessment of what is in the child's best interests - most children will indicate a desire to remain in contact with their birth relatives when the alternative is unknown territory to them.

Sometimes it is helpful to identify what a child wants in terms of future contact arrangements. This should then be considered alongside the assessment of the child's contact needs and what it is assessed he/she can and can't cope with, taking into account the other demands that the child will have on him/her in the way of school and social/recreational activities and the need for him/her to develop appropriate attachments and relationships within his/her new family and social circle. A similar exercise can also be usefully undertaken with the birth parent(s) and the prospective adoptive parent(s). Such consideration may help to clarify a contact plan.

Prospective adoptive parents and birth parents need and know where to access support in relation to contactContact arrangements in place prior to placement will impact on those following placement. The issue of post placement and post adoption contact needs therefore to be addressed as soon as a plan for adoption is made. As the plan for adoption moves forward the level of direct contact ongoing between the child and his/her birth family members should be adjusted in anticipation of the child's move into his/her prospective adoptive family. This will serve to limit the disruption and distress that an abrupt suspension or termination of contact might otherwise cause the child and anyone else involved in the arrangements.  All parties should be helped to understand why a gradual reduction of contact is likely to be in the child's best interests if following placement contact is to be suspended, reduced to a minimal level or terminated.

It may be helpful to hold a separate meeting to look at contact once a plan for adoption has been made.

Any assessments of contact should be clearly recorded on the child's case file and evidenced.  

This does not always mean that an 'expert' opinion should be sought.  A social worker who knows the child well and who is present at contact is often in an excellent position to make an assessment, however it must be structured and evidenced and the child's needs must be paramount.

Lessons learnt from previous contact arrangements must be taken into account.

Significant and supportive relationships should be maintained if this is in keeping with the child's overall placement needs, however in many cases this can be achieved via indirect contact and does not necessitate any level of ongoing direct contact.

If the birth family members are not able to support the plan for the child to be placed for adoption it will usually not be viable to maintain any level of direct contact between the child and the birth relatives concerned. It is likely to be emotionally damaging to the child if he/she is put in a position of feeling that he/she is in the middle between opposing adults. The birth relatives and the prospective adopter(s) must be able to work co-operatively to support the child if any level of direct contact is to be continued or re-established post placement. The ability of the birth relatives to support the adoptive placement without trying to undermine it must be carefully assessed.

For the majority of adoptive placements a level of indirect contact will be established and maintained post placement.  This 'keeps the door open' to enable the child to retain a sense of connection with his/her birth family and to gain a level of information about what has been happening in the lives of his/her various birth family members, thus helping to dispel the 'fantasy' family.

Where such an arrangement works well it is likely to assist the child in gaining a better understand of his/her personal history as he/she matures.

Indirect contact will provide the birth  family members with the reassurance that the child is alive and well and give them a 'taste' of what has been happening in the child's life, however the primary focus of indirect contact must remain the child.

For many children indirect contact is established in the first instance however there will usually be the potential to extend this at a later date if the child's stated wishes and assessed needs suggest this to be appropriateIf it is considered to be in the child's best interests for direct contact to continue following placement for adoption the purpose of such contact must be clearly defined and understood by all parties.The child's immediate and likely longer term contact issues are a very important factor in the matching process and it is essential that workers are clear about the proposed contact arrangements before talking to potential families.  

The views of potential families must also be considered and taken into account.The plan for contact arrangements must also include clarification of who will inform the birth parents in the event of a child's death prior to the age of 18.

Letterbox information form

This form is to be completed by the child's social worker and Fostering and Adoption social worker and remain on file.When completing this form we would be grateful if you could bear in mind the following:

Letterbox arrangement form

Adopted children need to know about their origins and grow up with as many of their questions answered as possible. The Letterbox Service enables adoptive parents and birth family members to keep in touch so that information can be exchanged and regularly updated.