Relationships & Contact

When a child is placed in care their whole world changes. It is therefore important to maintain positive relationships and activities wherever possible in order to reduce the emotional impact of being in care.

Prior to being in care, children will have things in their life which they identify as positives.  For some children this will include their relationships with their parents, siblings and extended family members, whilst others may consider school, after-school activities and peer relationships as important.  Every child is unique in terms of what they consider to be their support system wherever possible this should be maintained.These pages explore some of the key issues, however this information cannot cover every possible circumstance, each of which will need to be considered on its own merits.

Contact Contact can be a vital part of a child's life and identity, however it can also be a process that triggers fear in the child, worrying them for days beforehand.  Contact is not only personal contact but also includes letters, telephone calls exchanges of cards, presents, e-mail and text messages, in fact anything which maintains a link between a child and their parents and family network.Children should be encouraged to maintain contact with family members and others, but this must also be supported carefully and kept under constant review.  Any contact arrangements must also take into account any court orders, agreed care plans or child protection plans that are in place.A child must never be threatened with the loss of family contact as a punishment or sanction.Contact should never be cancelled unless it is unavoidable and if it is cancelled an explanation should be given to the child along with details about when the next contact will be.Contact is not just about direct, face to face contact. It can also include letters, telephone calls, exchanges of cards, presents, email and text messages. In fact anything that maintains a link between a child and the people who are significant to them is contact.Often through talking to children we can establish a lot of the information about their supports, how these came about and whether they wish for them to continue and this should form an important part of any placement plan. This also naturally fits with lifestory work, documenting the history of these relationships and how they have changed over time.

Maintaining friendships As children grow older, peer relationships become more important to them.  Being in care has historically been seen as a limiting factor on peer relationships, for example children not being allowed on sleep-overs.More recently the stance on such relationships has moved to recognising their importance, and it is expected that as with any child there should be the facility for them to visit friends and vice versa, as well as maintaining contact using other means as any child would.

School, religious activity, clubs At the point of coming into care, dependent on age a child might have a number of activities which they attend.  Wherever possible, and in consultation with the child, these should be allowed to continue as this 'normality' may mitigate against the other changes that are taking place in the child's life.If it is not possible for such activities to continue e.g. the placement is a significant distance from where the child lived then effort should be made to explore what similar provision there is in the new area.  However the child should not be forced to attend as it may not have been the actual activity that was the draw to doing it.For some children, activities associated with their religion or culture may become an even more important source of support in helping them to maintain their identity once in care.In simple terms think of when you last moved house - did you seek solace in a place that you knew well (e.g. work), saying to people that you were there for a break?  This can be the same as children maintaining their school, church, activity, etc. - the fact that they know how it works and who will be there acts as a break to the huge change that is going on around them.

Lifestory work Equally important is for children to know where they came from, how they have come to be in care and what their journey through care has been like. Lifestory work is often left until a plan is made for adoption and then frantic efforts are made to bring a lifestory book together.As parents we would naturally be documenting our child's development as we go along, e.g. photos, school reports (for older children), etc., and for children in care this should be no different, regardless of their status.Initially this does not necessarily need to be a detailed book about the child's life to date.  It can start through the collecting of memento's and photographs which, for example, the young person or carer may wish to put in a scrapbook. Over time this can then be developed into a book that talks about family members, memories, etc.Again, if you think of your own life, many of us will have treasured possessions that invoke memories of good and not so good times.  But even in the case of the not so good memories, often we cannot bear to part with them.  Historically children in care have not got many tangible things that can invoke memories, with many reported incidents of being moved from one placement to another without explanation and all their belongings in black bin bags.  By ensuring that lifestory work is not something that is only done when the plan is for adoption, this situation has and can continue to change for the better, leading to better outcomes for the children.

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