Parent and child relationships are an important part of relational permanency for a child.
When a child is removed from a parents’ care, parents worry about how it will impact on their relationship with their child. They want to know that their child is safe, who their child is with, and how they will maintain a relationship with their child while they are in care.
Research is clear that when a child has contact with their family quickly after removal, successful reunification is more likely to be achieved. There is also an established connection between parental contact and positive relational permanency for a child.
Arrange family contact as soon as possible after a child enters care. Tell the parents that one of the best opportunities for them to show they can changing behaviour is when they have contact with their child. This is a way they can demonstrate acts of protection that relate directly to the immediate harm indicator (found in the safety assessment) that led to the child’s removal.
Use the safe contact tool to clearly speak with the parents about:
- the current safety worries
- current contact arrangements
- what everyone in their network can do to increase contact
- what can be done to decrease the worries in future.
Practice guide: Family contact for children in care.
Even when a child is placed in long-term kinship or foster care, it is critical to achieve relationship permanency and preserve a parent’s relationship with their child.
Evidence-based practices to improve relationships between families include the following elements:
- Empathic and respectful communication between families to build trust and commitment to the child
- Quality time spent together, not just a once-off event
- Planning focused on the purpose and goals of contact
- Post-contact reflection that helps to air and resolve problems and deal with emotions
- Recognition that contact is dynamic and plans need to be flexible
- Understanding that contact is potentially transformative for the adults involved (Collings & Wright, 2018).
When organising and reviewing family connection or contact time, consider:
- having a purpose for contact (that is clear to all involved)
- having a regular predictable pattern of contact
- fitting in with the child’s routine
- setting and managing expectations
- showing respect and building trust
- supporting children, parents and carers
- ways to improve the contact experience
Support families by encouraging open and transparent conversation, which will strengthen and build trust and understanding. Encourage parents to share their hopes, expectations and worries about contact. This acknowledges how a parent is feeling and can provide parents emotional and practical support (Collings & Wright, 2018).
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