Contact arrangements involve the fostered child and their family members. Direct contact means meetings between the child or young person and birth family members or significant others and includes phone calls, texts and emails. Indirect contact means letters and cards through members of the birth family and/or significant others usually through a third party.
Contact is important and can contribute to:
- preparing a foster child for a return home
- maintaining relationships and connections within families
- assisting a child in grieving for losses entailed in separation
- supporting the development of identity
- providing professional help to a fostered child’s parents regarding how to respond to their child’s behaviour.
Contact has a role in keeping children up to date with information about their family and it can help young people to decide how they manage that relationship later on. Regulations and guidance for fostering services define the role contact plays in the health and wellbeing of children and outline requirements for fostering services and foster carers to actively promote contact between children and their families unless this is not in their best interests.
Principles of contact
Despite courts, decision-making bodies and legislative and administrative structures taking different forms across the UK there are some fundamental principles underpinning good practice in supporting contact. Common threads include:
- the legislation emphasises the welfare of the child
- foster carers sometimes have to manage the emotions and often the confusion of children who have contact with their families.
- the purpose of contact needs to be discussed and understood by everyone working with looked after children and shared with the children’s families.
- confusion, discomfort and distress on the part of the child are common responses to contact but these do not necessarily indicate that contact should be reduced or terminated.
- contact must be assessed for any risks to the child and those responsible for the care plan should put in place whatever measures are considered necessary to manage risks.
Every looked after child should have their own overall care plan in which a contact plan outlines all the arrangements. This plan should refer specifically to how the child will maintain links with and receive information about family and friends
See our Contact page for foster carers here.
The Fostering Network has produced a guide to explore the issues and responsibilities for foster carers involved in contact. It can be purchased here (our members receive a 50 per cent discount).
It is important for children to be able to maintain contact with their former foster carers where it is in their best interests. Find out more about our Keep Connected campaign.
Fostering Community Champions Programme has also produced a document called Positive Contact which includes top tips for foster carers regarding their role in promoting positive contact.