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Keeping children in touch

Children in foster care generally stay for a limited period until they either go home to their parents or move on to independent living or adoption or permanency. While they are with foster carers, they usually remain in contact with their parents and visits home or to a contact centre are arranged on a regular basis. Children need to maintain contact so that they have a clear idea of who they are and where they have come from and this helps them develop their own sense of identity, so crucial during the teenage years and beyond.

Maintaining contact can be a real challenge for foster carers. It is they who see the child return from a difficult contact with mum and they who often have to pick up the pieces. Children look forward to contact and can end up disappointed by the reality of their visit home – maybe mum was too busy to spend quality time with them or maybe no-one showed up and they were once again let down. Unable to express their anger with their parent, it all comes out in the foster home. Carers can be confronted by an angry child, unable to talk about or deal with their feelings for fear of being disloyal to their parent. A good foster carer understands the torn loyalties a child feels, and they can withstand the anger and support the child through their difficulties.

Young children need more structured and regular contact. Courts often ask for young babies, who have been removed, to have daily contact with parents. Foster carers who are approved for the care of very young children need to be prepared for frequent levels of contact – sometimes 5 days a week lasting about 2 or 3 hours each day. On some occasions, this happens in the foster home, but mostly it takes place in a contact centre designed specifically for the purpose, where contact is supervised and the process carefully recorded as evidence for court.

Maintaining family contact can also involve grandparents and siblings – we have been involved with large family groups getting together at contact centres, with supervisors (sometimes more than just one) monitoring and recording the proceedings. At Christmas time and Birthdays whole families including extended family often have a big family contact when they exchange presents and celebrate. It is the foster carer’s job to encourage and support these contacts and make sure they are positive experiences for the fostered child in placement.

Facilitating contact is a crucial task for a foster carer because a child in foster care never forgets their own parents and will generally want to see them regardless of the past problems that they have been exposed to while at home.

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