What contact should look like

Contact with birth parents that meets the attachment needs of children and young people in out-of-home care is regular, such that there is a sense of predictability about it. The child or young person needs to know when contact will occur, and for contact to occur as they anticipate. This means that alongside endeavours to get the child or young person to contact with their birth parents there must be matched endeavour to support birth parents to get to contact. Contact should not be used as a test of the parent’s commitment to maintaining connection with their child. The biggest loser in such an approach is invariably the child or young person.

Contact with birth parents needs to occur in a setting or context where the birth parent and their child or young person can feel relaxed and comfortable. Contact in the offices of the child protection authority, in the absence of a working alliance that keeps birth parents engaged and regulates their shame, is likely to be inadequate for the attachment needs of the child or young person. In such circumstances the birth parent is likely to be struggling to manage their own feelings of hurt and shame associated with being in the building and presence of the very agency that messaged them that they were a bad or inadequate parent, such that their child or young person was at-risk and needed to be removed from their care. The child or young person’s experience of the parent in such circumstances, at best, is that they are distracted. At worst, the child or young person experiences heightened distress because of being in the presence of a distressed adult.

Contact needs to occur at a time and for a duration that reasonably allows birth parents to perform parenting routines. The child or young person needs to experience their parent being a parent. If there is little opportunity for the child or young person to experience their parent differently than was the case when the removal occurred, then the child is likely to be triggered by contact into the same trauma state as likely occurred prior to their placement in out-of-home care.

In summary, before decisions are made to reduce or even eliminate contact between children and young people and their birth parents based on either party’s engagement with, or reaction to, scheduled contact, there needs to be consideration of the arrangements under which contact is scheduled.

I have written more about these matters here.


What would you change about contact between a child or young person you work with or care for the contact they have with their birth parents, in support of a better experience for the child or young person and their birth parents?

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