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Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website

3.6.1 Contact with Family and Friends for Looked After Children


In November 2019, Section 1, Introduction was updated to take account of the use of mobile communication with regards to contact.


  1. Introduction
  2. Children in Residential Placements
  3. Children in Out of Authority Residential Units
  4. Children in Foster Placements
  5. Frequency of Contact: Considerations
  6. Quality of Contact: Considerations
  7. Reunification
  8. The Letting Go Plan 
  9. Contact in Adoption
  10. Making Contact Arrangements
  11. The Role of the Social Worker
  12. The Role of the Foster Carer
  13. The Role of the Fostering Service
  14. The Role of the Registered Person (residential units)
  15. The Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer

    Appendix 1: Contact Arrangements: Assessment Tool for Social Workers

    Appendix 2: Research on Contact in Long-term Placements

1. Introduction

Salford City Council is committed to supporting Looked After Children in maintaining constructive contact with their siblings, half siblings, families, friends and other people, who play a significant role in their lives. This policy and procedure provides advice and guidance to staff and carers about how to facilitate safe contact, through a variety of mediums, and in support of the overall Care Plan for the child.

There is a presumption of continued contact between the child and their family while the child is Looked After, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare.

Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child’s wishes and needs for contact should be individually considered and regularly assessed.  The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary.

So far as it is reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of the parents and the child’s carers must be ascertained before a decision about contact arrangements is made.

The policy is designed to reflect the child’s journey through care and as such, explores how contact arrangements can evolve and change to support the child’s changing needs. The policy furthermore seeks to identify the different roles and responsibilities each of the key people have, in ensuring that contact arrangements are made, which are in the child’s best interests, as well as the skills and tools which can be accessed, in supporting and determining levels of contact.

The policy seeks to reflect the, at times, conflicting needs that both an individual child may have, as well as how the Directorate might guide staff in managing potential conflict of need, between individual siblings.

It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation) and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

2. Children in Residential Placements

Children in residential placements can be defined as being in transition: possibly returning home, to live with relatives, to move on to foster families or to independence. It is therefore important that contact arrangements not only support the ‘here and now’ but also complement the young person’s future plan. Young people in residential care are also quite likely to have siblings, potentially placed elsewhere. It is therefore important, when planning the placement, to explore how significant contacts can be maintained. Contact is an important part of the young person’s care plan and as such, it is essential that the Registered Person, along with the Keyworker and social worker, adhere to guidance relating to contact.

3. Children in Out of Authority Residential Units

When identifying placements for very complex young people who require specialist provision, the Commissioning team and social worker will need to ensure that the prospective organisation’s policies are compliant with Salford’s policy on contact. It is also incumbent on the social worker to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings on contact and actively consider how contacts can be maintained by them, with the significant people, in their lives. This can include support with travel warrants / financial support, as well as contracting with the unit, as to their responsibilities in supporting positive contact.

4. Children in Foster Placements

Contact can be beneficial to Looked After Children in foster placement, providing the risks are adequately managed, carers are well-supported and social workers are heavily involved in reviewing contact arrangements regularly, in order to ensure their continuing suitability for the child. The positive aspects of contact, under these circumstances, can assist the child in settling into his or her new permanent foster placement.

Contact, particularly face-to-face contact, provides children and families with the chance to share information, keep up-to-date, gain knowledge and hear feelings without the filter of time or third parties. (Neil and Howe, 2004)

5. Frequency of Contact: Considerations

The level of contact needs to balance the child’s need to understand his or her identity, while also enabling the child to settle in the placement and make appropriate attachments to the long-term carers. A lower level of contact may be more suitable initially and this can be increased once the child is settled in the placement and feels secure within the foster family.

  • Where a child has a plan for long-term foster care, the level of contact with his or her birth parents should be determined and implemented immediately after court proceedings have been completed and well before the child moves to a long-term placement;
  • This reduction in contact should be progressed gradually to acclimatise both children and birth parents;
  • If contact continues at a high level post-care proceedings and is then reduced just prior to or after the move to the new foster placement, the child will associate this as the reason that contact has been reduced, potentially causing a child to resent the long-term foster carers and impact negatively on the placement;
  • In deciding levels of contact in long-term placements, research suggests that high levels of contact between Looked After Children and birth parents who are not supportive of the placement can lead to a higher incidence of placement breakdown. (Please see Appendix 2);
  • Levels of contact may differ for children of different ages, with younger children, i.e. those aged twelve and under, who still have a considerable period of time in long-term foster care, benefiting from lower levels of contact to ensure that they have the opportunity to fully integrate into their foster families;
  • Contact levels for younger children should be set at four times a year at regular intervals such as school holidays;
  • This level may not be appropriate for a child who has separate contacts with each birth parent as this means that contact levels will effectively be doubled. A compromise of three times a year with each birth parent will then be more suitable;
  • Older children may wish to have more contact with birth parents as they begin to establish their own identities, separately from their foster families. Research suggests that this contact still needs to be carefully monitored and reviewed and full responsibility for arranging this contact should not initially be left up to the young people themselves. (Please see Appendix 2);
  • Methods of indirect contact such as telephone calls, emails and letters can, and should, be considered in between direct contacts, as a way of meeting children’s continuing identity needs.

6. Quality of Contact: Considerations

  • Discussions need to take place as to where the contact should take place and who should supervise it;
  • It is not always possible for family centres/ West Dene contact centre to be able to facilitate contacts between Looked After children and their birth parents on a long-term basis and so alternative arrangements will need to be made;
  • If there are no concerns about the quality of contact and birth parents are supportive of the foster placement, it can be beneficial for foster carers to facilitate contact for their foster children. This encourages a positive relationship between the foster carer and the birth parents which is very positive for the child to see. It also enables the carer to make arrangements at their own convenience. This encourages a more ‘normal’ experience of contact in which children are not transported to the contact venue or supervised by a number of different professionals;
  • Contact that is to be facilitated by foster carers should take place in a neutral venue such as a shopping centre, park, cinema, restaurant or other activity venue;
  • Guidelines such as the length of contact must be set by the child’s social worker in advance and not left up to the foster carer to decide. This should be regularly reviewed.

7. Reunification

Contact between child and birth family should never be the single determinant for a plan to rehabilitate the child home but rather part of a much wider process. A number of factors would need consideration, prior to a change in Care Plan.

  • Identifying what led to the child being accommodated;
  • Assessment of the quality of the parent child relationship, prior to care;
  • Assessing what has changed for that parent and for the child;
  • Assessing the parent’s ability to put the child’s needs first, including showing their support of the current carers;
  • Completion of a Children and Families Assessment;
  • Assessing parent ability to work in partnership, with professionals, and to access advice appropriately;
  • Assessing existing parental contact: commitment, quality, child focus;
  • Listening to the child: their wishes and feelings, worries and hopes;
  • Discussing with the carer, exploring the child’s behaviours and parenting needs, as well as their views on existing contact;
  • Discussing with the parent, behaviours the child can exhibit and how they would deal with these.

Some contact arrangements may have moved on over time to becoming unsupervised. Whilst it may appear a retrograde step initially, part of the assessment needs to include observing some contact, by the social worker. This would inform the assessment, allowing greater understanding of relationship dynamics, strengths and vulnerabilities, and areas to develop or ‘flag up’ as being of concern. If formal assessment indicates that reunification may be appropriate, this would then be brought to a planning meeting, involving parent, carer, and professionals. Carer support of potential reunification needs careful consideration: the Who Cares Trust identified this as being a significant factor in successful rehabilitation.

Subject to approval of the assessment, the meeting could then determine changes to contact, the purpose being to develop existing relationships whilst also offering opportunities for parent and child to experience what it might be like, if they were living together. Thus, if an overnight contact is planned, this might be more useful and informative, if arranged to occur mid week. This would enable both parent and child experience situations such as getting the child off to school / helping with homework/ debriefing on their day. It is also important, that follow up is made by the social worker, to explore how that contact went. There may have been stresses or conflict: what the worker will be exploring is the parent’s ability to resolve conflict, manage competing demands on their time, and their use of coping strategies, which are supportive and helpful.

Once a return home is agreed, contact would increase significantly, on a time limited basis. Information would be shared, and discussion, between parent, carer and social worker could take place, to ensure consistency of routines, ongoing discussion of needs and the sharing of ideas. Permission to move on, by the carer, is also a helpful message for the child to receive, if this is feasible.

The child may have lived with their carers for some time and have a significant relationship with them. It is therefore important to consider future contact needs, for the child with their carer, in much the same way as consideration is given, to post adoption placement contact, between child and their previous carer.

8. The Letting Go Plan

For children who are moving on to an adoptive family, careful consideration needs to be given as to how contact levels with birth family, which may have been high during assessment and Proceedings, need to change, to help the child, and family, in the process of ‘letting go’. The Local Authority will, following the Professionals meeting, have held a Care Planning meeting, at which changes to contact will have been discussed, in order to support and complement the Final Care Plan for the child. Within the Care Plan, the specifics of a reduction in contact should be stated, leading up to the final direct contact. Timing can be key, with supervising officers needing to use active listening and observation skills, to assess how the grieving process is impacting on individuals.

As part of the Care Planning process, the “goodbye” contact needs careful and sensitive planning. Arrangements need to be made which consider how the venue might be supportive to child and birth family, allowing quality time, opportunity for photographs and a simple activity, which can offer memories of this occasion, such as a meal. Parents might be encouraged to think about and plan for, this final contact, with the supervising worker and /or social worker, so that they feel involved in what is happening, and having a limited amount of choice. The venue will have been considered, being comfortable, whilst enabling staff to be able to supervise and keep people safe. Photographs and videos of the contact are important for both the parent and the child and copies should be obtained for both. These can form part of the child’s ongoing life story work, which, wherever possible parents should be encouraged to be part of. Supervisors will also need to be sensitive to mood and tone, considering how long the contact should go on for, and adjusting this, in light of individual need. Thought should also be given, to how the actual good bye will occur and where: protracted farewells at cars can be overly traumatic for all and even potentially place professionals or even the child, at risk.

Careful consideration needs to be given as to whom should attend this final direct contact. It should not be used as a contact for extended family who have had no previous ongoing contact with the child.

9. Contact in Adoption

The Purpose of Contact in Adoption

  • Helps the child to develop a realistic understanding of the circumstances leading to separation from birth parents and other family members;
  • Enables the child to grieve his/her loss;
  • Helps the child to move on and develop an attachment to his/her family - with the blessing of his/her birth family;
  • Reassures the child that the birth parents continue to care about him/her - this can enhance the child’s self esteem;
  • Promotes stability for the child in the new family by providing continuity and enabling connections to be maintained;
  • Reassures the child about the well being of birth relatives, especially siblings who may still be living with members of the birth family, or an alternative family;
  • Provides an opportunity for the adopted child or young person to gain more knowledge and understanding about his/her personal history and cultural history;
  • Maintains a flow of communication that could help facilitate direct contact in the future, if this is agreed by the adopted young person.

10. Making Contact Arrangements

Finding the right balance between what the child’s needs for contacts is, and what is achievable and acceptable to all parties, is complex and challenging. The advantages of contact are well documented but in practice, establishing meaningful contact is not always easy, not always sustainable and, in some cases, not even appropriate.

When planning and managing contact arrangements, careful consideration has to be given to the purpose of contact for the individual child. If the purpose is clear and agreed by all parties, then the type and frequency of contact will be easier to determine.

In the vast majority of placements, only indirect contact is considered. There are, very occasionally, circumstances where it is appropriate and feasible to have direct face to face contact. Advice should always be sought from the Adoption Team as early as possible in the planning stages if this form of contact is being considered.

Contact for identity purposes will usually take the form of indirect “letterbox” contact. These arrangements are usually made between significant birth relatives and the adoptive parent(s) and, if of an age and understanding, the child.

In considering who in the birth family to include it is important to consider the significance of this persons relationship to the child and the contribution this person could make over time to help enhance the child’s identity. Birth relatives who have an understandable interest in how the child is progressing but have not played a significant role in caring for the child can obtain information about the child via other family members such as birth parents.

It may be important to maintain links between siblings placed separately. If all the siblings are placed in adoptive placements this is achieved by introducing adopters to each other and encouraging indirect or direct contact, once or several times a year, depending on the closeness of the siblings relationship and, sometimes, practical issues such as geography.

Maintaining contact between a child placed for adoption and a sibling remaining with a birth parent or in a placement where there is contact with a parent may be hard to achieve because of the possibility of a breach of adopters’ confidentiality.

Experience shows that contact works best when adopters both understand the need for it and it is practical to achieve: arrangements that are too frequent or involve writing to too many people are not likely to be sustainable over time.

It is usual to arrange for letterbox contact on an annual or, in some cases, biannually. More frequent arrangements are likely to become too onerous for adopters and arrangements that are not adhered to cause anger and upset to birth relatives, so should be avoided.

Indirect contact can also include the exchange of photographs and sometimes DVD’s but it is important that adopters are in agreement to such exchanges and that birth relatives understand that the information is for their sole use and should not be used to “search” for the child.

Arrangements are usually set up within the first few months of a child’s placement. They can be set up after or sometimes during a meeting between birth parents (relatives) and adopters and ideally should follow from the birth parent having engaged with the Birth Parent Counselling Service. Birth parents who have received this service are more likely to understand the importance of them maintaining indirect contact and understand its limitations.

Experience shows that letterbox contact that follows from a one off meeting between birth parents and adopters is likely to be more successful as a greater understanding and empathy is achieved by both parties.

As the adopted child’s needs and understanding change over time it is likely that any contact arrangements will need to change. Some adopted children will be able to take part in the exchange of information by writing directly to their birth parent. Some may decide that they no longer want their adoptive parents to exchange information about them. Some may reach a stage when they want to consider having a face to face meeting with their birth parent.

11. The Role of the Social Worker

There are a number of aspects to contact, which the social worker must consider. The social worker must ensure that:

  • The child’s welfare must always be central in any contact plan;
  • Consideration is given, to who the child needs to maintain contact with - friends as well as family; siblings as well as parents, whilst grandparents especially may provide positive experiences of birth family, support identity needs, whilst not replicating the abuse which led to the child being accommodated;
  • What the purpose of contact is and how it needs to be arranged, to support the child’s Care Plan. This has implications for frequency, venue, level of supervision;
  • They listen to the child, and ascertaining not just their wishes and feelings regarding frequency but what sense they are making of why they are in care. This will involve talking to the child about their hopes of contact. A child may hope that mum will ‘make up’ for the neglect they experienced at home, but if mum’s commitment is haphazard and inconsistent, the reverse may be the outcome. The social work role is then, not to increase contact, but to help the child make sense of what is happening and to work with the parent at establishing a level of contact which they can maintain;
  • Contact arrangements are safe, emotionally, as well as physically by ensuring, where necessary, that appropriate levels of supervision are in place;
  • Explicit guidance is given, to birth relatives about expectations regarding behaviour during contact, supported by a contract agreement. The social worker can also ensure that details of the support to be made available to the adult, to support positive contact, is identified. This can include financial support but can also include sensitive feedback to the adult, by the contact centre supervisor or social worker, on how they might handle situations more effectively;
  • Listen to carers, teachers, and other involved professionals about the impact contact is having for the child, before, during and after the event. This can involve offering carers reassurance, ideas or support, in managing difficult behaviours, as well as talking through what might be happening for that child;
  • The child’s care plan is a dynamic working document, which evolves and develops in line with the child’s age and stage of development. Thus contact arrangements also need to be reviewed regularly, to support the overall plan;
  • The ultimate goal for the child is to achieve permanency and stability. Contact arrangements need to be able to support this plan.

12. The Role of the Foster Carer

 The foster carer’s role is central in ensuring that the contact arrangements that have been made are constructive and supportive of the child’s welfare. They are expected do this, in a variety of ways:

  • By supporting and encouraging children in communicating with their birth family and friends, in ways set out in the Placement plan. (This includes provision of a land line telephone, from which to make calls, help with written communication such as letters, cards or e mail, where needed, as well as practical help with transport, where appropriate);
  • By ensuring that any restrictions on contact, as defined by a Court or by the child’s care plan are complied with, and changes are only made to protect the child from significant risk to their safety;
  • By recording the child’s responses to contact, both positive and negative, the length and severity of the reaction, any wishes and feelings expressed by the child, regarding contact and, if they were involved in supervising contact, the extent and nature of the supervision;
  • By attending training events relevant to contact such as why contact is important, managing difficult contact issues, helping the child make sense of what is happening e.g. why some children are at home, whilst they are not.

13. The Role of the Fostering Service

Salford’s fostering service has clear standards, which define roles and responsibilities on the issue of contact. The service is keen to support children, and their carers, in ensuring positive arrangements for contact, consistent with the child’s care plan are in place and effective. The service therefore ensures:

  • During training to potential foster carers, input is offered on the importance of maintaining appropriate contacts and the skills required by the carer to support these;
  • Prior to a placement being made, the Service ascertains contact requirements and how these might be best supported. Consideration is also given on the child’s wider networks and how these might be sustained;
  • Supervising social workers address contact with carers, assisting them in maintaining records on contact and making sure that carers understand, and are able to help the child, with alternate forms of communication where appropriate. This includes advice and guidance in managing difficult contact issues;
  • The Family Placement social worker will ensure that there is a Placement agreement in place, for every child in placement, which outlines contact arrangements and the role of the foster carer in each one. The extent of the carer’s direct involvement in contact will be determined, as well as which decisions on contact have been delegated to the carer;
  • The Service also ensures that financial support is offered to carers, who are involved in contact arrangements, through payment of mileage and fostering allowances;
  • A training module is provided for all foster carers entitled “Working with Birth Families.” Supervising social workers encourage all carers to attend this course and, if helpful a refresher as appropriate;
  • Some children are placed with Independent Fostering agencies. The fostering service, in partnership with Salford’s commissioning team, will, in these circumstances, ensure that contracts with independent providers reflect and detail that agency’s compliance with Regulations 11, 14 and 17 of Standard 9 of the National Minimum standards.

14. The Role of the Registered Person (residential units)

Residential units in Salford are managed by a Registered Manager. It is expected that they will, in conjunction with the child’s key worker and social worker, take a lead in ensuring that contact requirements are met. These include:

  • The young person being offered practical support for constructive contact, with significant adults in their lives, as set out in their care plan. This will include ascertaining the child’s wishes and feelings. Support may include financial support, transport, supervision of contact, provision of telephone, e mail and other forms of communication. The young person may also be provided with a mobile phone to aid communication - within the parameters of the mobile phone policy;
  • The Registered Manager will ensure that records are kept relating to contact, including;
  • Reactions to contact, negative and positive;
  • Length and severity of reaction;
  • Any emotions or wishes expressed by the young person;
  • Notes on level of supervision of contact.

This will support regular reviews of contacts, or restrictions on contact, which can be shared with the social worker.

  • The Registered Manager will also ensure that, recorded within the Placement plan, there are clear details on how contacts are to be established, maintained, monitored, reviewed as well as determining the exact role the residential staff will take, in supporting such contacts;
  • The Registered Manager will also ensure that contact is neither cancelled or prohibited, as part of a ‘settling down period’, disciplinary or behavioural programme.

15. The Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer

The Independent Reviewing Officer is required to review the child’s care plan. They need to ensure the care plan reflects the child’s assessed needs and that the local authority are carrying out the necessary functions to meet those needs. In reviewing the care plan they will consider the child’s contact needs at each statutory review. They will be looking for the following within a care plan and at the review:

  • That the level and arrangements for contact detailed in the care plan are in line with the assessed needs and reflect the overall aim of the long term plan;
  • That the contact plan continues to meet the needs or whether a reassessment is required. If it needs changing a recommendation will be made to reflect this;
  • That the local authority are taking the necessary actions to ensure the agreed arrangements are in place;
  • That the child’s wishes and feelings have been given due consideration in making plans for contact;
  • That if the child’s wishes cannot be granted in relation to contact that they have had the rationale explained to them, in an age appropriate manner and taking into consideration the specific context of the case (for example, if in proceedings);
  • That the child understands the complaints procedure and has access to the advocacy service if this is appropriate;
  • That the child and family is supported with the contact at a level appropriate to the situation.

Appendix 1: Contact Arrangements: Assessment Tool for Social Workers

Neil & Howe (2004) summarised a number of positive and negative characteristics of children, carers and birth parents in the contact triangle.

Positive Characteristics of Children

  • Infant placement;
  • Child does not have an established pre-placement relationship with birth relative;
  • Secure attachment to the carers;
  • Healthy psychosocial development;
  • Good social cognition/emotional intelligence;
  • Absence of major behavioural/mental health problems;
  • Established positive or neutral relationship with birth relative.

Negative Characteristics of Children

  • Insecure attachment to carers;
  • Major behavioural/mental health problems;
  • Older child has had troubled/traumatic pre-placement relationship with birth relative;
  • Child has lived with several different birth relatives;
  • Child is traumatised by contact with birth relative;
  • Child does not wish to have contact.

Positive Characteristics of Carers

  • Possess ‘good enough’ levels of sensitivity and empathy;
  • Recognise the developmental benefits of openness and contact;
  • Recognise that the child will be curious about his or her background;
  • Accept birth relative and help the child to accept the situation;
  • Convey a positive attitude toward the birth relative while acknowledging the reasons for placement;
  • Resolved state of mind with regard to abuse/loss;
  • Constructive and collaborative approach to problems;
  • Constructive and collaborative approach to working with birth relative;
  • Early involvement in thinking about the role of the birth relative;
  • Full involvement in any contact that takes place;
  • Experience of contact with an accepting birth relative can reduce anxiety and increase confidence in managing the child.

Negative Characteristics of Carers

  • Carers are anxious about contact;
  • Low levels of sensitivity and empathy;
  • Unresolved state of mind with regard to abuse/loss;
  • Unable to consider contact and lacks collaborative approach;
  • Carers are not involved in the contact arrangements;
  • Carers are critical of birth parents and not understanding of identity needs.

Positive Characteristics of Birth Relatives

  • Birth relative has never been the primary care-giver;
  • Accept and support the placement;
  • Affirm new carers in their role;
  • Constructive and collaborative approach to working with carers;
  • Relinquish their caring role to the carers;
  • Relate to the child in a non-abusive, positive way;
  • Contact allows the birth relative to see how well the child is progressing and helps them to maintain a role in the child’s life;
  • Birth relative is largely free from significant personal difficulties such as mental illness and substance misuse problems, which could impact negatively on contact.

Negative Characteristics of Birth Relatives

  • Birth relative does not accept or support the placement;
  • Continue to insist on occupying the role of primary care-giver, preventing the child from attaching to the new carers;
  • Birth relatives have seriously abused or neglected the child;
  • Birth relatives reject the child;
  • Birth parent has significant personal/lifestyle difficulties.


Neil E & Howe D (2004) Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, Theory and Practice CoramBAAF, London.

Appendix 2: Research on Contact in Long-term Placements

Research indicates that contact in long term placements is a complex one, where a number of factors require careful consideration. According to Sinclair et al (2004), poor quality contacts between Looked After Children and their birth families were the main cause of placement disruptions during the first year of placement. Further research by the same team after one and three year follow-up stages also demonstrated that, where previous abuse had occurred within the family home, unrestricted access to family members was commonly associated with placement breakdown and further abuse. (Sinclair et al, 2005) Macaskill (2002) found that contact had a negative impact on a number of adoptive and long-term foster placements, with one in seven at risk of placement breakdown.

For many children, the experience of contact was a negative one in which they continued to seek parental approval from birth parents who were emotionally rejecting toward them.

The original difficulties that had led to the placement were replayed during contact, leaving the adolescents with painful experiences they seemed unable to process.

These re-enactments of unresolved relationship difficulties caused behavioural problems for the foster children putting additional strain on their placements with 41% of carers stating that the contact had a very negative impact on the children’s emotional well being. When reviewed at the one and three year stages, 57% of foster children in the study still had poor quality contacts with birth families and they were unable to cope with or understand these experiences. (Farmer et al, 2004)

The study revealed that contact difficulties at the start of placement predicted later placement disruption with 56% of placements having broken down owing to contact problems at the one year follow-up stage compared to only 24% where there were no contact difficulties. At this stage, 63% of the children in the study were involved in contacts that were considered detrimental to them. While Farmer et al found that contact difficulties could be related directly to placement breakdowns, absence of contact could not, even when children were distressed at the lack of contact or feeling rejected by parents who withheld contact. In contrast, foster children who were repeatedly exposed to problematic contacts continued to impact negatively on the placements.

Young people re-experienced the parents’ rejection on a regular basis in which painful feelings were repeatedly reawakened by such difficult contacts and continued to have a negative impact on the young people throughout the placements.

Farmer et al (2004) summarised that the majority of foster children in the study experienced significant problems with birth family contacts and many of these persisted at the one and three year follow-up stages. The study concluded that, in view of the detrimental impact on the young people of many of these contacts, arrangements needed to be managed much more proactively by Social Workers and reviewed regularly. Farmer et al (2004) also questioned the purpose of contact, which were generally for identity purposes only with no question of rehabilitation, and whether contact arrangements were meeting these aims. Unsupervised contact appeared to be more problematic, particularly where arrangements were left up to the child to sort out.

In a longitudinal study of 596 children and young people in foster care undertaken by Wilson and Sinclair (2004) they revealed that where physical, sexual or emotional abuse had occurred prior to placement, the placement was three times more likely to succeed when the children were forbidden from having contact with their abuser. In most of these cases, the children had contact with other birth family members, but the prevention of contact between the child and abuser acted as a significant protective factor in placement stability. This would suggest that the children’s need for safety was of greater importance than their identity needs, which were met through contact with other birth family members.

Howe & Steele (2004) stated that children in permanent placements may be re-traumatised by contact with an abusive or neglectful parent. The children will feel threatened and they will associate their long-term carers with an ability to make them feel safe, preventing them from developing secure attachments to their new carers.

Severely maltreated children who feel unsafe and insecure will continue to employ extreme psychological measures of defence which may lead to a variety of aggressive, controlling and distancing behaviours, placing great strains on the carer-child relationship and increasing the risk of placement breakdown.

Neil and Howe (2004) concluded that contact can be beneficial to Looked After Children in permanent placement but only if the risks are adequately managed, carers are well-supported and social workers are heavily involved in reviewing contact arrangements regularly in order to ensure their continuing suitability for the child. The positive aspects of contact, under these circumstances, can assist the child in settling into his or her new permanent foster placement.


Farmer E, Moyers S & Lipscombe J (2004) Fostering Adolescents Jessica Kingsley, London

Howe D & Steele M (2004) Contact in Cases in which Children Have Been Traumatically Abused or Neglected by Their Birth Parents in Neil E & Howe D (2004) Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, Theory and Practice CoramBAAF, London

Macaskill C (2002) Safe Contact? Children in Permanent Placement and Contact with Their Birth Relatives Russell House Publishing, Lyme Regis

Neil E & Howe D (2004) Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, Theory and Practice CoramBAAF, London

Sinclair I, Wilson K & Gibbs, I (2004) Foster Placements: Why They Succeed and Why They Fail Jessica Kingsley, London

Sinclair I, Baker C, Wilson K & Gibbs I (2005) Foster Children: Where They Go and How They Get On Jessica Kingsley, London

Wilson K & Sinclair I (2004) Contact in Foster Care: Some Dilemmas and Opportunities in Neil E & Howe D (2004) Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, Theory and Practice CoramBAAF, London