Contact and how to do it

Contact and foster carers

The Children Act 1989 and Adoption and Children Act 2002 impose a duty on local authorities to promote contact between a child who is being looked after and those connected with them, unless they are placed for adoption, and in other cases as long as this has been assessed as being in the child’s best interests. Sometimes this is voluntary and sometimes there is a Court Order. Unless an Adoption Order is made the child’s parents always retain their parental responsibility.

The main points

(Depending on the plan for the child, the purpose and nature of contact will vary. Ask the child’s social worker to explain why a particular pattern of contact is being followed.)

  1. You are looking after children on behalf of others.
  2. Recognise that children’s parents, relatives, friends, carers and social workers have different needs and attitudes to contact.
  3. Your skill, attitude and experience, patience and understanding are a powerful influence on the successful outcome of contact.
  4. Take your own family’s needs into account.
  5. Never leave things to chance.
  6. You should expect help. Do not hesitate to talk to your supervising social worker.

Contact visits

Contact is one of the most emotional aspects of childcare - arranging for children and their families from whom they are separated to keep in touch with one another. The management of contact is one of the toughest aspects of fostering. If a child is to go home, their links with their parents must be continued.

For young children where the plan is to return home, visits may be intensive and frequent.

For older children, and where the plan is not rehabilitation visits will be less frequent. For some children you may be asked to assist in terminating contact with their birth families.

Visits should be natural and active occasions - going out, playing, etc. Contact can also mean letters or phone calls.

All contact visits will require good preparation with the child and other parties, and the child must be given the opportunity to express their pleasure and fears about it. Similarly, the child will need the opportunity after contact to work through any feelings of distress that might arise as a result of the contact.

A good contact visit should leave the child feeling reassured that they are loved and missed by their parents and still belong to them. They will have heard about what has been going on in their family in detail and the bonds will be kept alive. If a decision is made that rehabilitation of a younger child is not in the child’s interest, we will try to safeguard their future with a permanent substitute family. Children need a family to which they can belong permanently. This may mean terminating the parents’ contact to the child. Even if this is the case the child still needs to know about their parents and you will need to help them understand this. If you understand the parents’ situation, it is easier for you to explain kindly and truthfully to the child.

Recording contact visits

You should record the salient points in writing about contact visits to share with the child’s social worker and your supervising social worker, and bear in mind that your records may be used in future court proceedings. You should feel free to consult your supervising social worker if you have queries about recording contact visits or sessions. S/he can also provide you with a copy of the helpful Fostering Network booklet on recording for carers.

Shared care – helping parents to resume responsibilities

Straightforward contact can be seen, in some cases, as the first stage towards the child’s return home. If it proves unsuccessful and parents, through this and in other ways, continue to show an inability or unwillingness to care for their child, then it is likely that the child will need to be cared for longer-term, perhaps permanently. In these circumstances continued contact may be unlikely or at least reduced.

However, if contact proves successful, then a move towards the child’s return home might require a period of ‘shared care’ between you and the child’s parents. You may also be asked to offer ‘shared care’ to children and their parents at the beginning of the placement, especially where the child is very young and perhaps parents need help and guidance in caring for their child.

As a foster carer in this role you may have several tasks: of observing, teaching, listening and then making assessments about the parent’s potential ability to cope alone.

From this it is obvious that shared care is a very difficult task and requires special skills and tolerance - caring for someone else’s child is difficult enough but doing this alongside their parents makes it even harder.

Decisions about parents sharing in the day-to-day care of their child will always be part of an agreed plan; made between you, the parents and the child’s social worker, at the outset of a placement.

Your task is to be open to the notion of sharing the care, even when you may not agree with it in certain instances. You may also have to tolerate parenting which is different to yours. Your observations of parent’s interactions with their child must take account of the fact that ‘different’ methods may not necessarily equal ‘bad’ methods. Finally, your judgements of parent’s abilities needs to be based on the notion of ‘good enough parenting’: that is, whilst there are some fundamental principles of ‘good’ parenting there can be no one set of hard and fast rules.

Good Practice Guide - working with the child, family rehabilitation package after placement

If good relationships between you and the parents have developed during the time their child was placed with you, it is possible that you may be asked to continue to help the family when the child is returned home.

This help may take several forms, for example:

  • Visiting the family home on a regular basis for a defined period.
  • Caring for the child for some parts of the day or at times of particular stress.
  • Opening your home to parents and child to hear about the good and bad aspects of the family being reunited.

These sorts of continuing relationships often occur informally anyway but your formal agreement to it, in some situations, could speed up the child’s return home and help ensure its success.


Parents may

  • criticise you
  • criticise the care you give
  • undermine you, especially by referring to the fact that you get paid
  • make false promises
  • try to give up visiting because it is painful
  • show love by buying presents
  • be unable to play their natural roles in someone else’s house
  • be over sensitive and take your comments as criticism.


  • understand their situation
  • help them to see that you understand
  • encourage them to remain involved.

If parents turn up unexpectedly and demand to remove their child

  1. stay calm - don’t use physical restraint
  2. try to persuade them to speak to the child’s social worker
  3. contact Brighton and Hove Fostering Service
  4. if necessary phone the police
  5. don’t put yourself at risk.

If a child has been out with their parents and does not return, notify Brighton and Hove immediately.

The child

  • Many children see their parents as who they want them to be - not who they are.
  • Visits may reawaken a sense of loss.
  • Visits may cause over excitement and exhaustion.
  • They may openly reject you and cling to their parents.
  • They may blame the parents and reject them because they are hurt.
  • Visits may lead to challenging behaviour, sadness, temper tantrums, anxiety.


  • be sensitive
  • try to understand what the behaviour is trying to tell you
  • don’t try to pick the pieces up alone.

Foster carer

  • You may feel apprehensive
  • you may be concerned you come from different backgrounds with different values
  • you may find it difficult to be yourself and relax
  • you might find it hard not to criticise and be angry and keep your feelings to yourself
  • you may find discipline difficult when parents are around.


  • the child in care is still the parents’ child
  • you are a responsible and professional adult in a very sensitive situation
  • be sensitive towards the parents and the child’s feelings
  • be aware of your own feelings
  • don’t contradict the parents in front of the child - involve them
  • the child needs you to accept their parents because they are part of them
  • let your own negative feelings out safely and away from the child
  • talk to your supervising social worker. You are not alone in picking up the pieces after difficult visits.

A child’s parents will always be important to them. They may want to talk to you about them and clarify their feelings. Be honest and truthful and gentle - they may feel loyalty to them even if they are angry.

Working with the child, family and friends

Arrangements for contact visits will be made at the placement planning meeting at the start of the placement. Make sure the arrangements suit everybody. There will be practical implications and you will need to minimise disruption and intrusion to other members of your family.

Everything needs to be written down so that all involved are clear about what has been agreed.

If a child is at risk of harm and the parent unpredictable or aggressive contact may take place on neutral ground and would be supervised.

The importance of sharing information

Where carers look after a child where race, religion, culture or language is not their own, the parents and families have invaluable information that can help the child maintain and develop important parts of their life.

Children with disabilities particularly need their parents and carer to share information so that their needs can be met.

Further information

The Fostering Network on 020 7620 6400 about maintaining links with families.

The Family Rights Group on 020 7249 0008 on promoting links with birth families.




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