Contact – in the child’s best interest?
One of the issues Foster Carers regularly talk to me about is contact with birth parents. They tell me it is often quite an ordeal both for the carers and the child. I’m aware that sometimes it can be as the court intended – in the best interests of the child. I must admit however, that the amount of times I hear that a child enjoyed or benefitted from contact are few and far between compared with reports of it being difficult.
The usual way it seems to play out is that the child dreads it anything from two weeks to two days before it is due to take place. This time is also often characterised by increasing behaviour problems, agitation and acting out on the part of the child and consequent difficulties for the carers in trying to manage this. In many ways when we are reuniting them with people who may have abused or neglected them what can we expect?
At the extreme, having removed a child from a frightening and abusive relationship and then asking them to see their abusers regularly can be akin to traumatising the child again. It is difficult to see how this is in their best interests. Traumatised veterans now receive help rather than being sent back into the war zone. Why then do we do it to children who are ill equipped to cope?
From the other side, observing contact it seems the birth parents struggle too. It would be a challenge to most people to be put in a room with a child and an observer and for that session to be anything other than stilted. When contact does not work for anyone is it time to rethink?