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Half of children in care do not feel involved in decisions made about their contact

New research on the contact arrangements of children in care finds that many young people are unhappy with the frequency with how often they see their birth parents and do not feel involved in the decision-making process.

17/07/22

Half of children in care do not feel involved in decisions made about their contact

A fifth of children feel they see their mums, dads and siblings too little, new research has found.

More young people in residential care said they were dissatisfied with how often they saw their family, compared to foster and kinship care. Additionally, half of young people said they did not feel involved in decisions social workers made about their lives.

The findings are drawn from the views and experiences of more than 7,500 children and young people in care for a report by Coram Voice and The Rees Centre at University of Oxford.

It finds that nearly a third (31%) of children (aged 8-10) and a quarter (25%) of young people (aged 11-18) felt they were seeing their mothers too little, whilst over a fifth (22%) of children and 18% of young people felt they were seeing their fathers too little. 22% of children didn’t feel they had enough contact with their brothers and sisters, and this figure was higher for young people (31%). About one in five young people had no contact with either parent and this was particularly the case for those in residential care and boys.

Visits being arranged at inconvenient times, long distances, the costs of travel, their family’s circumstances, and workers failing to make necessary arrangements were among reasons cited by children and young people for seeing family less often than they wanted. Children in care who felt they saw family members too little reported feeling sad, angry and unsettled, while in contrast, those who felt contact arrangements were “just right” felt they were being listened to and looked forward to seeing their family.

“I used to see Mum and older brother three times a week. It has been cut down to once a week and this makes me sad. I don’t know why contact was cut down,” one young person (8-10 years old) said.

One young person (aged 11-18) commented: “I want to see my family more. My social worker is supposed to be doing police checks. I have been here since September and the checks have not been done. It’s not like I can just visit. I live five hours from home.”

Whether children and young people felt that they saw parents often enough was statistically associated with length of time in care, type of placement and which local authority was caring for them. Analysis shows that young people (aged 11-18) in residential care more frequently reported that they had too little contact with family compared to young people in other types of placements. The number of placements experienced also had an impact, with 60% of young people who had only had one placement reporting they were satisfied with their contact frequency, compared to 39% who had experienced 11 or more placements.

Comments also highlighted that children and young people wanted to see extended family members, pets and other adults who were important to them, and that the key people in their lives were not always included in contact plans.

The report makes seven recommendations to improve policy and practice, including involving children and young people in decisions about their contact arrangements, and keeping them informed about their families and why they can or cannot see them. It also recommends minimising the use of contact centres and supporting children and families to meet in the community.

“The recent Care Review suggested the primary objective of the care system should be promoting the formation of lifelong loving relationships around children in care and care leavers,” Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice, said. “This can only be achieved if more is done to build rather than break relationships with the people who are already important to children in care.”

“Our research showed that there is still some way to go to make this happen.”

“Services and workers must listen to children and young people about who they want to see, when and how and seek to make this happen. Children in care should have the opportunity to spend time with the people who are important to them doing everyday things like playing games, having a meal or going for a walk with the dog.”

Julie Selwyn, Professor of Education and Adoption at The Rees Centre at University of Oxford, said that while previous research tended to highlight the importance of the quality of contact, this latest project found that young people themselves said that frequency was equally, if not more, important.

“Feeling contact was ‘just right’ was associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Staying connected to the important people in life is essential for children’s wellbeing. Greater efforts need to be made to ensure that this is achieved for all children in care.”

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