Tuesday, June 26, 2012


When they used to send Apollo rockets to the moon the countdown would go “…three, two, one, zero…Contact!” and on the word “Contact” all hell would break loose. You can see where I’m going here.

Nowadays “Contact” is the term for when children in care meet up with their real family. Usually weekly, sometimes more. It’s an absolute. You can’t avoid it. The Carer has to escort the child into Contact, and therefore meet the parents. Then you leave them to it. “Contact” usually takes place at a Contact Centre, with a professional supervisor in the room. Sometimes it happens at an informal location, such as McDonalds.


A court, of some sort, mostly. And they don’t want to be accused of splitting up a family. Before I became a Carer I would have argued strongly that staying in touch with their real family was essential for a looked after child’s wellbeing.

I now have different views, expressed below, which are mine and not those of Blue Sky.

Contact is a real powder keg, and should be very, very carefully tailored to the child’s needs.  By tailored, I mainly mean reduced to bare necessity. This would benefit the child, the Carers, and social workers. Maybe even parents too - although I had to deal with a mother of six who wanted Contact because she thought her child benefit (for all six, even though they were all in care) depended on it.


They want to go home, be back with their real family, almost always. No matter how chaotic their life was at home, it’s what they know, and being in care means so many new things to deal with. 
If they look forward to Contact it’s because they hope that this time their mummy and daddy with scoop them up in their arms, shower them with affection, food and gifts, apologise for what’s happened and tell them they love them. It doesn’t happen, in my experience.
The child comes away disappointed, frightened and angry, and dumps it on the Carer.


They are often embarrassed and defensive about their situation.  This comes out as a frostiness towards the Carer, which the child picks up, and complicates the work you’re trying to do. The parents hope your care falls short, which will in some way exonerate their parenting.  Aware that they are under scrutiny they affect “good parenting” by asking the child if he’s being good, and commenting that their shoes need a clean. To be fair, it’s hard to deliver loving affection (even if you know how), in a neutral environment, with strangers looking on, at exactly 4.00pm for exactly an hour every Wednesday.


A foster carer works 24/7 with a child. You’re on the clock for 167 hours a week. You strain every ounce of brain matter, heart and sinew to build up the child. Then Contact comes along and down goes the house of cards. 

I know there are exceptions, but it's broadly true.


  • Make a proper assessment of each child’s individual profile. If family members behaviour has been unacceptable, why stick the child in front of those people every week?
  • The child’s family should be helped as to how to behave at Contact, rather than allowed to continue with their dysfunctional parenting. Which must seem even worse to the child; being unloved while a supervising expert looks on and says nothing.
  • The Courts need a wake-up call on how Contact fails. The public need their awareness raised. I have a fancy dress Superhero suit, anyone want to be Catwoman and climb Big Ben with me? Worked for that Fathers 4 Justice mob.

The Secret Foster Carer

ps For those who like to extend metaphors: Those Apollo missions that started with Contact did manage to get somewhere. Somewhere cold, dark and uninhabitable.


  1. I agree that I have come across situations where contact seems to be more about what the parent wants than what is in the best interests of the child.
    Contact is so difficult for everyone, so it would be great to know how other foster carers can make it easier for children, what works in helping children cope after contact?

  2. As someone who has just started the application process to be a foster carer, I am very grateful to for the insight and wisdom you are sharing. Thank you.

  3. Thanks Anon 1. I agree, it would be useful to get more feedback on hos Contact affects other children.

    Anon 2, welcome to fostering, or at least the start of the process. I hope the blog will add to your understanding of fostering; the many rewards and the occasional headaches.

  4. Hi, thanks for your blog which we are really enjoying. It is great to see someone else has the same thoughts as we do and isn't afraid to say it out loud! We have been fostering for just over a year with a long term placement. The court order we have to deal with stipulates contact every 6 weeks. How on earth are young children supposed to settle into a long term placement when they have the disruption of seeing family members this frequently (the last one included not just mum but wider family as well). Then you take into account that they also see dad and we have 2 lots of contact to deal with every school holiday. I wish we could say that it has been beneficial to the children but it hasn't. Just when we think we are making progress along comes another school holiday. The children know that they will have contact so the problems start leading into the school hols and continue until well after. School holidays are supposed to be fun but ours just cause upset and at times disappointment when family fail to turn up. We really feel that the courts and social services need to take a good hard look at this issue.

    Keep up the blog, it's great!

  5. Many thanks for your thoughts on this one. I'm right with you on getting this message to courts and social services. Blue Sky have offered to help with this one, and Simon Lockyer wants to know about everyone's experiences. It's going to be a long haul,but at least we've started talking about it.

  6. I have just discovered your blog and am so pleased. I have thought about doing it myself but with 3 kids all very young in placement plus my own teenager the time is never there!
    I have tried really hard to get contact stopped for my little ones as the family brutally abused in every way and the psychological trauma is reawakened esp for one child in a dramatic fashion. The Guardian felt 'the children enjoy contact' having observed one session... I despaired although many months later it is being reduced. I will read all the other posts when time permits.