While the principle of contact between children in care and their families is enshrined in law, the precise form and frequency is at the discretion of social workers and the courts. Professionals must seek to balance the twin principles of children’s need for protection from the psychological, emotional and physical harm that may arise from having contact with parents and other family members, with the need of family members and children to have their relationships and identity promoted. Courts require clear, structured and unambiguous information about the needs of children and their parents in order make decisions which will have potentially life changing implications for families. In this article we explore one approach to supporting the decision making of legal and social work professionals in relation to the frequency and form of contact by reflecting upon the development by the first author of an approach to assessing the quality and benefits of contact for children in State care in Northern Ireland. We discuss the key principles that should inform decisions and good practice through reflecting on the learning gained from developing and implementing such a structured approach. We conclude that practice has been informed by promoting legal rights without sufficient consideration of the relational aspects of making contact work for each of the involved parties.
- Children in care