Family Contact for LAC Children

When enough is enough...

Do I believe in human rights? Absolutely.

Do I believe in parents’ rights when their kids are in care? Absolutely. But…

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Katarzyna Białasiewicz (adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Katarzyna Białasiewicz (adapted)

Are there times when parents’ rights should be limited and contact should stop? I believe there are.

Here’s why…

I work a lot with foster carers. They are some of the most heroic people I know.

Why? Because they have other people’s children living in their homes. They share their families, their energy, their committment and their love. It costs. And it doesn’t really pay.

But they do it anyway.

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The most common foster carer complaint?

I’ve heard it more times than I can count. A carer tells me, “Everything goes fine…until contact.”

They then go on to recount a series of events that is now predictable. It usually goes something like this:

As the time for family contact gets closer the child’s behaviour changes:

  • Sleep patterns fluctuate – they’re more disturbed and often include nightmares
  • Eating becomes sporadic and problematic
  • Moods start to be florid and labile – they’re less predictable
  • Or the child starts to close down and becomes distant and unemotional
  • Nighttime wetting and soiling resumes 

These signs and symptoms are normal responses.

But they are normal responses to fear. To Stress. To recollected trauma. And to acute anxiety and dread.

What would it take…

Ask yourself a question:

How scared would you have to be to soil yourself? How worried would you need to get before you stop eating?

Pretty scared. Pretty worried.

And yet we so often tolerate a system that appears, in many instances, weighted too much towards the rights of parents.

Why too much?

Because their children are made to suffer this degree of distress on a regular basis. For no other reason than the children have to visit family members.

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Yes, we need balance, but…

Now I believe that parents have rights in all this. That’s not what I’m challenging.

My point is this:

It’s that simple.

A system that exists to protect and nurture children who’ve suffered damage and distress should not be party to practice that repeats it.

When we force children to have contact – and that’s what it is – and it triggers this kind of distress, it’s time to stop. Or at the very least it’s time to revisit the details. For example:

  • Should contact be quite so regular?
  • Could it take place in a better location?
  • Who’s best to be present during contact?

But, sometimes, we need to go further. Sometimes we need to ask the question that so often is shied away from:

Can we justify contact between this child and their family when it causes them to suffer like this?

In my view, no we can’t. And we shouldn’t.

Final word…

Contact is a complex and tricky area. It’s a balancing act.

Having a child in care, when that wouldn’t be your choice, must be horrific. Parents suffer too. No doubt about it.

But if the child can’t cope and contact needs to be stopped or curtailed and that adds suffering to the parents – then so be it. In my view.

Question:

  • What are your thoughts on parental contact and children becoming distressed?

Please scroll down and leave your comments below – or just click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2015

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Tammy L

    The first and foremost concern should be the mental well being of the children. Recent studies are showing that children who experience long term domestic violence experience the same effect on their brain as that of a combat veteran.

    We are grandparents raising our 2 young grandsons ages 5 and 9. Their bio father was extremely violent with their mother ( our daughter). Lots of domestic violence that included guns being put in our daughters mouth and the boys being told that the bio was going to kill mom. The last time our 2 grandsons saw their father was Dec 27th 2012. At around 2:00am the bio father kicked in the door of our home, went into the bedroom where our daughter slept and beat her while our grandsons lay on either side of her. My husband and I woke up to her screams. The father was given 45 days in jail.

    There was lots of drug abuse by both the bio dad and our daughter. Last January we called the police on our daughter. She is now serving 4 to 7 years in prison. But the bio dad, who has not seen the boys in almost 3 years now wants to see them We have been battling this since June. Both of our grandsons are in trauma based therapy and have been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. The bio dad has over 27 arrest including convictions of 2 domestic violence, drug convictions and is currently serving 2 probations as well as having a warrant out in another state for violation of probation.

    In August our 9 year old over heard CPS saying his dad wanted to see him. His behavior changes were severe. His therapist and teachers even saw a major change. He told his therapist he was afraid his dad would get to see him. He began have daily PTSD episodes, complete meltdowns, he would “turtle” up and become non verbal. He was unable to ride his school bus because of flashbacks of when his father tried to wreck and kill them all. It became so severe the doctor was afraid he would need to be hospitalized. He had to be put on two medications. We are finally seeing improvement. All of this from just thinking he might have to see his father!! Yet we will be back in court in Dec to continue to fight to keep this man from seeing our grandsons.

    We are trying to help our grandsons heal, to raise young men who respect women, who respect life. We want them to understand their worth and not have what they experienced early on shape who they can become. Constantly exposing children to those who caused their trauma, is no different than asking a war veteran to walk back into a war zone again and again. Would we expect an adult war veteran to handle that situation again and again. I don’t think so. Yet we ask if of these children every time they have to see the parents who caused the trauma.

    • jonnymatthew

      Wow, thanks Tammy. Appreciate you sharing your story very much. It illustrates beautifully the things I was trying to communicate. There’s nothing more eloquent than a real life situation. My hopes are with you and your boys as you help them to recover! Cheers, Jonny.