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 Bia?asiewicz (adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Katarzyna Bia?asiewicz (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:
[callout]How scared would you have to be to soil yourself? How worried would you need to get before you stop eating?[/callout]
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:
[shareable cite=”Jonny Matthew”]When children begin to experience this degree of upset it’s time to reconsider the family contact.[/shareable]
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:
[callout]Can we justify contact between this child and their family when it causes them to suffer like this?[/callout]
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.


  • 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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Related previous posts:

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© Jonny Matthew 2015

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