Helping children connect with family
Respectful relationship building is always our starting point for family involvement. Families can feel a range of emotions and worries when interacting with us including shame, anger and grief. Families can feel they have little or no power and that they are being judged. They can understandably feel distressed or distrustful and be very worried about their children.
Remember that when children are taken into care, parents and family are often at their lowest point.
There are a number of practical strategies you can use to involve families. Overall we need to keep focused on the best interests of children. These strategies may not apply in all cases. We need to be flexible and respond in ways that meet the needs of children and families and keep everyone safe.
- Talk to your care team about meeting the children’s family as soon as this is possible
- Always speak respectfully and positively about the child’s birth family and cultural heritage
- Make sure children know they do not have to choose between you and their family
- Invite parents and siblings to children’s events and activities such as sport, school awards
- Involve parents in medical appointments, school and other meetings
- Express interest in family and family history - let children know that talking about their family is OK
- Seek answers to questions children have about their history
- Ask your care team to follow up on the questions children have
- Display photos of children’s families in your home
- Support children’s relationships and time with families to keep them connected
- Understand that children may have mixed feelings about their family - allow children to process these feelings without judging
Time with family – how you can help
Time together is not enough on its own. Carers and care teams can help families and children make the most of their time together by
- Taking children to and from their time with their families
- Doing shared activities with families
- Including families in school, medical and other appointments
- Making sure, where possible, that families spend time on their own with children
Families may need practical and other support to make the most of their time with children and to ensure children have a fun time. Suggest and choose activities that families can afford and if you feel families aren’t getting the support they need then talk to the care team.
It is normal for children to be unsettled, anxious or distressed before and after seeing their family, especially if their time together is supervised or subject to strict rules and limited timeframes, or if they don’t see their family regularly. The more relaxed and normalised family time is the easier it will be for children. Your role is crucial. If you are supportive and reassuring and if you get to know the family then children are likely to find it easier. Research tells us that most children want their time with their families to be fun and relaxed.
Contact with birth family is a very important factor in helping the child form a positive sense of identity and maintain their cultural connections. Regardless of whether a child returns to their family, the family will always be an important influence in the child’s life.