Family are children’s first and most enduring relationship

To support the best possible outcomes for children and young people in out-of home care we need to listen and learn from families.

Family is always important to children. Family are children’s first and most enduring relationships. We know from practice and research that when children know their families are respected, valued and involved they will do better in care and after care. All children come into care with a family and a cultural history. It is very important that these are maintained and strengthened while they are in care and not damaged.

“If parents and foster carers have a good relationship – that’s a good model for kids and makes it easier for kids to have their own relationship with parents and foster carers and then for their other relationships.” “All kids need their parents in their lives … one way or the other.”

What are some examples of how we do this?

Life Without Barriers supports children to spend quality time with their families in ways that suit their needs and that are safe and supported including visits, activities, phone calls and online platforms. We involve families in our casework and in decisions about children’s care as much as we can. Life Without Barriers supports carers and family to work together to support and care for children and the first priority of care is always for children to return safely home to their families.

We have formed partnerships with other organisations, such as Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (FISH), The University of Newcastle, and other partnerships, to better understand what families experience and need, build strong relationships and improve communication around the best interest of the children.

“We should be allowed to participate in sports days, assemblies, special dance events and things like that.” “I need to be reassured – who are the people they are living with, where are they living? Are the children together?”

What are we learning?

It can be challenging to build respectful and child centred relationships between families, carers and caseworkers when children are in care, but it is worth the effort. We are learning that children benefit from their parents and family becoming more involved in their day to day care, in events and activities and in planning. Parents and family have a lot to offer their children while they are in care and can play an important role. For example, we know when children and family are well connected and families are involved, children in care are safer. Parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, and would like support in being the best parents they can be. When families are involved and they have good relationships with carers and workers, then reunification is more likely.

“Being in the system myself, as a kid, I guess I could tell the ones (carers) who actually care compared to the ones who are just in it for the money…I had a lot of that growing up, they didn’t care. They just wanted the money or just to show you off… I could tell that (my baby’s) carer’s not like that, even the little things she’s done for me.” “That foster carer was amazing.. I think the world of her… she communicated well and she was very kind.”

What about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families?

Family inclusion is important for all children but it is even more important and urgent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Family inclusive practice is an important way Life Without Barriers is working to implement the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander placement principles and how we do our best to make sure children are living in family, culture and community.

Life Without Barriers is a member of the Family Matters campaign and see prevention and family reunification as the best way to make sure the principles are upheld. When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can’t return safely home, family and community inclusion is vital.

“But if a child’s identity is denied or denigrated they are not being looked after. Denying cultural identity is detrimental to their attachment needs, their emotional needs, their emotional development, their education and their health."

What are we doing to make sure children and families are connected?

Family inclusion is a key part of our practice approach with children and families. Our CARE model has family involved as one of its principles. We are committed to continuing to develop and improve our relationships with family, in the interests of children so we:

  • Ensure children see and know their families and ask our carers to meet and form relationships with families whenever possible

  • Train our teams and carers to respectfully partner with family in the interests of children

  • Invite families to participate in processes that affect their children

  • Welcome feedback from families about how we can improve

  • Support our teams to continue to build skills in family inclusion and reunification

  • Do research to understand how to improve our practice and children’s outcomes

“Help us to find and organise support – don’t they want us to be the best parents we can be even while the kids are in care?” “It’s an unbreakable bond.. yeah its beautiful. I have so much to offer them.”


Bamblett, M and Lewis, P (2006). “A vision for Koorie Children and Families: embedding rights, embedding culture” Just Policy: A Journal of Australian Social Policy, 41, p. 4 – 26

Quotes from parents are from a range of sources: Cocks, J (2014). Building Better Relationships: outcomes of the family inclusion practice forum, 18 July 2014, Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter, Newcastle.

Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (2017). “Report to LWB Project “Foster Care Redesign Project - Stakeholder Engagement: Consultations with Parents of Children in Care”. Unpublished report. Ross, N., Cocks, J., Johnston, L., & Stoker, L. (2017).

‘No voice, no opinion, nothing’: Parent experiences when children are removed and placed in care. Research report. University of Newcastle, Australia.

Contact us

For more information contact Jessica Cocks: