Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Family contact is lost the longer children stay in care
The longer children stay in care the more likely that all contacts with their parents, siblings, grandparents and friends are lost. Once children have been in care for over two years, they have much less contact with their birth family and for those who have been in care for over six years all contact is most likely to be lost.
The report, Keeping in touch, published today by Children’s Rights Director, Roger Morgan, surveyed the views of nearly 400 children and young people about keeping in touch and losing contact with their families and friends whilst in care.
Contact with birth families could be lost for many reasons including when children move to a new placement, if placed a long way away, when siblings got adopted, or simply as time passed people grew apart or lost general contact.
However, sometimes contact is complicated as children may want contact with one person, but not their partner. As one young person explained, ‘I want to see Dad, but he won’t see me without Step-mum there’. They have now lost all contact with their father.
Sometimes carers did not help children to stay in contact with their birth families. One young person had gradually lost contact with a member of their family because contact kept being stopped as a punishment, ‘You might stay out late and get grounded and contact is stopped’, said one young person.
However, children gave many examples where carers made extra efforts to help them to keep in touch with their families. One young person commented how she had been able to organise a party for her birth mother, and how special it had been to cook for her and bring her family together. Another said how their social worker had helped them buy new clothes to wear at a family wedding.
Children’s Right Director, Dr Roger Morgan said: ‘It is essential that children have the opportunity to voice their concerns in order to improve services for children in care. This is why this report about keeping in touch with birth families is important.
'The report provides some key insights for all those involved in looking after children in care. I hope it will encourage more support and accessibility for children to have contact with their families, and choice about that contact, in what can be very trying and challenging times.'
Welcoming the report, Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said: ‘We want children in the care system to lead happy and healthy lifestyles and to have the same experiences and ambitions as their peers. We know that children in care often benefit from continued contact with their brothers, sisters and wider family and the Government has been clear that the right procedures should be in place to ensure this can happen, however this report shows the picture is patchy at best. I hope that local authorities use the revised statutory guidance we published in November this year to improve the contact between children in care and their families across the country.
‘The guidance reinforces the clear messages that local authorities must allow contact with parents or guardian, when it is in the best interests of the child, and makes it a specific requirement that all care plans should set out arrangements for children to maintain contact with brothers and sisters who are also in care.’
Overall children wanted a choice about who they kept in touch with and who they didn’t, dependent on whether contact was safe and if both parties wanted to be in touch. They felt that social workers should do more to arrange contact with family and friends but only where children wanted to.
The report found significant differences for children living in different care placements. Almost all the children living in children’s homes (99%) were separated from their siblings compared to those living in foster care (66%). Those living in children’s homes (52%) were also more likely to lose all contact with their fathers compared to children living with foster carers (41%). However, the children in children’s homes (58%) were more likely than those in foster care (42%) to have contact with their mothers at least once a month.
Separation and losing contact with siblings who were also in care was another concern raised by children. The majority of children (86%) thought it was important to keep siblings together when they are in care, with over three quarters (75%) wanting councils to help children and young people keep in touch with their brother and sisters.
However, the report found of the 162 children who had a least one brother or sister who was also in care, 82% had been separated from at least one sibling in care. Boys (85%) were also more likely than girls (75%) to be separated from a brother or sister in care.
Notes for Editors
1. Keeping in touch report can be found at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Care/Children-s-rights/Keeping-in-touch and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director website www.rights4me.org.
2. 370 children and young people in care took part in this survey which was conducted through a combination of discussion groups and sending out questionnaires. Children’s homes and fostering services were selected at random and of those who informed the sort of placement they were living in, 54% were living in children’s homes and 41% were living in foster homes.
3. The Children’s Rights Director for England has an independent personal statutory duty to ascertain the views of children living away from home or receiving social care services. He is now based in Ofsted.
4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office via Ofsted's enquiry line 08456 404040 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.