Contact - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding contact between children placed in out-of-home care with their families.
Document ID number 2117, version 3, 18 April 2018.
See procedure Contact for actions that must be undertaken.
When children are in out-of-home care, the department is responsible for ensuring the child's case plan supports contact with family, community and culture. Contact assists a child's development and recovery by connecting them to their family of origin and assisting them to make sense of their history and experiences. Contact should occur as soon as possible following a child being placed in out-of-home care, unless it has been assessed as not being in the best interests of the child.
'Contact’ (unless the context otherwise requires) means the contact of a child with a person who does not have care of the child by way of:
- a visit by or to that person, including attendance for a period of time at a place other than the child's usual place of residence; or
- communication with that person by letter, telephone or other means
and includes overnight contact.
Decision making and planning contact
The purpose of the contact will guide how it occurs. Contact plans must be flexible and reviewed regularly to reflect the changing needs of the child.
High level decisions about contact are part of the child’s case plan. Specific details or more complicated schedules can be included in the actions table or care and placement plan.
Contact arrangements must be consistent with any prevailing court order, Within that, the child’s best interests are the primary consideration. Planning for contact is to occur in a way that is consistent with the CYFA decision-making principle in the CYFA. The child’s views and wishes and the family circumstances and preferences must also be considered.
The case plan will specify who can have contact, how often and whether the contact is to be supervised.
A contact plan will include information about:
- what type of contact each person will have
- logistical and practical arrangements (such as venue, time, transport, equipment, financial matters)
- additional needs of the child or an adult attending contact (such as disability related, use of an interpreter)
- the level and form of supervision required (such as constant ‘line-of-sight’ supervision or intermittent monitoring)
- the most appropriate venue for contact (the least intrusive and family friendly commensurate with safety requirements)
- safety planning (considering issues such as drugs, alcohol or violence)
- contingency arrangements.
Court ordered contact
Court orders usually stipulate who may have contact, the frequency and duration of contact.
Types of contact
Supervised contact is used where a child may be at risk of harm as a result of behaviour or inaction by a parent (such as the parent fleeing with the child, or where the parent's capacity to appropriately care for the child is impaired) and it is assessed the child would be at risk of harm if unsupervised with the parent for the period of the contact.
Contact may also be supervised where a child has expressed a wish to have a third party present. Where circumstances are susceptible to change, or to reassure the child, a level of intermittent or periodic monitoring may be appropriate by:
- being present at the commencement of contact to ascertain the parent's presentation
- being present at the end to see how the child is
- being present at various intervals during the contact
- considering how well the parent manages the contact ending
- considering how the parent communicates with a carer about contact and
- having an opportunity to offer support and guidance in all these areas.
Telephone contact may be appropriate as a form of contact for young people who do not wish or are not able to have regular face-to-face contact with a parent or may be in addition to face-to-face contact. Telephone contact may be monitored where appropriate with the child or young person’s agreement and with the parent’s knowledge.
Unsupervised contact may form part of a home return case plan or may support contact with extended family, siblings or other significant people. Unsupervised contact will be appropriate where ordered by a court or assessed by child protection as consistent with the child's best interests. A safety plan should be developed in all cases of unsupervised contact.
Overnight contact visits will ordinarily form part of a home return case plan though may also support contact with extended family, siblings or other significant people. Overnight contact may also occur as a component of a child or young person's care plan where home return is not envisaged. A safety plan should be developed in all cases of overnight contact.
Contact with parents in prison
The Corrections Act 1986 governs the rights of a prisoner to receive visits and the form that visits may take. The primary consideration is the need to ensure that a visit to a parent in prison is in the child’s best interests and that they are not harmed.
Where a parent has been charged or convicted of a sexual offence, contact will require an approved application. The prison will seek a report with a recommendation from child protection via the Office of Professional Practice (50 Lonsdale Street). If it is an open case, the division will provide the report, if it is a closed case the Office of Professional Practice will provide the report.
Factors to consider when developing contact plans
It is important when developing contact plans that an appropriate time and location are selected which minimises the impact on the child’s routine. For school aged children, taking them out of school on a regular basis for the purpose of contact can have an the adverse impact on their educational achievement and, where the Secretary has parental responsibility, may be inconsistent with the department’s duties in placing a child (s. 174, CYFA).
Where a child is in out-of-home care and a contact condition is being sought on the court order the department’s recommendation needs to take into account the timing of the contact and should minimise, as much as possible, any adverse impact on the child, whilst maintaining their connection and relationship with their family, and supporting progress towards the permanency objective.
Approving contact plans and persons seeking contact
Contact arrangements are part of the case plan and are endorsed by a case planner or supervisor and should be consistent with the Looking After Children (LAC) plan.
Only persons approved by the Children’s Court order or child protection can attend contact with a child. Contact supervisors must be clear about who is approved to attend.
Where contact is supervised by a community service employee or a kinship carer they should have an approved contact number and an emergency back-up number to call in the event of difficulties. The Contact for contact supervisors information sheet should be provided to any person supervising contact.
Factors to consider in determining a person’s suitability to attend contact
The assessment will be informed by the Best Interests Case Practice Model, information gathering, validation and analysis, and will based on a judgement of what is in the best interests of the child including consideration of:
- each child’s views and wishes as far as these can be gained
- the parents' view and wishes, balanced against the rights and best interests of the child
- the person’s connection to the family and specific relationship to each child
- the rationale or motivation for including the person in the child's contact arrangements
- the presence of personal risk factors including drug and/or alcohol abuse, violence, untreated mental health issues
- the likely impact on the contact experience for each child if the person attends contact
- the anticipated impact on the child or young person of declining the person’s request for contact
- the relevance of consultation with other people or services (e.g. ACSASS, another service, a Principal Practitioner)
- history of contact with child protection and issues of harm to children. Where a person has been assessed as responsible for harm to a child, their request for contact will require additional assessment and consideration by the child protection case planner and/or a regional Principal Practitioner. In such circumstances, contact may be granted where there are compelling reasons to do so linked to the child's best interests.
National police history checks
If a police history check is being considered as a worker safety measure, this is an indicator that contact should not be approved. See procedure National police history checks for tasks that must be undertaken.
Professionals or relatives providing supervision should remain as consistent as possible to be able to develop a relationship with the child as well as good working relationships with parents and carers.
Unless specified by the court order, venue selection should be based on assessment and planning considerations. Safety considerations are fundamental and should include contingency planning which anticipates possible difficulties and equips the person managing the contact with options to maintain control and ensure the child or young person's safety and wellbeing. Where contact is to be provided in a public space or open environment you need to consider the vulnerabilities associated with this and plan for possible difficulties.
Contact in permanent care
There are a range of specific issues and considerations that apply to contact arrangements for children in permanent care. See advice Permanent care for further information.
Reviewing contact arrangements
Contact arrangements should be reviewed on a regular basis in line with the child's case plan. A written contact agreement or plan, including contact goals should be developed.
Observations and feedback from contact should be provided to parents and considered when reviewing the case plan. Contact planning should aim to support parents and others to overcome barriers to promote contact in the child's best interests.
Do not assume that kinship carers are capable to manage contact within the family. The boundaries in kinship care placements may not be clear and practitioners should be mindful of this when developing contact plans for children in kinship care. Discussion and planning around contact needs to begin as early as possible.
When a child is placed on a voluntary placement parents retain exclusive parental responsibility. Contact should be arranged at the time the placement is made.
Children in voluntary care placements are not subject to any order therefore it is not possible to compel parents to agree to supervised contact. If supervision of contact with a parent is assessed as necessary to ensure the child's safety and wellbeing, a protection application should be considered.
Relationships with siblings and significant persons
Sibling contact should form part of the case plan where siblings are not placed together.
The CYFA includes 'significant persons' as people with whom the child might have contact.
Changes to contact
Court ordered contact may not be altered or withheld without a variation to the order granted by the court. Variations to contact arrangements which remain compliant with the court ordered conditions may be negotiated with the family. All affected parties should be consulted and involved in decision making about changes to contact. The reason for changes to contact should be understood by children, their parents and carers. Changes at short notice should be avoided other than in response to unforeseen significant events.
Termination of contact
Contact may be terminated or withheld only where it is assessed that the child may be harmed if contact was to proceed or where the child has expressed they do not want to attend contact.
Where there are immediate safety issues for the child or staff, it may be necessary to suspend contact before obtaining a variation to the court order. This should be avoided wherever possible. Wherever required, practitioners should seek legal advice as well as consultation with a supervisor.
Considerations for good practice
Collaborative relationships are fundamental to good outcomes for children and young people placed in out-of-home care. Attempts to establish a collaborative approach with parents, carers and others should commence at the earliest point and be proactively pursued throughout the period of intervention with a child or young person.
Where agreement cannot be achieved, practitioners need to act decisively to mange conflict and ensure the needs of the child or young person are provided for.
Where issues arise, such as barriers to a parent’s consistent attendance or conduct during contact, prompt action needs to occur to manage the impact on the child or young person. You will need to manage this creatively using child centred approaches which are considerate of the individual circumstances of the family and aim to develop solutions which will support the child or young person’s relationships and assist them to make sense of their family situation. Uncertainty and chaotic experiences are harmful to children. Inconsistent or passive responses by professionals in their lives may compound the harm. Responses to parents which are blurry, punitive or unconscious of the underlying issues (including the child or young person’s worries about their parents’ welfare) are unlikely to be effective.
Carers are likely to require dedicated and intensive support and guidance to meet their responsibility to support the child or young person through contact. Contact issues may be confronting and challenging for children placed in kinship care.
Contingency plans are required in cases where there is uncertainty about a parent’s attendance or presentation at contact. ‘Plan B’ needs to be focussed on the anticipated responses and support needs of the child or young person. This should include advice to contact supervisors on how to respond to questions from the child or young person. A specific script to provide the contact supervisor may be helpful.
In each case, a safety plan should be developed and communicated to all parties involved in managing the contact. This will include risk factors and indicators of risk; who is approved to attend the contact and what is to happen if an unexpected person or person specifically barred from contact attends the contact; and any rules around the conduct and presentation of persons approved for contact (e.g. are there matters not to be raised for discussion during the contact?).
The form and intensity of supervision or monitoring required and the scope of acceptable deviation from this must be clearly defined and understood by all parties with a role in managing the contact.