Contact with your children - it's about relationships
Children and young people need regular contact with parents and family throughout their time in care. Many parents say they feel unsure about contact visits and other kinds of contact with their children. Many parents also find contact visits very distressing as it is hard to say goodbye and there may be other problems.
If contact with your child is being prevented ask for the reasons as soon as you can. Contact should only be prevented for safety or other very significant reasons.
These are some of the questions and concerns parents have raised:
I am not sure what I am allowed to do when I see my child. I dont know if I can change his nappy or give him a present.
Visits and time with your child are precious and very important to you and to them. It's important you know what you can do.
Ask the agency and /or FACS if there are any limits or rules in your contact with your children. If there are limits then ask for the reasons. If you disagree with the reasons you can ask for them to be reviewed.
It is usually OK to do and say most things during your time with your child that you would normally do as a parent. These include but are not limited to:
- telling your child you love them
- bringing them gifts
- taking photos and videos*
- providing direct and personal care such as feeding, nappy changing and taking your child to the toilet
- cuddling and kissing your child
- bringing toys and games to play with
- bringing healthy snacks and drinks
If the agency or FACS dont want you to do these things or other normal parenting things, ask for the reasons.
*If you take photos or videos remember that Section 105 of the Children and young persons (Care and Protection) Act in New South Wales may stop the publishing of information about your child on social media or in other ways. This includes photos and videos. Ask the caseworker about this if you feel it is important that you are able to publish photos and videos as special permission might be needed.
My contact with my child is in an agency room and there is always a supervising worker present. Why can't I see my child somewhere more relaxed without a supervisor there?
Many children and families have told us they find contact in agency rooms with a supervising worker confusing and disruptive.
Ask the agency or FACS worker what the supervisor will be doing during the visit and why they are needed. You might not agree with the reasons but it is still important to know what they are.
Unless the court orders, you do not have to have your time with your child supervised or happen in an office. Unless the court sets rules it is up to the agency or FACS to make decisions about this and your views are important in deciding this.
Make sure you read and fully understand any court orders and seek legal advice if anything is not clear.
What are some ideas to make contact better for my kids and me?
No matter how long your child is in care there are things you can do to make it better. These are some ideas that parents have found helpful. Some of these things you can do without much fuss. Other things you can suggest to the agency and /or FACS.
- plan your time together. Bring activities and games that you know your child will enjoy and which can be played with in the time you have
- be there and be there on time
- pack some healthy snacks such as fruit, sandwiches and water (tapwater is fine). Try to avoid sugary snacks and drinks as these may lead to excess energy or even upset tummies
- it is OK to bring gifts but try to keep them simple. What your kids need most is you.
- turn off your phone and other mobile devices if you can unless you are taking photos. Parents say these devices can be very distracting for children and can take up a lot of time
- build memories together. Take photos then make sure the phtotos are shared with your child. You could make a card with the photos and then share these with your child.
- suggest activities that you and your child will be comfortable with and will enjoy. Activities some parents have shared are swimming, picnics and parks.
- suggest to the agency or FACS that your child join you for important family events such as weddings and birthday parties
- suggest a communication book with your child's carer. The carer can give you information to help you make the most of your time together and you can then provide information to the carer about what you did so they can support your child afterwards
- suggest a regular meeting with the caseworker and the carer to review contact arrangements and make sure things are going as well as possible for you and your child
- suggest that you come along to some activities with the carer and your child such as medical appointments, sporting events and school meetings.
- suggest other ways of having meaningful contact such as using social media, phone calls, texting and emails.
If you are struggling to make your time with your kids fun and happy then ask the agency or FACS for practical support. For example many parents find it hard to pay for activities and transport to do enjoyable things with their kids.
I only have contact with my child 4 times a year - does it have to be that way?
Unless the court has made a specific order your contact with your child is able to be increased and changed. Sometimes the court will order a minimum amount of contact - this is just a minimum and is a safeguard to make sure your child gets at least some contact.
Contact should only be reduced if there is evidence that it is bad for your child. If this happens to you then ask for the reasons and the evidence.
Who needs to supervise contact?
Contact can be supervised by agency staff, the caseworker, the carer, by someone else or by no one. The way contact is supervised or not supervised should depend on the needs of your child. Sometimes it will be decided by the court so make sure you get to know your court orders. Your views are very important in deciding how contact is supervised and supported.
When parents and carers have developed positive relationships contact with kids and parents can become easier and more relaxed for everyone. In our experience contact is more difficult if carers and parents dont know each other.
If you want to meet and build a relationship with the people looking after your child speak to the caseworker and tell them you would like them to arrange a meeting.
The contact arrangements for me and my child need to change. How can I ask for changes to be made?
Firstly you should talk to the caseworker and ensure they know you want to be involved in case planning and in decisions about contact. Parents say it is very important to be involved in case planning for their child. Talk to the caseworker about how you will take part in case planning as this is where lots of decisions are made. Your child should also be involved depending on how old they are.
Be as clear as you can about how you think contact arrangements need to change. Put this in writing.
If this doesn't work then you can ask for an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) process to help you and the agency agree on how contact should look. Ask the caseworker to arrange this. This process may be a meeting where you, the agency and possibly other people try and come to an agreement. When you agree you can lodge this agreement with the court.
If this doesn't work then seek legal advice. You might be able to apply for a contact order in the court.
You can also follow the complaints ideas we have on our making complaints and managing disputes page.
I find contact with my child very upsetting and distressing. Sometimes it seems easier just to give up and stop seeing them.
This is a very understandable reaction for parents with children in out of home care. You are not alone in feeling this way. Remember that you are important to your child even if it seems like other people don't value you.
Research has found that regular contact is linked to higher rates of children returning home to their families. It is also linked to better relationships between parents, families and children even when children stay in care until they are 18. Children and young people who have a close relationship with their parents and family are more likely to grow up stronger and more resilient.
Even if other people do not value your role as a,parent or family member you are still very important for your child. Use this website to find support for yourself. You need support just like any parent does. Be kind to yourself.