Special Guardianship Managing Contact
SGO & Contact
What Do Specials Guardians Need To Know About Managing Contact
During the Special Guardianship assessment, the matter of contact is one that needs to be fully explored. It is the area that has the potential to create a lot of conflict and place strain on special guardians and their families.
Why contact can be difficult for Special Guardians
Managing contact into the future always raises many difficulties for Special Guardianship carers as they are being asked to effectively supervise a member of their own family with their child.
It is an uncomfortable position and one that takes time for Special Guardian carers to become confident and able to manage.
How much contact should there be?
It is also important that Special Guardians are realistic about the amount of contact that they are able to manage.
Another key aspect is in managing contact with the other side of the child’s family, either paternal or maternal, depending upon where the child has been placed.
Key Areas for Special Guardianship to Consider When Managing Contact
Frequency of Contact: There isn’t a one rule which fits all when it comes to contact. Each family circumstance is unique so contact frequency will often vary vastly post Special Guardianship Order. Some SGO carers are managing daily contact, weekly contact, monthly, twice yearly to once a year and even letter box only. The level of contact should be set out clearly in the support plan to determine what level is in the best interest of the child and what level the Special Guardians can manage. Additionally, what is often forgotten is the birth parents and how they will manage frequency of these contacts.
Age of Child and Contact: The age of the age of the child will also be another factor and contact needs to be around the needs of the child. Contact for a baby may be set higher at weekly or fortnightly during the care proceedings, but this will be a really high level for carers to manage going forward. Contact set out early in the placement often does not take account of the growing needs of the child, for example in adolescence the child may not want to attend contact as frequently or they may prioritise their friendships over contact.
Unlike adoption, where contact is less frequent and in many cases, there is no direct contact taking place, with Special Guardianship, the purpose of which is to maintain the family links for a child, therefore ongoing contact will be important.
Contact issues for the child- Contact could trigger past traumatic memories from the child’s past each time they have contact. Contact will raise emotions and they may have a longing for the relationship with their birth parents, each time they have contact this pain is reignited. Contact can be painful for children when the birth parent forgets to attend or forgets significant dates and Special Guardians will need to manage this for the children. Special Guardians will often talk about children being unsettled after contact, and this is because children no matter the circumstances or the care that Special Guardians provide, continue to have a longing to return to the birth parents so each contact is a reminder of that, which unsettles the child each time.
Contact issues for Special Guardians – Special Guardians will be managing their changing role as SGO carers, meeting the emotional needs of children, responding to the birth parents and balancing all these competing demands on them. Special Guardians will need to manage any strained relationship with the birth parents as well as the complexity of sharing parental responsibility with the birth parents and any interference this may bring with it. Special Guardians will ultimately have a safeguarding role and during contact they will need to know how to keep everyone safe.
Contact issues for birth parents – Special Guardians often struggle to understand parents’ commitment to contact. In trying to understand this, birth parents may still be dealing with the stress that led to the difficulties of having the child removed from their care, for example, they may still be in poor housing, poverty and dealing substance use and domestic abuse. This means that they may not be able to focus on the needs of the child or on contact post order. Therefore, these issues continue to impact on contact post order and it is the Special Guardian who is left dealing with the issues around missed contact.
Contact issues for parents who are in prison – Special Guardians will need to prepare a child for the contact for example the security checks that will be completed at the visit. Some prisons may have a family room for contact. If the parent has not seen the child for a while, they suggest they start with letter box contact sending cards or letters to build the relationship or the parent could record their voice with a story that the child can get used to hearing the parents voice. The positive thing is that the birth parent is more likely to be more consistent with contact whilst in prison.
Sibling Contact – Sometimes children are placed with different family members or older children are in foster care placements or other arrangements, and Special Guardians will also need to help children to have ongoing relationships with their brothers or sisters.
Social Media and Contact – The growth of social media has seen more difficulties arise, especially as children become older and are able to access this themselves. The difficulties with social media are the lack of control over these. Special Guardians will need to know how social media will be monitored and this needs to be factored into the support plan.
Cultural and Identity Issues– When a child is placed with Special Guardians in different ethnic and cultural needs, where a child is cross culturally placed. For example, a white grandmother caring for a dual heritage grandchild struggling to promote the black identity for the child or manage the practical self-care. It is important to look around at the support network and how to promote all aspects of a child’s identity and cultural needs.
Venues and Contact – Another area is where to physically have contact. Many Special Guardians do not want parents attending their home and try to keep this as a neutral place for a child. Trying to arrange contact out in the community is time consuming, costly and presents problems during the winter periods. The NACCC has child contact centres around the UK and you should check if there is one near you, that is suitable for your needs.
Support Groups are the chance to meet others in a similar position, share ideas and information in a safe place.
Frequently Asked Questions