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Session 13/15

Page 4/5 Topic B: How to practice contact with parents – relations and arrangements

Topic B: How to practice contact with parents – relations and arrangements

There are two aspects of contact with the parents: the social relations management and the practical arrangements. How can you manage regular relations with biological parents? In general you should have a positive attitude towards all contact with parents and try to practice:

  • An understanding and accepting attitude: “I understand that you decided or had to give up your child. I do not blame you at all, I think you have taken a responsible decision by placing it with us, and I am happy that you entrusted the child to our care. You can be sure that we will do our best to keep in touch and cooperate with you“.
  • Use the five dimensions of secure care (see session 5): be predictable, be sensitive, read the mood of the parents and act from this, be ready to comfort them, feel with the parent but not like the parent. Talk about feelings and motives, for example: “I understand that you sometimes get jealous and scold us. It must be difficult to see your child in the care of others when you wish you could do this yourself. All parents do that, sometimes I get jealous with my own son’s school teacher – he always talks about how he adores her while he criticises us as parents constantly!
  • Talk positively about the parents and to the parents, specially when the child in your care is present: “I’m so happy your mother is here to see you, what a beautiful voice she has, etc.
  • With ordinary parents who had to give up their child you can often get to know each other, maybe even become friends and you should work to form an alliance with the parents with the common goal of helping the child grow up. You should tell them from the start that you have no intention of taking the child away from them.


Some foster family placements break down or are interrupted – not only because of problems with foster children, but very often because of problems in managing contact with fragile parents. This contact is sometimes a source of emotional stress and confusion for the whole foster family.

Here are some principles and suggestions for managing contact situations such as visits from biological parents and situations where both families meet in general:

1. Be “the parent of the parent”:
If your foster child’s parents act very immature, you should be aware that they too may have experienced a stressful, hurtful and/or confusing upbringing, which has made them unable to care properly for their child. These parents might sometimes be as impulsive and irresponsible as a teenager (maybe they are teenagers) and in many ways be dysfunctional. One practical advice is to divide the parents’ age by three and from this point consider their social skills.
You should understand that you may need to act in a parent-like way towards these parents, structure their visits for them, be patient, do not become upset if they promised to visit their child and forgot, and be calm if they scream or shout because some little thing upsets them.

2. Use the social worker or the supervisor to set a frame of contact:
How frequently there should be visits or contact is decided by authorities, so this is not your responsibility. You can report to authorities if you think the frames do not work for you or for the child. If parents try to manipulate you or demand more contact than was agreed upon, don’t start arguing. Just say that this is not decided by you, but by the authorities and only the authorities can change the frames of contact.


Four principles for managing visits with fragile parents:

1) Set frames from the first day and be firm, instructive, kind and clear: “Welcome to our home. I will help you make this visit a good experience so the first thing we do, is that we all sit down in the kitchen, while I make a cup of coffee, you just sit and relax”. This shows that you are taking leadership from the first moment, which is necessary if parents are afraid, angry, or very insecure.

2) Make a time schedule for what is going to happen during the visit and present a practical plan for activities. It can be very stressing for all parties just to sit and talk informally without a plan. It is much easier to focus on something practical together: “Now, while we drink coffee I will tell you what we are going to do today: first we will bake a cake together so that we can laugh and have a good time with your child. Then we have a little break where we might take a little walk in the neighbourhood or play a little game. Then we talk about how the child is doing, and I will show you his drawings. After that we all say goodbye outside, and he can look forward to your next visit”.
This is talking in an instructive and kind way showing the parents how you want them to behave in details. Fragile parents have problems with sensing natural limits, so you must be very clear and simple in the way you instruct them about contact. For example: “If you want to talk to me on the phone, I am available from (x time to y time) every day. If you call outside this period I don’t pick up the phone because I’m working in the house or caring for the children”.

3) Short visits are normally more successful than long visits. The emotional stress of the situation means that fragile parents can control themselves only for a limited time. If a 4 hour visit ends in disaster and quarrel, it is better to arrange more one hour visits and see if this works better. This can be your recommendation for the authorities who manage your foster care.

4) Parent the parents during visits. Often fragile and immature parents can only see things from their own perspective, and either have a problematic contact with their child or only talk about their own needs. There is no need to expose the fragile side of the parents by expecting them to relate with their child during the whole visit – this may be very stressful for them. So for some of the visit, for example, the foster father can talk to the parents, while the foster mother looks after the child. Fragile parents are often more occupied with their own problems than with their child, and you should accept this. This is part of the problem that caused the placement in foster care.