Staying Connected report published

  • Over 7,500 children and young people in care share their views and experiences on contact arrangements with their families.
  • Over a fifth of children felt they saw their mums, dads and siblings too little
  • Compared with foster and kinship care, more young people in residential. care were dissatisfied with how often they saw their family.
  • Half of young people didn’t feel involved in decisions social workers made about their lives.

The views and experiences of over 7,500 children and young people in care on their contact with family members and impact on their wellbeing are uncovered in a new report published today by Coram Voice and The Rees Centre at University of Oxford*.

Staying Connected finds that nearly a third (31%) of children (aged 8-10) and a quarter (25%) of young people (aged 11-18) felt they were seeing their mothers too little, whilst over a fifth (22%) of children and 18% of young people felt they were seeing their fathers too little. 22% of children didn’t feel they had enough contact with their brothers and sisters, and this figure was higher for young people (31%). About one in five young people had no contact with either parent and this was particularly the case for those in residential care and boys.

Visits being arranged at inconvenient times, long distances, the costs of travel, their family’s circumstances, and workers failing to make necessary arrangements were among reasons cited by children and young people for seeing family less often than they wanted. Children in care who felt they saw family members too little reported feeling sad, angry and unsettled, while in contrast, those who felt contact arrangements were “just right” felt they were being listened to and looked forward to seeing their family.

Quote: I don't know why I don't see my dad. I worry about it because he might be dead.

One young person (aged 11-18) commented: “I want to see my family more. My social worker is supposed to be doing police checks. I have been here since September and the checks have not been done. It’s not like I can just visit. I live five hours from home.”

Whether children and young people felt that they saw parents often enough was statistically associated with length of time in care, type of placement and which local authority was caring for them. Analysis shows that young people (aged 11-18) in residential care more frequently reported that they had too little contact with family compared to young people in other types of placements. The number of placements experienced also had an impact, with 60% of young people who had only had one placement reporting they were satisfied with their contact frequency, compared to 39% who had experienced 11 or more placements.

In addition, 50% of young people surveyed did not feel involved in decisions social workers made about their lives, and half of the comments about involvement focused on contact arrangements. Children and young people commented on arrangements being inflexible, not changing as they got older or as their family’s circumstances changed. One child (aged 8-10) commented: I used to see Mum and older brother three times a week. It has been cut down to once a week and this makes me sad. I don’t know why contact was cut down.”

Comments also highlighted that children and young people wanted to see extended family members, pets and other adults who were important to them, and that the key people in their lives were not always included in contact plans.

Staying Connected is the latest report to be published as part of the Bright Spots programme* and it makes seven key recommendations to improve policy and practice:

Work with all children in care to identify the key relationships in their lives.
Make arrangements for children and young people to maintain contact, develop relationships and reconnect with people who are important to them.
Listen to and involve children and young people in decisions about the arrangements to see and keep in touch with family and others who are important to them.
Keep children in care informed about their families, why they can or cannot see them, and what arrangements have been made for them to spend time together.
Ensure plans are regularly reviewed and reflect the current circumstances, wishes and needs of children and young people and their families.
Normalise family time whenever possible, minimising the use of contact centres and supporting children and families to meet in the community.
Make sure the workforce has the skills and knowledge to prioritise and confidently support children in care to stay connected to the people who are important to them.

Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice, said: “The recent Care Review suggested the primary objective of the care system should be promoting the formation of lifelong loving relationships around children in care and care leavers. This can only be achieved if more is done to build rather than break relationships with the people who are already important to children in care. Our research showed that there is still some way to go to make this happen.

“Services and workers must listen to children and young people about who they want to see, when and how and seek to make this happen. Children in care should have the opportunity to spend time with the people who are important to them doing everyday things like playing games, having a meal or going for a walk with the dog.”

Julie Selwyn, Professor of Education and Adoption at The Rees Centre at University of Oxford, said: “While previous UK research has emphasised that the quality of contact is more important than the frequency, from young people’s perspective frequency was equally, if not more important. Feeling contact was ‘just right’ was associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Staying connected to the important people in life is essential for children’s wellbeing. Greater efforts need to be made to ensure that this is achieved for all children in care.”

Read the full report


Learn more and use the findings:

Work with us

We have funding to work with a small number of local authorities to explore ways of implementing the Staying Connected recommendations – Email brightsport@coramvoice.org.uk if you are interested

We have helped over 60 local authorities understand what their children in care and care leavers feel about their well-being. Find out more becoming a Bright Spots partner.