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Contact and family communication in foster care, kinship care, and adoption Montserrat Fargas Malet Institute of Child Care Research Queens University.

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Presentation on theme: "Contact and family communication in foster care, kinship care, and adoption Montserrat Fargas Malet Institute of Child Care Research Queens University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Contact and family communication in foster care, kinship care, and adoption Montserrat Fargas Malet Institute of Child Care Research Queens University Belfast

2 Longitudinal study following a population of children who were under 5 and in care in Northern Ireland on 31/03/2000 (n=374). Phase 3: Interviews with 75 families (the children and their parents or carers) representing 5 placement types: adoption, foster care, kinship care, residence order, and living with birth parents. Conducted between March 2009-January 2010 Quantitative and qualitative instruments were used. Range of issues were explored: attachment, behaviour, education, etc. 2 The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study

3 In this presentation… 3 types of placements: foster care, kinship care and adoption Two perspectives: the children and their adoptive parents, foster and kinship carers Gathered through semi-structured interviews. For the children, used an activity book (The Me Book) Two main issues: contact with birth families; and family communication about birth families/adoption Use of the concept of ambiguous loss 3

4 Research participants 15 foster children and their foster carers; 10 children in kinship care and their carers, and one additional kinship carer of two children ( 12 cases); 18 adopted children and their adoptive parents: – 9 of the children adopted by previous foster carers; – 9 of the children adopted by planned approved adopters 4

5 Types of contact with birth families The majority of children (69%; 31 of 45) had face-to-face contact with at least one birth relative: – 93% of the foster children (14) – 75% of the children in kinship care (9) – 44% of the adopted children (67% / 6 of those adopted by previous carers vs. 22% / 2 of those adopted by strangers) Only 9 had post-box contact (4 in kinship care; 3 adopted & 2 in foster care); and 8 had phone contact (5 in foster care). 5

6 Face-to-face contact arrangements With one parentWith both parentsWith at least 1 siblingTotal Foster care Kinship care Stranger adoption 0119 Foster adoption 2049 Total Most children in foster care having contact with parent/s had regular infrequent contact (n=7), while all the children in kinship care that had contact with parent/s had regular frequent contact. Most children in kinship care having contact with sibling/s had regular frequent contact (n=6), while most children adopted by previous carers (n=3) and in foster care (n=5) having contact with sibling/s had regular infrequent contact.

7 Childrens reactions to contact Different reactions to contact with different family members Reactions changed with time Situations had improved by modifying contact arrangements or stopping contact Many were enjoying contact Adverse effects for a few Having to deal with familys alcohol abuse or mental health problems. 7 He didnt understand, and was crying after mammy. … But hes grand now. If he sees her, he sees her, and if he doesnt, he doesnt. Hes got to this stage now, that he doesnt care. BOY IN KINSHIP Whereas before they were in a family centre and the kids would be bored, but now that they are doing things together, maybe going bowling or something, wee picnics and things like that to make it a bit more interesting for them. TWO BROTHERS IN FOSTER CARE … they would see their mum, very affectionate towards her. As I said, hugs and that… so, they seem happy. They are happy to see her, yet during… the rest of the week or fortnight its not mentioned. BOY IN FOSTER CARE I like going down and seeing my mum. BOY IN KINSHIP CARE She sees the sisters quite often, and the mother just doesnt show up half the time for visits and … When she comes back, shes a little moody and youve got to give her space for a while, you know, because if she goes to a visit and her mother just doesnt show up, shes devastated. GIRL IN FOSTER CARE [I wish] for my mummy and daddy to stop drinking. R: … when youre going to contact, would you think about them much? Yeah. I can smell drink off their breath and all and smoke. R: What does that make you feel like? Sad. Well its not sad because I know they have a problem. GIRL IN FOSTER CARE

8 The concept of ambiguous loss With birth parentsWith birth sibling/s No contact but family Contact & family Contact but not family No contact but family Contact & family Contact but not family Foster care Kinship care Foster adoption Stranger adoption Total Physically absent but psychologically present Psych. present but psych. absent Physically absent but psychologically present Psych. present but psych. absent 8 I feel sad because I miss them [birth parents] I wish my real mum did care about me and I feel good and glad that Im up here now… its better up here and I get into less trouble. R: Can you think of anything that could make your life even better? I have a wee sister and shes seven, and I never see her… I seen her whenever she was four.

9 Effects of contact on parents & carers Most parents and carers happy with their childs contact arrangements. A few kinship carers reported tensions in the relationship with birth parents. A few adoptive parents were not keen on the idea of contact. Some worried about the potential harmful effects that contact could have on the children. Satisfaction with contact arrangements depending on the amount of control parents/carers felt they had 9 [I found contact] fine, fine. I would have a relationship with [birth mum]. I would know her well. I would chat away to her. BOY IN FOSTER CARE They ring her [birth mum] every week to see if shes going to come for contact. As far as I am concerned thats not their job. If the mother doesnt want to make contact she should be phoning saying; I cant make it this week. GIRL IN KINSHIP CARE I would prefer that they [birth parents] are not in touch but we had to go by the court… I just dont like them being in touch, you know. Theyre not their parents, we are. I did go along with it, but they are the ones that have broken the contact. BOY IN FOSTER ADOPTION …they [birth siblings] were texting her and she was texting them and [birth sister] was telling her about her boyfriend and all that was going on… Oh! I was just reading a text and there was far too much information for Nicoles age, you know. GIRL IN FOSTER CARE … he is free to come between the two houses at my discretion. I make the decision. You know, where his mummy, she would ring me up, and say is it okay if Eoghans comes, and thats fine. BOY IN KINSHIP CARE (with granny)

10 Parents/carers attitudes towards sharing information about birth family Some parents/carers claimed they had shared all the information. Some adoptive parents actively concealed some information deemed potentially harmful. Some adoptive parents explained past in an age-appropriate way, often involving masking reality to make it sound less ugly, or emphasising positive aspects. Some parents/carers struggled to talk about these issues, and found it hard to communicate potentially damaging information, e.g. birth parents alcohol abuse, mental health problems, rejection and physical abuse/neglect of child. 10 I worry about her because she has it in her head that shes adopted, she wasnt wanted… I tried to put it that she was wanted and her mummy just wasnt able to look after her and then how much I wanted somebody and I got her. GIRL IN FOSTER ADOPTION Just she didnt grow in Mummys tummy, she grew in somebody elses tummy and then we picked her especially. So that is really as far as she understands. GIRL IN STRANGER ADOPTION … he knows his birth mum is dead but he doesnt know that she had been murdered, hes too young you know, he doesnt need to know that. BOY IN STRANGER ADOPTION

11 Childrens communication According to parents/carers, most children across the placement did not tend to bring up the subject, BUT … Some asked questions or talked about particular issues; Some used to ask questions when they were younger but not anymore; while Others never talked or asked questions BECAUSE… – Already knew everything – Had forgotten about it; or – Were not curious/interested in finding out 11 At times, I just say about his sister, and he will ask why did she go to somebody else, and I say that when people are adopted that is sometimes what happens … sometimes he would ask about his mum, why did she not come and see him, and I say Well dear, I really cant answer that. Because I really dont know why she didnt do it. BOY IN FOSTER ADOPTION he would have asked questions and then we would have gone to his wee life story book. Then there were questions about why he was small and why he his mummy drank and things like that. But he doesnt ask as much now. BOY IN FOSTER ADOPTION R: He doesnt talk about the Mum and what happened with her? No, no, no. He never talks about that actually. He never talks about why he was taken into care. But I think he knows himself why he was taken into care, he doesnt need to ask the questions. BOY IN FOSTER CARE

12 Conclusions Children had different contact arrangements depending on placement type, with children in foster and kinship care having more contact than adopted children Differences were also found between parents and childrens accounts Childrens reactions to contact improved with time Although most children were happy with the level of contact, some missed their birth families, and a few wished for more contact Some adopted children wished to know more about their birth families/included them as part of their family, although their adoptive parents were not aware of this. Some parents/carers found it difficult to share information with their children 12

13 CONTACT DETAILS: Montserrat Fargas Malet +44 (0)28 McSherry, Fargas Malet, & Weatherall (2013). Comparing long-term placements for young children in care. The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study –Northern Ireland. London: BAAF Thank you! 13

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