What do we mean by access?
The term ‘access’ describes planned arrangements for children to have contact with parents, siblings and extended family members when the parents are no longer the primary care providers due to Family Court or Children’s Court decisions (Community Services Commission, 1999).
In the fields of child protection and out-of-home care in Australia, both ‘access’ and ‘contact’ are used interchangeably. In addition to face-to-face meetings, contact can include telephone calls, provision of photos and letter writing (Community Services Commission, 1999).
The primary purposes of contact are:
- to promote the possibility of, and to prepare for, reunification with the birth family
- to preserve family ties when the child is in long term out-of-home care
- to provide a therapeutic means to assess and enhance parent-child relationships.
Regularly scheduled visits are valuable as a means of helping the child maintain his or her sense of connectedness and identity with the biological family.
Even when children cannot live with their biological parents, they continue to belong to them. This is particularly true when children are living in ‘limbo’, that period in which there is grave uncertainty about where they will grow up, that state of feeling that they belong to nobody.
Whatever the outcome, their sense of roots and heritage should be theirs to keep! This identity is best preserved when regularly scheduled visits are planned and encouraged (Maluccio, Fein & Olmstead, 1986: 164).
How are decisions about access made?
What is a carer’s role?
It is important that carers develop a positive relationship with the child’s family.
A carer plays a critical role in either supporting or inhibiting the ongoing relationship of a child in care with their family.
It can be expected that sometimes parents and family of children in out-of-home care may feel some anger or resentment about their child not being in their care. The child may also feel anger towards their parents or even you as a carer. It may be both. A parent may have been a perpetrator of abuse or neglect, but they will still love their children.
Children in out-of-home care will do better in your care if they know that you do not view their family negatively. This can be difficult at times, but it is important for the child to be aware that you are supportive of their contact with family. In the case of children that are descendants of Stolen Generations members, or if the family have a history of removal, it can be very traumatic and stressful for the family that another child has been removed from their family. This may raise past issues for parents and extended family members.
It may not be easy to develop a good relationship with the child’s parents and extended family members, but you can consider the ideas below when you are trying to build positive relationships.
Tip sheet on supporting access
Respect and positive attitude:
Always be respectful when speaking with family members or speaking about them to other people
Understand cultural protocols:
Understanding and acknowledging these protocols will indicate respect to the child’s family. Protocols include male to female relationships, communication e.g. eye contact and language. Your local Aboriginal family/case support worker or AICCA can provide you with more detailed information.
Be clear on your role:
Ensure that you are clear in your role as a carer and are not seeking to replace the natural parents of the child.
Often, relationships with families of children in out-of-home care take time to develop, and cannot be hurried.
Use your case workers and support agency:
Contact with families should be planned and supported by caseworkers. Use the foster care agency to build a positive relationship, share information about the child’s milestones with parents and extended family members
Show an interest in culture:
Indicate a desire to learn more about the cultural background of the child in your care. Discuss cultural activities or events that you have attended with the child. Ask about cultural events or activities that the family think are important for the child to attend or participate in.
Stand up for community connection:
Express a willingness to advocate that the child remains connected to their community.