Date: 19 January 2022
My colleague, Dr Anne Woodhouse, Clinical Psychologist, and I regularly carry out assessments offering psychological opinion within child and family law. Primarily we are asked for opinion related to residential and contact arrangements. When considering contact arrangements, it is our experience that the potential developmental benefits to the child of direct contact with their birth parent are sometimes overlooked. Direct contact is not simply time for the child and birth relative to be together. Sometimes contact is instigated without careful consideration of what it means to the child and without the right support for the contact system (the child, carer and birth relative) to make it meaningful. As a result, contact that may have benefited the child could unnecessarily be stopped or unsafe contact might be continued. As Iyer et al’s (2020) literature review indicated:
“… the evidence shows that well-facilitated contact is associated with positive well-being outcomes for children and young people in both the short and long term. Conversely, poorly managed contact is associated with risks to children and young people’s well-being. Support for everyone involved in contact - children, carers, adoptive parents and birth relatives - is key, and depends on the investment of time and resources.” (Iyer et al, 2020)
To encourage decisions about contact arrangements to include consideration of how direct contact can be supported to achieve positive well-being outcomes for children, we developed a framework to guide professionals involved in decision-making. The framework, known as the Safe and Meaningful Contact (SaMC) Guidelines, encourages users to organise their thinking about contact arrangements around the developmental needs of the looked after child or young person, and the extent to which contact can be supported to play a part in the child or young person’s recovery from traumatic life experiences.
The key aim of the SaMC Guidelines is not to determine whether direct contact should take place, but to determine how contact can be supported to meet the child’s recovery needs, provided it is safe. The guidelines provide practitioners with a universal process to evidence their clinical reasoning about the potential benefits and risks of direct contact arrangements. Anne and I look forward to discussing the development of the SaMC Guidelines and talking through case examples of its use in practice at the CoramBAAF Exploring Expertise Webinar.
Dr Chris Burke, Clinical Psychologist, Psychological Minds