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Contact following placement in care, adoption or special guardianship: implications for children and young people’s wellbeing

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Published: July 2020

This evidence review examines the implications of contact for the wellbeing of children and young people who have been separated from their birth relatives in public-law contexts.

This evidence review was commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, and was conducted by NatCen in collaboration with the University of Sussex. In the review, we examine what is known about the implications of contact for the well-being of children and young people who have been separated from their birth parents in public-law contexts.

Dr Padmini Iyer, Senior Researcher at the National Centre for Social Research, said:

“Our review demonstrates the importance of a well-facilitated and child-centred approach to contact; in other words, positive outcomes rely on quality, not quantity. Realising the potential short and long-term benefits of good quality contact requires active management and support for everyone involved. This includes understanding and responding to children’s complex emotional responses to contact, and supporting carers, adoptive parents and birth family members.”

Janet Boddy, Professor in the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth at the University of Sussex, said:

"Our review reveals the importance of a differentiated and child-centred approach to planning and supporting contact, taking account of children's complex feelings and their diverse and dynamic relationships with the people that matter in their lives. The review also shows why it is important to consider both short and long term needs, including preparing children and young people to manage complex family connections beyond childhood and into their adult lives."

Key findings

The reviewed evidence consistently shows that children and young people’s well-being depends on a differentiated, dynamic approach to contact that takes account of:

  • The purposes of contact with important people in a child’s life
  • Key contextual factors including a child’s age, the nature of placements and questions of permanence.

None of the studies attempted to establish a causal impact of contact on children and young people’s well-being. However, the evidence shows that well-facilitated contact is associated with positive well-being outcomes in 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.

Key findings from the evidence review indicate the importance of:

  • Accounting for children’s rights, needs and perspectives
  • Adopting a balanced and differentiated approach
  • Accounting for risks and challenges
  • Managing and supporting contact
  • Adopting family-centred approaches to contact.

Methods

We followed a mixed-methods approach for this review, combining rapid evidence assessment (REA) and narrative review methods. Studies were included if they focused on children placed in care following family court proceedings, accommodated in care on a voluntary basis, or placed in legally permanent arrangements including adoption and special guardianship. The review synthesises findings from 49 studies, including international academic and grey literature, published between 2000 and 2020.

Download from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory website