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Contact refers to the ways that children in care keep in touch with siblings, birth parents and other family members while they are in care.

Often, contact is only thought about in terms of supporting children to keep in touch with immediate family, and the importance of retaining contact with wider family members, friends or old carers is not always recognised.

Contact only happens when it is judged to be safe, and can come in different shapes and sizes. Letter box contact is where a child, or those who can keep in contact with them, send letters, drawings and photos through the post. This may happen where children are living a long way away or where it is not appropriate for children to have face to face contact. Children may also be able to keep in contact by phone or video call. Social media or online communication can be great tools to keep in touch, but can cause problems where it is used to communicate secretly with people who the child is not allowed to have contact with. Face to face contact can happen in a variety of places, with differing levels of supervision depending on the circumstances. Contact centres are neutral places where children and their families can meet, but children sometimes complain that they are not child friendly, or that they create artificial situations that do not allow them to relax or feel comfortable.

Contact may also take place in public places such as restaurants, cafes or parks. However, many looked after children find that contact takes place at the same place every time, with no variety. This doesn’t allow them to experience different things and limits their childhood memories, particularly with siblings. Sometimes when children don’t see their siblings very often, or there is a large age gap between them, they can find it hard to know how to get on with each other. This can be helped by the presence of adults who can support children to connect with their siblings or having activities that they can do together.

Children in care often say that they don’t get to have enough contact with important people in their life, and particularly that they want to see their siblings more. This may be because they live a long way away from each other, but can also be because contact can be a difficult thing for carers to manage. Seeing their siblings, or even other relatives, may cause a change in behaviour in the child. It may cause them to become anxious, sad or to misbehave, even though they may desperately want to see their siblings. Some carers/professionals may decide that it is better for the child not to have contact.

When a child moves placements, they may want to keep in contact with their former carers, their families and other children who may have been cared for in the same placement. However, local authorities often discourage children and carers from remaining in contact in order to help children settle in to their new home.