ACU research leads to better contact between children in out-of-home care and their parents

New research from leading experts at ACU’s Institute for Child Protection Studies will help improve supervised contact visits for about 45,000 children in out-of-home care and their birth parents.

When children are removed from their parents by child protective services, contact or access visits between them and their parents are usually established.

The research, published in Child Abuse & Neglect, led to the development of the new kContact Practice Model which has delivered significant benefits with parents cancelling fewer contact visits, out-of-home care caseworkers being more receptive to family contact and parents more satisfied with visits.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin said the new model filled a gaping void in available evidence on how to best manage contact between children and their birth parents.

“Given the distress children experience when visits are cancelled, when parents fail to attend a scheduled visit and when contact visits are negative experiences, an improvement in these outcomes as a result of the intervention is really important,” Associate Professor Taplin said.

“The study shows that supporting parents can be an effective approach to improving contact experiences and this model can be embedded in the current casework practice.”

Associate Professor Taplin said the ACU study is the largest to date to test the effectiveness of contact intervention in the out-of-home care context.

“There has been significant discussion about the lack of evidence in this area and the need to systemise practice around contact visits as they are such an important contributor to the wellbeing and development of children who have been removed from their birth parents,“ she said.

Research has shown the importance of contact visits in helping to maintain the child’s relationship with their birth family in order to develop a positive personal and cultural identity.

Poorly managed contact visits and negative experiences can disrupt the relationship between the child and their new carers, as well as de-stabilise care placements and exacerbate behavioural and emotional problems.

The kContact model sees key case workers contacting parents before and after each contact visit to provide them with support – whether it be clarifying concerns and expectations or providing practical and emotional support for the next visit.

ACU’s research was conducted with University of Melbourne and 15 out-of-home-care agencies in Victoria, ACT and NSW with children aged up to 14 in long-term care who had regular supervised contact with at least one parent.

More information about the kContact study is available here.

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