For a variety of reasons, challenges and difficulties, there are times for some parents when parenting can be a stressful experience which may have led to fractured parent child relationship, and we hear from, meet and support parents whose children are in care.
When children go into care, there is usually supported contact of one kind or another. Often this contact time may be as little as a couple of hours a week shared with more than one child. Sometimes for parents, this may feel almost like a performance as they are being watched. This may result in a negative experience, often in turn resulting in less contact, which may lead to further challenges for the parent-child relationship but our suggestions below are provided to support parents to engage in making supported contact time a more positive experience. Children have a great capacity to love, and especially to love parents. So even if this situation is for the remainder of their childhood, you can still have and maintain a very positive relationship with your child.
The following are our suggestions to support a parent visiting with their child in care.
- Prepare for the visit. Often parents’ lives are in chaos if a child goes into care. There may be a lot of personal challenges to overcome and confront. However, if you cannot prepare for contact with your child it will most likely be a difficult rather than a positive experience for anyone.
- Preparing means thinking about everything from planning the route, the time you need to get there, the cost of the journey, washing and having clean clothes, having eaten and rested sufficiently.
- Preparing is also about thinking ahead about how you will spend your time together. What age is your child, what they like to do when you are with them? Developmentally, what are they interested in? Can you bring some toys or activities with you? Can you have a special bag which you can add to over time with various activities which will support you to engage well?
- Engaging means talking with your child, and managing their behaviour which means you must be able to identify their needs and know how to meet them. If you are in an empty room with broken toys, you can expect that your child will get bored and may ask to leave or cry for the carer to take them out again. By planning simple activities you can engage your child which will result in positive parent child interactions and a more positive relationship.
- If you plan well, you can have good contact with your child; contact that will support you to feel that you can parent, that you know what your child needs and that you can work towards meeting these needs. It can help you focus on dealing with the challenges that led to this situation rather than the focus remaining on any negatives.
- Seek support to help you cope with the situation, such as our parent mentoring service, where we work one to one with parents to support them in many situations. The social worker you engage with is usually also your child’s. They will and have to ensure the child’s well-being; they may not always be in a position to support the parent also.
- Always be on time for contact and be physically fit for the session. If you feel you cannot last the planned length of time, tell the social worker this. It is much more beneficial for your child to have a shorter and positive session where you can stay engaged rather than a long session where you lose energy and possibly drift into despair when you realise what has happened for you.
- Stay focused on your child and when the session is over take some time to reflect on what went well and what really challenged you. Talk with the social worker about both and then try to plan ahead for the next time.
- Many parents see multiple children in one contact session, often because of resources. It can be really beneficial to seek one to one contact with each child also. Children need your attention and it may be more challenging for you to divide yourself between their various needs without some one to one time.
- Look closely at your child in these sessions and think about how they are in the care situation. Do they look well? Are they smiling? How is school going? Are they meeting developmental goals? Try to look for the positives for them; it may not be easy but the more you really look at your child and hear them and know that in the majority of cases children can really feel safe in care, the more positively you will be parenting your child.
- Parenting requires us to be completely non-selfish. We have to be able to put our children first no matter what. By supporting your child with positive, dependable contact while they are in care you are letting them know that, although this is extremely challenging, knowing they are safe is the most important thing that matters to you. Whether this is a permanent situation or short-term, you can still parent, and this is your opportunity to look after your needs so you can be there for your child in the best way possible.
This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.
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