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Keywords:

  • child welfare (in Australia);
  • contact (with birth relatives);
  • kinship care;
  • looked after children;
  • social exclusion;
  • substance misuse (parental misuse and effects on children)

Abstract

Contact between parents and children in care is a contested area. Parental contact is recognized to be important, yet may present protective issues; in the kinship care environment, it brings the particular challenges of complex family relationships. Seeking the parents' perspective in a child protection context is difficult and therefore under-researched. This paper describes a nested study within an Australian research project on family contact in kinship care in which the perspectives of 18 mothers and 2 fathers were sought via in-depth interviews. Mothers and fathers described strong feelings of disempowerment in the context both of their family and the child protection system. The relationship between parent and caregiver emerged as a significant issue. All of the parents wished to remain in contact with their children in a meaningful way, whether or not they were likely to resume their children's care; however, contact arrangements presented many difficulties for them. Mothers articulated the need for services that are more empowering and respectful, rather than oriented towards them as failed parents. In order to build appropriate models of support and intervention, we argue for a more inclusive conceptual frame for family life that gives greater recognition to the role of non-custodial parents in the lives of their children.