Concurrent planning: birth parent contact can distress babies

High levels of contact between birth parents and babies in concurrent planning placements should be discouraged due to the stress it causes the babies, finds research by children’s charity Coram.

Concurrent planning reduces disruption for children in care by placing them with foster carers who have been approved to adopt if the child cannot return to its birth parents. 

Research for Coram by Jenny Kenrick, a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, found frequent contact with birth parents disrupted babies’ routines. 

The study, which examined the impact of contact on babies under 10 months, also found that they became distressed when separated from their carers.

As a result, Coram is calling on family courts and local authorities to take a “flexible” approach to the frequency and timing of contact.

“We are committed to the importance of supporting and maintaining continuing contact for babies and their birth families during care proceedings. But in the light of this research we believe courts and local authorities should re-evaluate the impact this may have on emotionally fragile babies that need stability,” said Jeanne Kaniuk, head of adoption at Coram.

“The timing and frequency of contact should be carefully considered in individual cases to ensure that the parents maintain their relationship with the baby and can demonstrate their capacity to parent their child, which is essential for the court assessment, whilst also ensuring that the babies’ needs for stability and routine are respected,” she added.  

Kenrick stressed the importance of considering both the short and long-term impact of “intensive contact” on infants, after the study found that infants who experienced difficulties in concurrency placements found it more difficult to establish routines or start playgroups and school.

“The children are always the most vulnerable in the triad of birth parent, carer and child in contact. An infant is particularly vulnerable and is at the most crucial stage in its emotional and neurological development,” Kenrick said.

She said her recent study – which will appear in the January 2010 edition of Adoption and Fostering – presents an opportunity to consider some of these infants’ needs and “how any findings may be extrapolated to the needs of infants in contact in the general care population”.

In the white paper Care Matters: Time for Change, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it wanted to see greater use of concurrent planning.

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