Chrissy, now 17, was placed in foster care with Bev and Clive when she was 5 years old, but when she was 11 the placement broke down due to problems, such as throwing things and trashing the house, which had become unmanageable.
After the breakdown, Bev and Clive did say they would like to maintain contact if Chrissy wished and said that, after a short amount of time, they started to ask about how they could be supported to help her return to living with them.
“We were mum and dad, we were her family, she was known by our surname, and she just kept saying ‘I want to go home.’”
But it wasn’t until Chrissy was 16 that they started having regular contact again.
“Every single time I saw my social worker I would ask. Every single review I had I would ask. No-one ever gave me a reason other than we don’t think it’s appropriate,” Chrissy says about trying to see her foster parents after the placement broke down.
This past week the issue of facilitating contact between young people and their former foster carers has been raised by The Fostering Network report ‘Keep Connected’, which found carers and young people were being prevented from contact after the placement ended, something experienced by Bev, Clive and Chrissy.
‘She’s not settling’
“We naively expected to have contact with her, and initially we had contact, but when they moved her back they stopped all contact and said she needed to settle. ‘She’s not settling, she can’t have contact with you,’” Bev remembers. They went to court get contact, but later found that the order which they thought guaranteed them contact twice a year “wasn’t a valid order”.
Bev says that when they pushed for contact, they were met with a chorus of “it isn’t in the child’s best interests”, something Bev compares to a “get-out clause”.
Chrissy says social workers told her Bev and Clive didn’t want to see her. It was always the couple’s intention to retire after Chrissy left their care, and this information was relayed as a reason not to pursue contact a couple of months after the breakdown, and after the pair told their fostering agency they couldn’t take on any more children.
Bev says they sent letters to her that never arrived, and indirect contact was closely managed.
‘She never forgot our phone number’
“When she moved to a residential unit, every now and again our phone would ring – she never forgot our phone number – when she first moved before the social workers had managed to tell the workers we weren’t allowed any contact. [The workers] were concerned because she was crying for us so they said she could have a phone conversation,” Bev explains. “It was almost like she was policed all the time.”
Throughout this period, things got harder for Chrissy. Troubles with the police were punctuated with depression.
“I started getting really depressed and self-harming, because no-one was listening to me or letting me see my family.”
During her time in Bev and Clive’s home, they had moved outside of the local authority, and this became an issue when the placement broke down and Chrissy was moved back.
“Had she been local they wouldn’t have been able to stop her, she would have found her way to us,” Bev says.
The problem, as Bev sees it, was that “nobody ever really listened” to Chrissy when she was young.
“She says now how different she would have been had she not moved on. There’s a real sadness about that loss really, and I think the local authority just deny these children contact because they are [only] legally obliged to make sure they have contact with those with legal rights…We’re more her family – she doesn’t see anyone in her birth family now, and they just don’t get that. There needs to be some law that changes that and says they have to consider foster carers.”
It wasn’t until Chrissy approached 16, and a new social worker became involved, that progress was made.
“The social worker she had then saw [the case] and said ‘I’m not interested in anything that’s been said in the past but I know she wants to see you’ – and she’s started coming back.”
While Chrissy now enjoys weekends back with Bev and Clive every three to four weeks, it doesn’t get past an experience Bev calls “devastating”.
Chrissy says the experience, after having already lost her biological family, “was just like losing another one all over again”.
Bev says: “Most foster carers give their all. You know you’re not their birth parents but when they are with you, you do everything you can to make things good for them. So when you’re suddenly classed as not mattering it’s devastating.”