Social workers no longer obliged to promote contact with birth parents

The government hopes new legislation will prevent birth parents from having unregulated contact with adopted and looked-after children

Social workers will no longer have a duty to promote contact between birth parents and children in care under new measures in the children and families bill, which was laid before parliament this week.

Instead social workers will be obliged to ensure contact arrangements have “clear purpose”, as set out in the child’s care plan. Contact will be subject to the social worker’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and legislation will specify areas social workers should consider when deciding on contact arrangements.

However, the government decided not to go ahead with its initial proposal of a presumption of ‘no contact’ once children have been taken into care.

The bill will also toughen up contact arrangements for adopted children. Social workers will be able to ask courts for a ‘no contact’ order when they apply for an adoption order. It would only take effect once an adoption order has been made.

Once adoption has been decided as the plan for a child, birth parents will have to ask courts for permission to apply for contact and must meet tougher criteria to do so.

BAAF: Legislation ‘too crude an instrument’

The changes are intended to prevent birth parents from using social media to have unregulated contact with adopted and looked-after children.

However, John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, said he felt legislation is too crude an instrument to tackle this issue.

“How do you police it? Is it going to become a criminal offence if birth parents try to do this? I’m not sure these changes will make a lot of difference. What we need is more high quality support for birth parents, adoptive parents and social workers to navigate these complex issues,” he said.

However, he agreed the current duty to promote contact sometimes allows birth parents to intimidate social workers into allowing contact, even if it’s not right for the child.

The government also included an annexe to its response to the consultation, which included the various recommendations for social worker training and practice from those consulted. It has promised to work with the sector to improve practice.

‘Insult to social workers’

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said it was a little insulting to imply that many of the problems came down to social worker training.

“Contact forms a large part of the social worker decision making process and we already spend a lot of time and thought on this. What would be more helpful is to allow social workers more time and opportunity to update themselves on the latest research and think about it in relation to their current practice.”

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