Menu of Practices

PracticeDescription and Purpose
Promoting cultural connectionsAim: to promote and develop cultural identity of Aboriginal children in care
Identify a cultural mentor within a child’s network who can support their relationships and cultural identity during visits. Mentor encourages parents/extended family to use visits to teach children songs, language and stories to share knowledge of family history, cultural values, customs and traditions. Identify at least one cultural feature that is a strength to build on for the child and include an activity related to this in visits. Dubbo team may incorporate the Wiradjuri activities developed for the project by Lynette Riley
Focusing on sibling connectionsAim: to strengthen relationships between children and their siblings
Ask the child – do they know who their siblings are and who they want to see more. Particularly for Aboriginal children, ask about other potentially important Kin, such as cousins. Speak to the parents/carers/caseworkers of siblings about how to facilitate meetings and observe or ask them to observe the dynamics during a visit amongst siblings. Review case history which may describe dynamics (eg competition, conflict). Consider creative ways to keep children connected – e.g. playing computer games online, informal communication between visits such as text messages, video chat or letters/cards. For siblings who have been disconnected, plan ways to reconnect in a relaxed and comfortable way, to minimise stress and pressure. Ask carers to observe children’s behaviours before and after sibling family time.
Hearing children’s voices about family timeAim: to bring attention to the child’s experience of Family and work with adults to modify based on child’s needs
Work with carers to collect children’s immediate feedback after visits – ask them a few simple questions about how they felt before or after or what they liked most or want more of; can possibly ask them to draw or use emojis to gauge feelings. Use feedback from the child to de-brief with carers and family members to modify visits. If child is experiencing big emotions, integrate co-regulation strategies, e.g., breathing, blowing bubbles, yoga.
Visit coachingAim: to promote positive and age-appropriate parent[relative]-child interactions at visits
Create natural opportunities for parents to practice parenting skills at visits and offer constructive, concrete and immediate feedback and positive reinforcement. Identify age appropriate interactive activities and assist parents to use these and provide immediate constructive feedback and reinforcement during visit. Examples include preparing a craft-making box to take to visits with younger children Involve older children in brainstorming activities for visits Examples include making a video or photo montage; planning menu for a shared meal next time.
Carer coachingAim: To promote carer skills and communication with birth relatives
Guide carers to actively support visits by offering parents [relatives] constructive feedback during and after visits and reinforcing positive interactions with their children. Initiate conversation with carers about their expectations around contact and their role in supporting it. Maintain regular contact with carers before/after visits to offer feedback on their efforts and encourage reflection to improve future interactions with parents[relatives]. Help carers to prepare some casual ‘scripts’ for framing feedback as a suggestion not a demand Help carers find specific examples of positive interactions and share how they benefitted child
Supporting co-regulation  Aim: To support parents and carers to understand and respond to children’s behaviour
Assist birth relatives and carers to reflect on and understand their own emotions so they can respond sensitively to children’s reactions and manage behaviour that arises before/after visits. Carers talk to child before/after visit about how they are feeling to help them find verbal expression for emotions and learn how feelings are expressed in actions. Introduce children and carers to use of coloured ‘zones of regulation’ to help children communicate emotional states. Parents[relatives] do a brief relaxation or mindfulness activity before the visit [e.g. visualisation, body scan] to connect to own emotional state and assist them to co-regulate child’s behaviour. Carers/parents introduce a ‘goodbye ritual’ at the end of visits so children and relatives can adjust to separation [e.g. sing favourite songs, look at photos taken at visit, exchange transitional object].
Facilitating mediated conversationsAim: To promote shared understanding and empathy for birth relatives and carers
Intentional conversations to mediate the relationship between children’s families [NB can be incorporated into parent/carer coaching] Initiate an initial informal meeting between parents[relatives] and carers to exchange information about child, raise goals, hopes and fears about visits Initiate informal regular dialogue between parents[relatives] and carers to share updates about child, review communication [mode and frequency] between visits (in person or by technology)
Pre and debriefing with parentsAim: To debrief and plan for upcoming visits
Meet or talk to parent before and after visit. Check prior to Family Time. Open-ended questions: How are you going? What’s been happening? Has anything come up that might affect your next Family Time visit? Check after visit. Open-ended questions: What happened that made you feel good/not so good? What could I have done to help? What could you try next time?
Debriefing with children, parents and carersAim: To debrief and plan for upcoming visits
Meet with or talk to child, parent and carer after visit. Begin with assessing what worked well and identify areas for improvement. Follow up open-ended questions e.g. What happened that made you feel good/not so good? What could I have done to help? What could you try next time?
Facilitating family time from a distanceAim: To support relationships between children and families from a distance
Assist children and families to use technology-based communication e.g. video (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom), photo sharing, or phone calls/group chats (WhatsApp) or exchange letters, artwork, and photos. Support by facilitating access to iPads, prepaid envelopes and phone credit, providing instructions for how to download and use apps, providing tips on how to make video chatting fun and interactive, discussing boundaries and online safety.

Some examples of good practices that have been documented in the international literature and provided by partner organisations are summarised below:

1. Cornerstone Advocacy is a multi-modal program founded on the belief that parents do not ‘visit’ their children but spend time together that is safe, productive and fun. The aim is to create opportunities for children to engage in normal activities with parents such as attending children’s sporting events or medical appointments, helping them with homework or going to a favourite restaurant to spend time together. The model includes visit coaching, where parents receive preparation and debriefing as well as ‘in-the-moment’ instructional guidance from a coach and may also involve training carers as coaches.

Practices described in Cohen, J., & Cortese, M. (2009). Cornerstone Advocacy in the first 60 days: Achieving safe and lasting reunification for families. In Practice, 28(3), 37-44.

2. Connections Project includes preparatory and follow-up phone contact with birth and foster families to explain what parents can expect during visits. Workers recognise that parents often face chaotic lives and when they do not keep scheduled visits, remind foster parents and children to think about the good parts of prior visits and what to look forward to next time. They also help overcome barriers by assistance with arranging visits and transport.

Practices described in Gerring, C. E., Kemp, S. P., & Marcenko, M. O. (2008). The Connections Project: A relational approach to engaging birth parents in visitation. Child Welfare, 87(6), 5-30.

3. Cultural planning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is a practical guide for delivering culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home-care to support their knowledge, connections, wellbeing and cultural identity. Focus on their participation in cultural activities and supporting family contact that is age and developmentally appropriate. Suggest use of genogram to identify kin and cultural background who can support child’s cultural rights. Ensure the plan is consistent, considers child’s preferences, and occurs in a community-based environment that supports parents and extended family to attend. Ensure child attends Aboriginal services, community events and connects with Elders from their community of belonging.

See: Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec) (2018). Cultural Planning Information Suggestion Sheet. AbSec Cultural Connection Workshop

4. Icebreaker meetings which involves arranging an informal catch up between parent and carer as soon as possible after placement (preferably within a week). This allows parents to share important information with carer about a child’s preferences, strengths and needs. Purpose is to share information and lessen impact of parent-child separation as well as establish communication between parent-carer and allow parents to stay informed of child’s development.

Practices described in Biehle, K. & Goodman, D. (2012). Icebreaker meetings: A tool for building relationships between birth and foster parents. Baltimore, Maryland: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

5. Social story book is an approach used to help children with autism make sense of different situations. Developed by Carol Grey in 1990, social stories are booklets illustrated with drawings or photographs that are usually short, simple and have defined criteria. This approach could be used to help younger children make sense of family time.

For links to online tools visit https://www.abaresources.com/social-stories/

6. Strive supervised visitation program is an evidence-informed program that seeks to create predictable, goal-centred visits for parents and children through 1:1 coaching, preparation and debriefing. Parents practice a simple skill set from how to communicate positively with their child and the adults involved at visits to creating child safe environments.

Developed by the University of Washington’s Partners for Our Children. More information available at https://partnersforourchildren.org/projects/strive

Other useful practice examples include:

Family Connections and Contact Study

The Institute for Open Adoption Studies conducted a study that explored what makes contact work for children and young people, carers, and birth families. The study explored how carers and birth parents build respectful relationships and learn to overcome problems and what part caseworkers play in supporting children’s ongoing family connections. The full final report and summary of findings are available to download.

Family Perspectives

Read about one carers’ experiences with Family Time in the UK.

Hear from a mother about her experiences with the out-of-home care system. – Family Rights Group UK

Family Time Resources (UK)

A range of resources aimed at supporting contact between children and their families can be found on the Research in Practice and Contact after Adoption websites.