UKCORRUPTFAMILYCOURTS

February 21, 2010

CONTACT BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN IN LONG-TERM CARE: THE UNRESOLVED DISPUTE JUDITH MASSON*

CONTACT BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN IN LONG-TERM CARE: THE UNRESOLVED DISPUTE

JUDITH MASSON*

* Lecturer in Law, University of Leicester, Leicester LEI 7RH, England.

This article describes the development of the law and social work practice relating to access to children in care in England and Wales and examines the different approaches to such access by looking at the attitudes of social workers, guardians ad litem and the judiciary. The particular focus is contact betweenchildren who are unlikely to return to the natural family and their parents. Using Fox’s analysis of ideologies in child care the author concludes that ‘the-society-as-parent protagonists’ do not value contact where rehabilitation is unlikely and that such views were partly reflected in the Department of Health and Social Security’s Code of Practice on Access. The author then examines the research literature on success of fostering and well-being of children in care and concludes that there is little evidence to support a negative approach to access. Indeed, the most recent studies stress the poor consequences of failing to maintain contact between children in care and their families. The Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act 1983 gave parents who have had their access to children in care terminated a right to have this decision reviewed by a magistrates’ court. The court normally appoints a guardian ad litem who will investigate the case and make a recommendation to the court. In a small study of guardians, the author found that approximately half took the narrow approach to access and would not support it where there was no chance of rehabilitation. A study of reported access cases indicates that judges also took the narrow approach to access to children in care but not in cases following relationship breakdown. The author explains that this reflects the judge’s own interpretation of adoption law and also their support of local authority action. The author concludes that the changes introduced by the Children Act 1989 will make only a slight difference, for two reasons. First, there is still little belief that continuing contact is in the child’s best interests. Second, the security which children who cannot be rehabilitated are thought to need can only be provided by adoption, which under English Law almost always requires the severance of links with the natural family.

 http://lawfam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/4/1/97

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