Looked After Children's Right to Contact with Birth Parents: An Australian Study

In Australia, there are more than 46,000 children in out-of-home care (OOHC). Most of these children have been in OOHC for more than 2 years. Similarly, there are more than 407,000 children in the United States and over 80,800 in England who are ‘looked after’ with approximately one third of these children being in OOHC for more than 2 years.

This paper concerns ‘looked after’ children's rights to contact with their birth parents. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) requires child protection systems to recognize the rights of children to maintain contact with their families except where this is not in the child's ‘best interests’.

In this paper, the authors report on a qualitative study conducted in Australia exploring legal and family support practitioners' perceptions of barriers to contact between children in OOHC and their birth parents. The thematic analysis identified four themes: These were as follows: a focus on systems driven responses; lack of cultural recognition and responsiveness; carers' disconnection from birth parents; and parents' exclusion. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for understanding and recognizing children's right to contact with birth parents.