Many children in non-kinship foster care maintain contact with their birth parents, although debate continues about whether or not, or under what circumstances, it is beneficial to the child. In this scoping review the authors analyze the findings of studies conducted over the past two decades that have specifically examined face-to-face contact with birth parents for children in non-kinship foster care, with the goal of determining more clearly when it may contribute positively to the child's well-being. The review was conducted in accordance with PRISMA-ScR guidelines and involved a search of nine electronic databases.
A total of 21 studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review, namely primary studies analyzing one or more aspects of these contact visits, written in English or Spanish, and published during the period 1997–2022. In analyzing these studies the authors grouped their findings according to four broad areas of interest: characteristics of contact visits, appraisal of visits by families and professionals, relationship between contact and fostering outcomes, and impact of contact on children.
The four main conclusions they drew from the review were: a) surprisingly few studies have specifically examined the effects of face-to-face contact with birth parents in non-kinship foster care; b) the findings to date are neither conclusive nor generalizable, although they are not generally encouraging; c) under the right circumstances (e.g., adequate supervision, conducted in a context of emotional security for the child), contact can contribute to the child's well-being and increase the likelihood of family reunification; and d) more robust research is needed to guide the development of interventions that can improve parent–child relationships and the quality of contact visits.