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Contact between children in out-of-home placements and their family and friends networks : a research review

Sen, Robin and Broadhurst, Karen (2011) Contact between children in out-of-home placements and their family and friends networks : a research review. Child and Family Social Work, 16 (3). pp. 298-309. ISSN 1356-7500

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This paper provides a detailed narrative review of the current knowledge base regarding family contact for children in out-of-home foster, kinship and residential placements. The review considers the research base around the familiar topics of the relationship between contact and outcomes for children, the perspectives of children, parents and carers in respect of contact and contact between siblings. It also discusses research evidence around emerging, and less well-recognized themes which include the impact of intensive contact on infants, re-establishing contact between children and birth parents when it has been lost, contact between children, their extended family and ‘significant others’, and the role of technology in family contact. In providing an overview of key research, the review concludes that good quality contact with family members in conjunction with other positive professional interventions, will likely promote positive outcomes for children regarding successful family reunification and/or placement stability. Social workers' central role in influencing the pattern and quality of contact for children is underlined. However, the review cautions against making broad prescriptions for all children, given that poorly planned, poor quality and unsupported contact may be harmful. Finally, key areas of learning for practice and priority directions for future research are summarized.