Birth Families: Characteristics
and Patterns of Contact
This chapter is about birth families and their contacts with the foster child.1 No one doubts the importance of this issue. Qualitative studies have shown how children and their families struggle to make sense of the child's entry to the care system (e.g. Bullock et al. 1993; Fisher et al. 1986; Kahan 1979; Loveday 1985; Stein and Carey 1986; Triseliotis etal. 1995; Whitaker 1985). In doing so they variously blame themselves, each other and the social workers, strive or fail to strive to get back together and variously find as time passes that absence makes the heart fonder, that family loyalties prohibit new attachments, that past relationships become as ghosts or that memories and their links to identity grow idealised or faint.
In keeping with some of these observations, official and professional advice is that children and their families should be kept together where possible and kept in touch if not (Department of Health 1989; Thoburn 1994). The reasons advanced are diverse. Some relate to the economic and other advantages of preventive work. Many relate to the inability of the state to act as a good parent. It is seen as incapable of providing permanent security or even a reasonable education. Placements do not always work out and a fall-back is needed. Children who lose their parents often lose touch with their siblings and thus potential nephews and nieces, not to mention their own grandparents, aunts and uncles. And even without these arguments, children usually want their own families, and their parents want them. It is neither legally possible nor ethically desirable to separate them.