In these uncertain times, it’s understandable that carers may be feeling elevated concerns about how to manage the changing expectations of contact with family members. As a therapeutic service, Take Two offers this guidance in managing the heightened emotions and thoughts of children in the out-of-home care (OOHC) system in these times. We also provide a list of some free video calling apps and programs that might be suitable to use.
It’s important to note that there are likely to be many changes in expectations regarding contact that Berry Street’s Take Two service is not able to provide guidance about. These include supervision requirements, safety, privacy, court-ordered contact and other such factors. These matters are the responsibility of the statutory and placement agency case managers and case planners. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Children’s Court are also currently considering some of these questions and are in the best position to provide advice.
Below we have outlined what we see as some key considerations for carers and care teams of children in OOHC in relation to contact arrangements during COVID-19.
Planning contact visits: a care team approach
Care team meetings provide an opportunity for the key members of each child’s therapeutic web to meet, discuss and make thoughtful plans that are unique and individualised for that child. This includes how contact can safely happen according to legal requirements when face-to-face visits are no longer possible.
Whilst not an exclusive list of considerations, the care team may consider:
- What support all parties (the family, the child and the carer/s) need before, during and after the contact session with a focus on emotional regulation and safety?
- What is the current case plan and legal mandates regarding contact visits? Has there been a review of the case plan in the context of COVID-19 and implications for contact visits? If relevant, how will contact visits be supervised and how will this be facilitated?
- What form of technology best fits the age and stage of development of the child (recorded videos, telephone, video conferencing such as Skype, Facetime or Zoom). How long can the child sustain attention to different activities, including phone/video calls? Here’s more information about some of the common video calling platforms.
- What was the format of contact visits prior to COVID-19? What activities were usually involved, and can this be replicated via communication technologies in any way?
- What activities can the children and their family members engage in during contact? It’s important to remember that any activity that occurs during contact must be appropriate to the developmental age, abilities and personal preferences of the child, as well as within the abilities of the family member.
- What relationship has the child and/or their carer had with their family before COVID-19? Are there particular strengths that can be drawn on? Or, are there any risks that continue to exist or have emerged that need to be considered or addressed?
- Is the placement undisclosed? If so, how will the carer and child’s privacy and safety be maintained?
- What is the role of the carer during the contact visit? What role do others play in supporting the carer’s role in facilitating contact remotely?
- How will the changes regarding the use of different mediums for contact visits be communicated to the child and family?
- How confident are the different parties in using technology and what support is required? Who will set up the technology required to facilitate contact?
Some practical considerations for carers when supporting contact between child and family
- Does the carer have a clear plan (in consultation with the care team) about their role during the contact? Will they stay in the room with the child? If not, will they check in regularly with the child during the session and what will this look like?
- Will the carer direct the child’s interaction with their family members and/or will they interact with the family members – what might this entail?
- If using video calling platforms, some (like Zoom and Skype) have a function where you can “blur my background” which means what the family will see is the child/ren but they can’t distinguish the specifics of the room behind the child. Is the carer aware of this function and how to use it? Check this option is available prior to any contact session happening.
- Has the carer (or another appropriate professional) had a conversation with the child about what will happen during contact? Has the child been shown how the technology (phone/iPad/computer) will work? It may be helpful for the child to ‘rehearse’ an online contact (i.e. by role-playing it briefly with their carer prior)?
- Has the carer set the child up in a specific room, and provided them with toys/drawing materials/books/photos/music etc. that they can share with their family members via the screen?
- Has the carer prepared the room/house prior to the contact, to remove any identifying or particularly personal items that they don’t wish the child’s family members to see during the contact?
- Transitioning into and out of the contact will often be challenging for the child and their family members. It may be helpful to have a clock in the room (for kids who can tell time), and/or to have an agreement with the child and their family about having some sort of ‘count down’ as the end of the contact time approaches. Think about whether the carer needs to do this count down, or the family can do it (or whether both is best).
- Some children (and their family) will find an ‘ending’ ritual helpful – is there a particular goodbye routine that the child might engage in with their family? A song? A familiar phrase or conversation?
- Is there an activity that the carer can engage the child in following contact visits that is regulating and rewarding?
Challenging times mean more support is needed
Take Two recognise that these are extraordinarily challenging times for carers and that extra levels of support are likely needed. As each child, family and care team is different, it is impossible to offer one consistent solution to everyone. This document aims to provide prompts and points of consideration that care teams of children in OOHC placements might take when supporting children and families during contact visits that occur via communication technologies.
Whilst this has been developed in response to COVID-19, this guidance is relevant outside of this context and can be generalised accordingly.
Take Two is a Victoria-wide outreach service provided by Berry Street on behalf of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The service is recognised all over the world as a leading model of how best to support children and young people who have experienced complex developmental trauma.
Take Two can provide specialist clinical consultancy services to other organisations. Contact us for more information.
Models appear in our photographs to protect the identity of our clients.