Professionals' beliefs about contact between children in alternative care and their birth parents.

Harris, Rita (1999). Professionals' beliefs about contact between children in alternative care and their birth parents. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study explored the beliefs and assumptions that affect professionals in the decision making process about contact between children in permanent alternative care and their birth parents. Nine professionals from three groups, guardian ad Litems; judges and independent experts, were interviewed, using semi-structured interviews. The verbatim transcripts of these interviews were the data for an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Five overarching themes emerged in guiding the work of professionals, which were described as, parental capacity; children's rights and wishes; contact as central to identity; the safety and the age of the child. There were seven other common themes, which were described as, permanency and stability; having an open mind; adoption as different to other forms of permanency; attachment; ethnicity/race/gender/culture; views of alternative parents and power and responsibility. Three themes occurred in only one group or individual interview, and were described as, having differing and conflicting views to others; contact as having a symbolic function and the law as paramount.The guardian ad Litems emphasised the importance of contact as central to identity, and were strongly influenced by research supporting this view. They often felt disempowered in legal proceedings. The experts took a "detached" evidence based position, and were particularly concerned about the safety and emotional needs of children. The judges worked within a legal framework, within which individual differences emerged. The issue of power and responsibility given to certain discourses is discussed. The similarities and differences within and between groups are understood in terms of the different ways in which professionals position themselves in relation to contact, based on professional roles and responsibilities, within a social and cultural framework, and influenced by a range of professional and personal experiences'. Consideration is given to how the themes are played out in discourses used to present and argue a position. A number of tensions and contradictions emerged. Findings were considered in the light of outcome research and a social constructionist perspective". The co-ordinated management of meanings". Possible recommendations for ways in which professionals may become more aware of their beliefs and assumptions affecting decision making about contact, are made. The open and thoughtful manner in which professionals responded to the research interview and sought feedback supports the idea that greater openness in the decision making process about contact, between children in permanent alternative care and their birth parents, would be beneficial.

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