Practices to Improve Communication between Birth Parents and Permanent Families


  • Dr Susan Collings The University of Sydney
  • Professor Elsbeth Neil University of East Anglia
  • Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright The University of Sydney


Open Adoption, Contact, Out-of-home Care, Permanency


Background: Support to maintain important family relationships is seen as a right for children in permanent care in Australia. In New South Wales, newly legislated permanency principles prioritise open adoption over long-term foster care and require plans for ongoing, face-toface (known as direct) birth family contact for children in permanent placements. Countries with similar child welfare systems do not place the same emphasis on contact after permanent removal and it is especially uncommon to see direct contact given priority in open adoption.

The problem: There is mixed evidence on the benefits of contact for children in permanent care. The quality of the relationship between birth relatives and caregivers is critical to the success of contact. Casework support is key to promoting understanding and communication between children’s birth parents and permanent carers or adoptive parents. The emerging permanency model in New South Wales does not yet have an evidence base and most caseworkers lack the skills to help these families build a constructive relationship in the interests of ongoing contact for children.

The solution: Casework practices developed for use in child welfare placements elsewhere may be successfully applied to New South Wales to help build the practical skills needed to facilitate openness, empathy and respectful interactions. These practices need to be tested and refined to build an evidence base on what works to support ongoing direct contact for children who are permanently removed from parental care.

Author Biographies

Dr Susan Collings , The University of Sydney

Research Fellow, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, School of Education and Social Work

Professor Elsbeth Neil, University of East Anglia

School of Social Work

Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright , The University of Sydney

Director, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, School of Education and Social Work


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