If a parent cannot see a child directly, they can still remain in touch via things such as cards or letters, this is known as indirect contact.
Indirect contact can feel frustrating, perhaps even futile at times, but it’s worth pursuing as a contact parent or resident parent. It may be the best, or only, thing you can do for your child right now.
The benefits for children include:
- Knowing that they are cared about and have not been deserted
- Knowing that the contact parent is ‘doing okay’ (prevents feelings of guilt)
- Growing up with a sense of their own completeness – having two parents
- Developing a full sense of their own identity – drawing from both parents, their backgrounds, cultures, personalities and physical features
- Being able to easily resume direct contact at some time in the future
- Having a further possible source of support, advice or guidance
- Avoiding an unrealistic impression of the contact parent; children can create positive or negative fantasies, such as a father who will one day make everything all right or a witch-like mother who is ready to harm them: both these false ideas are bad for children (and can last way beyond childhood)
- Experiencing problem solving
- Learning more about how to manage a relationship in difficult circumstances – this helps them in their own relationships when they are older
At least three people are involved in an indirect contact arrangement: the child, the person sending the indirect contact and the resident parent of the child. Both parents play a vital role with the resident parent being required to support and encourage the child in the correspondence.
Our Indirect Contact handbook is available to download in our resources section.
Tips on writing a letter to your child
- Cater for your audience – consider the age, interests and personality of your child
- Imagine you’re holding a conversation with your child – be chatty and tell stories
- Avoid asking lots of questions – instead, ask one question then answer it about yourself
- Consider the way the letter looks – this is what is first ‘seen’ by the receiver. For example you could include a range of colours or use stickers
- Avoid overly-emotional statements – a simple ‘I miss you’, ‘Thinking of you,’ or ‘Love from…’ is enough
- Your child needs to get to know you – talk about your life, because even the more mundane aspects will be of interest
- On occasion mention your family members – children need to know they have another whole family, but don’t confuse them with lots of new information
- Occasional recollections of positive family experiences reminds children that they are loved by both parents
Making Indirect Contact interesting
- Choose some meaningful photos and talk about them. For example, you might like to think about work, home life, a day trip or holiday. Or what about a recent event you’ve attended, such as a birthday party, show or concert?
- Cut out some pictures or articles from newspapers and magazines that reflect your child’s hobbies, such as animals, sport or the arts. Perhaps something funny catches your eye. Maybe you’ve visited an event and bought a programme you think might interest them
- What about themed magazines, charity membership or leaflets about attractions? For example, junior membership of the RSPCA includes quarterly newsletters and fun pack; adoption of an animal from the World Wildlife Fund includes a certificate, regular updates and a soft toy; The Donkey Sanctuary has a junior club called ‘Donkidz’; and television programmes such as Robot Wars or World Wrestling Entertainment have fan clubs to join
Make a list of ideas which might be of interest to you both. It might be something unusual or bizarre, a funny joke, something amusing which happened to you or friends, or something that caught your eye in the street.
Above all, don’t be afraid to share what you do in everyday life, such as stories from work, what you had for dinner and where you’re going out.
- Think about any information you’d like to share. Perhaps you’ve seen someone that they know, or maybe there’s a special event like a birthday coming up?
- To make a change from writing letters, send a postcard or make your own card
- Create a story from photos, with brief caption-style text (such as a day in your life)
- Send a small gift, perhaps bought on holiday. In your letter, let the child know you found it for them while away – this lets them know they were in your thoughts
- Send something which can grow or develop, such as some sunflower seeds with growing instructions, or a picture for them to finish and colour
Indirect Contact: The Resident Parent’s Role
Arrangements for indirect contact vary. Your child might receive post directly at home. Maybe you’ll check the contents first. Your child might have post delivered by professional staff, and this might involve a conversation or assessment. Your role is to enthusiastically encourage your child to receive the mail and to create a response. If you keep a positive attitude, your child will benefit hugely.
If your child appears reluctant to receive the mail or is negative about their other parent, it is important for you to still keep positive. Show that you think them receiving the mail is a positive thing, remain fairly ‘matter-of-fact’. Don’t make a big thing out of it – accept it as a normal part of life. Why not encourage your child to keep the things they receive, perhaps in a decorated box or drawer? You could keep things on their behalf if they’re unsure at first.
You might find it difficult to stay positive if your memories of your ex-partner are upsetting. However, relationships start well, so think about what attracted you to the person at the beginning. Although things ended badly, there were good times along the way and your child would not be who they are without that other parent. Your role in encouraging indirect contact is part of being a good parent.