I'm out of practice with contacts. Baby Girl had a few at the beginning of her placement last year but I didn't have to take her for those. The year before that I had LB for a couple of weeks respite so I did a few contacts then, and before that it was NB who had his final contact nearly two years ago. That's a long time to be out of the swing of things.
Taking children to regular contacts with their family members is part of the job, no bones about it. That's made clear from the very beginning, so we take it all in our stride. Oh but it is nice to have those periods without them!
Our local contact centre is a 20 minute drive away. Birdy's contacts last for one hour, so there's no point returning home. This means finding something close by to do for that hour twice a week, every week, with OB in tow. We have been over to the nearby supermarket for our lunch several times as one of the contacts falls right across lunchtime. We have been to the park - it's a great park but we need decent weather! There is a tiny library. If I was on my own, I'd just take a book, no problem, but OB needs something more than that, and I'm conscious that I don't want these times to be completely negative ones for him, hanging around, bored.
The local contact service doesn't do contacts in the community any more due to budgetary restrictions, but Birdy does have one contact per week at her mum's home via a special arrangement. This is better as the venue is closer and the contact is longer, but it feels very strange to me to be entering someone else's home like that. It's something I haven't done before.
I was very much hoping that some of Birdy's contacts would take place while OB is at playgroup so he wouldn't need to be involved, but the timing of contacts is dependent on availability of contact supervisors so, sadly, that wasn't possible. Every single contact takes place at a time when OB is with me. This means that I cannot keep him separate from what is going on at all. He has met and spoken to Birdy's mum, various social workers and contact supervisors. The contact centre I take Birdy to is the same place I took him to all those years ago. That feels strange too.
Taking a child to contact regularly is the perfect antidote to any confusion about whose child this is. It's just another way in which raising a looked after child is not at all the same as raising your own child. Contact means meeting with birth mum regularly and walking a tightrope between demonstrating to her that you are appropriately loving and caring towards her child, while at the same time not making her feel as though she is completely cut out, less of a mother. This is hard. I spend nearly every moment of every day with Birdy. Her mum gets a few hours each week. I know more about that child than her own mother, but she doesn't necessarily see it this way. It's tricky to explain to mum that Birdy needs winding several times each feed, without totally humiliating her. Birdy often has problems with wind on contact days. Different birth mums approach this relationship in different ways depending on their circumstances.
Then there are the times when mum is late to contact or misses it altogether. I am supposed to wait for 15 minutes and then leave. This is not for my convenience. It is designed to be in the best interests of the child to not have them waiting in some featureless foyer, wound up with stress and disappointment. Today, Birdy's mum was trying to negotiate with me for an extra contact because she had to miss one recently due to an appointment. It's not my negotiation. I can't authorise that. But I think it's unlikely that the powers that be will agree to it since she's been a no-show at previous contacts.
I don't think anybody that knows me would particularly describe me as 'diplomatic'. I have to reach deep within myself to be diplomatic with birth parents sometimes. I have the deepest respect for social workers who have to have these conversations every day, sometimes several times a day, and remain professional, diplomatic and firm while delivering bad news and saying 'no'.
Then there are little niggling things. Sometimes when I go to pick up Birdy from the contact she has at her mum's home, she is not ready. I have been waiting in her flat for as long as 15 minutes, with OB in tow. Awkward. Sometimes I send Birdy in one set of clothes and she comes home in another. Sometimes her dummy doesn't come back with her. Today she came home in a new snow suit, but without the snow suit I had sent her in. All of Birdy's belonging are hers and not mine, of course, but I need them to be where she lives, not where she visits. These are little inconveniences but they can annoy and fester. That mustn't be allowed to happen.
Right now, we are in limbo. I don't know what Birdy's care plan is, so I don't know what I'm working towards. If the social worker tells me that we are working towards rehabilitation with mum, then things will change again. Contacts will probably increase and we will all work together to try to make that a success. This might mean facilitating extra contacts myself, making greater efforts to support mum with Birdy's care needs, going out and about together. I will become a supporter, a helper, an ally. We will get to know each other and will understand more completely the nature of our relationship. Right now, I'm just the woman who's got her baby.