Child contact centre campaign by John Bolch

Children|Family|October 7th 2013

Napo, the professional association for family court advisors and probation officers, has voiced support for a campaign to promote the statutory provision of funding to child contact centres. The campaign is also aiming for adoption of minimum standards for the training, support and supervision of child contact centre co-ordinators.

Child contact centres, which are largely run by volunteers, operate around the country providing a neutral, safe environment in which children can maintain a relationship with a non resident parent after separation. They offer various services, including supported contact (where staff are available for assistance but there is no close observation) and supervised contact, where it is has been determined that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm during contact. They can also simply be used as a venue where contact handovers can take place.

Contact centres are used for many reasons. In some cases there may be concerns for the child’s safety. In other cases it may be all that can be achieved for the time being in oreer to secure some contact in the presence of extreme parental hostility. In both cases child contact centres offer the child some chance of keeping in touch with the other parent.

In a statement on its website, Napo said:

“Napo is concerned that this vital resource for children, their parents and the Family Courts is by no means secure. The provision of Child Contact Centres is uneven around the country, and their continuity of service is entirely dependent upon poorly resourced, poorly supported and often unsupervised volunteers.”

The statement went on:

“Napo believes that the time has arrived when both Parliament and the Courts should acknowledge the role taken by Child Contact Centre volunteers is both invaluable and indispensible, and needs to be recognised in statute as a service to children, parents and the Courts.”

I regularly utilised contact centres whilst I was practising. In fact, they often provided the only sensible option in  contact disputes, and quite what we would do without them I don’t know. To think that such an important item in the toolbox available to courts dealing with such disputes relies upon volunteers and donations is both extremely worrying and typical of a family justice system run on a shoestring.

You can sign a petition in support of the campaign here.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Comments(5)

  1. Stitchedup says:

    it’s worrying that contact centres rely on volunteer staff. Given the sensitivity of the situation, it would seem appropriate to have these centres staffed by suitably qualified and hopefully unbiased professionals.

  2. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    Increased funding for child contact centres is a great idea, however I do question the practical aspects of such a move.

  3. Paul says:

    Thanks to a NAPO court welfare officer recommendation that I “take a step back” after years of litigating to stay in touch , I have not seen one of my children for over twelve years and by all accounts, won’t ever. Another popped out of the woodwork briefly after ten years – as a fully grown adult – to say “hello dad”, and promptly disappeared again. Made me feel as though I had the plague.

    That’s what happens when courts provide for minimal contact, allow mothers to flout those contact orders and put prison officers in charge of family court welfare work to back that up. Our Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, thinks it a wonderful system that doesn’t need changing.

    Fathers in child care and custody disputes should refuse to see their children in a contact centre. They are nothing more than gulags – tools of oppression to belittle and humiliate separated fathers.

  4. Yvie says:

    I have never been inside a contact centre, but I would imagine for most fathers it would be a last resort. When a father has loved and shared the care of his children prior to separation, why should that shared care not continue post-separation? If there was a presumed 50/50 shared care on the point of separation there would be less need for such places, however well managed they might be. How must a father feel when he is trying to build up a relationship with his children, with a third party looking on whilst he attempts to do it. I am sure that contact centres do provide a valuable service, but only in extreme circumstances.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yvie, in my capacity, I’ve visited several of these, so can tell you all about them. They are not 50/50 moms and dads, as you would expect in a gender equal society. They are full of men. They were conceived and established as yet another measure to rub the faces of fathers in the dirt, and exist to separate dads with dignity (those who refuse to do their prison sentences within them) from those that are willing to forget about their dignity, and let the system continue with its abusiveness toward fathers.

    You are greeted by people who actually think you are there for a good reason, and so automatically distrust you. They watch your every move, as you interact with your children in an environment that smells like urine and vomit, and which may contain an assortment of toys from 1978. They have been told to be on the lookout for all sorts of behaviors deemed inappropriate, and children soon pick up on this. They are excellent environments in which to spread germs, so if you are looking to get your children really sick, they are good places for that too.

    The worrying thing about contact centers is that they presume, like most of our child and family services, that children are stupid. Unfortunately, children are not stupid. They know what is going on. They read all the messages and signs that contact centers communicate. What they communicate is that dad needs to be watched, controlled, supervised. This is deeply unsettling for children, and contributes to their fear and reluctance to enter into a relationship with dads. Hence, they are just as likely actually lead to an order of no contact.

    In sum, contact centers serve only the family law industry and its minions, not families.

    With one exception perhaps: all that they do for dads is provide for him a safe point of handover where that handover can be monitored; since he is not on the mother’s doorstep, malicious allegations that he was abusive on the mother’s doorstep cannot be made.

    I can say a lot more if anyone is interested in the truth.

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