Cuts to legal aid have resulted in the closure of several child contact centres, a charity claims.
‘Child contact centres’ provide children with a venue to see their non-resident parents following a divorce or separation. According to the charity National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC), ten per cent of such centres have been closed due to a lack of referrals.
There was a significant drop in the number of children who used one of these centres since the legal aid cuts were introduced. In 2013, centres were used by 15,000 children. Last year, that number fell to 9,000.
The NACCC claims that a significant number of their referrals come from solicitors, and as the number of parents who become litigants in person is increasing, there are fewer who know about these centres.
Elizabeth Coe is the chief executive of NACCC. She said that usually, a parent’s “first port of call would be a solicitor, but that is not happening now”. The closure of more contact centres may disproportionately affect fathers, she added, as they make up the majority of non-resident parents.
The legal aid cuts “may prove a false economy” unless more people are made aware of the centres and the services they provide, Coe said.
To combat this problem, NACCC announced the launch of a new campaign which seeks to raise people’s awareness of child contact centres. One of the central messages of the campaign is that parents do not have to be going through the court system in order to access the centres, nor do they need to have a solicitor.
For more on the campaign, click here.