Contact with both parents is vitally important for children of separated families. Elizabeth Coe, Chief Executive of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, explains how they are working to maintain that contact at this time.
Over 350 child contact centres operate around the country, which are accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).
These centres directly support local authorities in improving the outcomes and well-being of children and young people. Child contact centres receive significant numbers of referrals from local authorities.
Some local authorities commission these centres directly, but often it is down to the voluntary sector to provide this vital space and support.
A lack of contact with parents has a negative impact on a child’s emotional, health and educational wellbeing as having a negative impact on the wider economy. These negative impacts can start from six months-old and last into adolescence and adulthood.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Early intervention is vital and contact, in places like child contact centres, is shown to improve the lives of children from separated families.
The NACCC is providing regularly updated guidance to ensure parenting shouldn’t end when relationships do, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Supported and supervised Child Contact Centres will close as physical spaces, but a number of accredited Child Contact Centres are now providing alternative ways to ensure that child contact can continue to take place.
While taking into account the government’s Stay At Home, Save Lives instructions, this contact will include using technology to facilitate contact or supporting a family to arrange handover points (in line with guidance from the President of the Family Division). As an absolute last resort possibly acting as a handover point with consent from both parents and while not risking the safety of children, parents, volunteers and staff.
In more detail, we are clear that contact between families and children should be maintained if possible and there are ways that child contact centres can help. What will be available will differ from centre to centre, but local authorities could expect initiatives such as the below examples to be available:
- Centres are working creatively with families to see if there are other people that might be able to take up the role of the contact centre. This works well where there are family members or other trusted people that can step in, to support. The government has detailed that children can travel to see parents and the judiciary are urging parents to work together in making decisions for children where this is safe and appropriate.
- Indirect Contact is being achieved using technology like Skype, WhatsApp video calling, FaceTime and so on. Some centres are finding ways to support this so that similar arrangements can be implemented in line with the services usually being offered.
- Other centres are reducing service sizes and availability. This means that whilst the centre may have suspended contact, as an absolute last resort, it might be possible for them to offer handovers for those parents who just cannot organise this without the centre.
We would strongly urge local authorities and members of the public to contact NACCC or your local contact centre to find out what services are available locally and when this might change.
Information about how to find and contact your local centre can be found here National Association of Child Contact Centres.