When relationships break down, agreeing how and when parents, guardians or relatives see the children isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes it can be necessary to use contact centres to support or supervise a person’s contact with the children, whether it be due to allegations where the children have been exposed to harm, or sometimes to help repair relationships where there has been no contact for a lengthy period. Contact centres are also regularly used by Local Authorities when children have been removed from their parents’ care and to promote an ongoing relationship while parenting assessments take place.
Allegations of harm and abuse and use of contact centres
We regularly deal with situations like these and advise parents in situations when the parental relationship has broken down and often in circumstances where there are allegations of abuse. Court proceedings, which should be a last resort, can sometimes involve recommendations by CAFCASS for an interrogation of incidents involving the children leading to fact finding hearings and risk assessments of parents if there are issues about safety. This can lead to the use of contact centres to help facilitate a safe and monitored contact between the children. Supervised or supported contact is usually considered only a temporary arrangement and a stepping stone towards rehabilitating a relationship with a parent – sometimes this doesn’t have to be in relation to safety concerns, it could be due to a long period of no contact taking place and to help reassure parents and rebuild a relationship.
Local Authority involvement
We also deal with cases where Local Authorities become involved due to child protection or welfare issues when there is a risk of, or children are temporarily removed from their parents’ care. This will frequently lead to the use of contact centre services to help promote and facilitate ongoing family contact. Local Authorities will regularly offer supervised contact to parents during care proceedings whilst ongoing assessments are completed and longer term decisions are made for the children.
When contact is supported or supervised, certainly when there is Local Authority involvement, notes are taken by the contact supervisor so that they can be kept and distributed to the other parties to the court proceedings, and then shared with the court. They should reflect very clearly what has happened at contact and note both positives and negatives. They should be independent and an accurate interpretation of what has happened. The notes can be relied upon and adduced as evidence to the court to help support a party’s case (or the opposite).
It is very important as a parent that the focus of contact sessions should be on the child. This isn’t easy and parents understandably often find it difficult being watched, they can feel stressed or under pressure, and the centre may feel artificial. Asking questions and seeking advice about what to do in certain situations is always sensible – be proactive and don’t assume things if you are unsure, and try to make contact as positive as you can.
It is so so important that notes of contact are checked – there is sometimes the opportunity to do this immediately after contact, or it may be shortly afterwards when the notes have been typed. Don’t be afraid to check, and if appropriate, challenge the notes if you say they are wrong. Sometimes mistakes are made and it is much easier to check and agree the notes closer to the time than trying to remember what did or didn’t happen weeks later.
If you are involved in a situation where your children have supervised or supported contact, and if you have any questions or would like to seek advice about this please do get in touch. If your children are at risk of removal from the Local Authority or you are involved in proceedings brought by the Local Authority then do get in touch with us to see if we can help. Legal aid may be available to you in situations concerning Local Authority involvement and we have a team of specialist advisors that may be able to help you. You can reach our Children team by phone on: 0345 450 5558 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org