Reproduced with permission from the Law Society © Copyright Law Society
Child Contact Centres are a valuable (although limited) resource and solicitors should be aware of their local Centres and the facilities and services that they provide. Child Contact Centres have agreed to adhere to a set of National Standards. The Protocol for Referrals has been developed by the National Association of Child Contact Centres and endorsed by leading members of the judiciary.
The majority of Child Contact Centres provide supported contact whereby contact can take place in the centre or children can be handed from one parent to the other. Consideration should also be given to the appropriateness of arranging a hand over using third parties and keeping parents apart with no face-to-face contact with each other. Solicitors should explain to clients the difference between supported and supervised contact before the first contact visit at a Child Contact Centre occurs.
Where violence is an issue, careful thought should be given to the use of Child Contact Centres. In cases of domestic violence (especially where there have been criminal proceedings or injunctive relief) supervised contact will generally be necessary, at least initially. There are a small number of Child Contact Centres which undertake high vigilance supervision, and the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) have details of their member Centres which provide this service. It is often useful for clients to visit the Child Contact Centre before the first contact period takes place.
Contact Centres are not equipped to deal with abusers who pose a serious threat to their families and it is vital that the Centre Co-ordinator is given the full background (orally, if necessary) in order to decide whether the Centre can accommodate the family. Referral forms must be completed as fully and accurately as possible. It is important that Child Contact Centres have full information about details of violent or abusive behaviour.
Solicitors must make it clear on referral forms if other family members can be present during the contact visit. Solicitors for the resident parent should discuss with them the need to prepare the child for the visit.
Solicitors have a duty of confidentiality to their clients and cannot reveal details about their client without the client’s consent. If clients refuse to give consent to reveal information required on the referral form, a referral should not be made.
No Child Contact Centre can guarantee that a child will not be removed from it. It is vital that Centres are warned if there is a fear of this or if there have been threats of abduction. If so, solicitors should discuss with the resident parent giving the centre recent photographs of the children and of the non-resident parent, if possible. If there is a possibility of abduction abroad, solicitors for parents with residence should be asked to retain the passports of parents having contact and/or a those of the children to ensure safe contact can take place.
If it is not possible to access an appropriate contact service then the issue of face-to-face contact should be carefully reviewed. Other forms of contact might be suggested such as letters, telephone calls and the use of audio or video tapes. In serious cases, consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to seek an order for no contact.
Solicitors should advise their clients that they should inform Centres when they no longer need to use them. Clients should be made aware that Child Contact Centres are regarded by the court as a temporary solution to difficulties in contact and not a permanent arrangement.Solicitors should make clients aware that, in general, volunteers and staff at Child Contact Centres do not provide reports or statements for any type of court proceedings unless a child is believed to be at risk of harm. However, a few supervised Child Contact Centres are an exception to this general rule.