Parents going through a separation have a strain on their finances like any family but are also dealing with additional costs relating to their separation. In the majority of cases separated parents manage to work together to sort out arrangements for their children. When parents need additional support child contact centres are there to help keep children in touch with both parents. In a recent survey of its members the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) found that two thirds of its supported centres are able to offer their services for free (or for a nominal charge of £1-£2 per session) with 20% of centres just charging a one-off fee (on average £43) to help with towards the costs of running the centre to the high standards set by NACCC’s accreditation requirements. 6% of centres charge to help set up a family’s referral and/or charge parents each time they use the centre.

In addition over 150 supervised contact services are open which ensure the physical safety and emotional well-being of a child when risks have been identified. These services offer a range of services including supervised contact, indirect contact, life story work and assessments. They often offer supported contact as well and can offer great flexibility to families – particularly when parents work shifts or want to set up weekend handovers. Due to the staffing commitment these centres charge different rates for different contact services.

How is this achieved?

An army of volunteers form the backbone to supported contact services, run mainly by local community groups and charities on a not for profit basis and it is estimated that over 9000 people volunteer their time helping local families. It is through this commitment that enables over 220 centres round the UK to offer ‘supported contact’ – a safe, neutral and comfortable place for children to see their non-resident parents where their parents do not have to meet. Around 50 services in the UK offering both supported and/or supervised contact are run on a not-for-profit basis either via a registered charity or local authority –and are supported by an estimated 600 volunteers.  Stringent procedures need to be followed to ensure that children and families maintain high standards of safety for both children, parents and centre staff and these are overseen by either voluntary or paid co-ordinators. Paid and voluntary co-ordinators undergo compulsory NACCC training and have to multi-task: carry out risk assessments – ensuring that children are going to be safe at their centre; assist parents and children in their preparation for contact; liaise with referral agencies (including mediators, family solicitors, Cafcass officers and the judiciary) whilst ensuring their centre meets the rigorous accreditation requirements set by NACCC.

It is a challenge!

It’s not easy to balance the books – but still they do. Through grants, local fundraising events, bag packing and donations these centres still manage to keep their service free or fantastic value to the end user – the parents and children needing those hugs, those words to keep that essential continuity.

Elizabeth Coe (NACCC’s CEO) in her recent BBC 5 Live interview said:

“If children are not having good quality contact with the parent they no longer live with they can suffer from mental health problems, behavioural problems and have difficulties in developing their own relationships. The knock on effect of this not happening properly is very dire and will cost the country a lot more money”

Elizabeth appealed to anyone interested in volunteering to contact their local contact centre. Following Elizabeth Coe’s interview NACCC received many calls and emails from people wanting to volunteer and help at their local centre. If you are interested in volunteering your time, would like to help fundraise or offer some other form of support in kind, then please do contact NACCC.

NACCC is a Registered Charity 1078638.

NB:   Data sourced from NACCC’s annual information survey of accredited centres (March 2015) and NACCC’s quarterly statistical returns analysis (July 2014-Mar 2015). Please refer to NACCC’s magazine Contact Matters (Autumn 2015) for further details.

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