Bridge Child Contact Centre provides supported contact in Hull, based at the Maurice Rawlings Community Centre and is situated on a local council estate, a ten-minute walk from the city centre and transport interchange. The majority of referrals to the centre come from parents directly but referrals can be made by a solicitor or other professional. In addition to the contact centre the community centre is also used by the local radio station, as a foodbank, a translation service is offered for those whose English is not the first language, and a number of clubs such as karate and music. However, on a Saturday, the centre has sole use of the building for a small rent.
The centre was originally opened in the mid-1990s as a joint venture between WRVS and National Family Mediation and then when WRVS changed focus National Family Mediation ran it alone. In 2009 when it was looking that the centre was no longer financially viable, a group of lawyers, mediators and a family judge pledged to keep it running and it has been running successfully since then.
The centre is lucky to have two co-ordinators who have been in post since 2017, although both had previously volunteered at the centre. There is always at least one of the coordinators on duty on a Saturday. Generally, parents are invited to visit the centre separately to attend a pre-contact visit in advance of contact and are given clear written instructions about which entrances to use and what times to arrive (the centre implements staggered arrival and departure times to avoid parents having to meet if this is going to be an issue). At the time of the report due to Covid restrictions pre-visits were taking place online or by telephone and contracts and centre rules were being emailed to each parent. Previously children would have been invited to the centre for a pre-contact visit, but with the new temporary way of working they arrive before the non-resident parent on the first session so that they can meet staff/volunteers and look around the centre to familiarise themselves.
The centre has a central hallway off a secure locked entrance door with buzzer. The volunteer on duty in the reception area welcomes children into the building and escorts them to their parent as soon as possible. At the time of the report, temperatures were being taken upon arrival and social distancing was being observed with the main hall set out with sets of tables for a family to sit together. Parents were being asked to bring their own activities which was working well. There is a small kitchen on site but parents do not have access to this. There are male and female toilets and an accessible toilet. All are cleaned before and after the session by the staff on duty, this is in addition to any other cleaning taking place.
Guidelines for referrers are available and give clear instructions and details for a potential referrer or parent. An excellent leaflet for parents is available, which gives relevant information and answers questions that would typically be asked by potential users of the service, including how to complain and what happens at the centre. At the time of the report families pay a £100 referral fee and this buys them a maximum of 12 sessions. Most families are ready to move on before this, but for those that remain at session 10 one of the coordinators will speak to the parents about reviewing progress and thinking about next steps. They also undertake reviews with parents due to return to court. During the review period if applicable they would discuss using family mediation to arrange the next steps.
The Co-ordinators and volunteers offer a well-managed, friendly and enthusiastic service which has a good reputation and works to benefit separated families. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for supported accreditation.