Families Forward is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee. It is based in Oakwood House, Oakwood Lane, which is 3 miles north from the city centre; there are good transport links into the centre with regular bus services and it is close to the main A58 road into Leeds. Oakwood House houses several companies and has secure entry system and a large car park. Families Forward is based on the first floor and has security doors into their own space and toilet facilities. Families Forward offer a range of contact arrangements (supervised, supported, handovers and indirect contact) on a private basis in addition to a contract with Cafcass.
Upon arrival at the office block there is a large free car park with plenty of space; secure entry via a buzzer system straight to Families Forward is available either from the car park or the front entrance. A member of staff then goes downstairs to greet the callers and bring them to their allocated room (a lift is available). The Families Forward area has a secure door and is separate from other companies using the building. Four rooms can be used for contact, all of which are well equipped with a range of toys and activities and are clean and comfortable. Toilets are very clean and checked regularly. There is a disabled toilet and baby changing facilities are available.
Families Forward’s website has lots of pictures and information about services offered, information about location and ability to download referral forms. They also have guidance notes and leaflets available to download and available in paper copy from the service. Information on how to access policies is also available.
The centre has an informative leaflet for both young and older children and children are also encouraged to say how they how feeling at the end of a contact by using a set of emoji and flashing lights. Since the Centre re-opened in September 2021 following the pandemic children were not invited to pre meetings in an effort to keep Covid safe with greater emphasis put on zoom meetings with parents covering how they may prepare their children for contact. Older children have been invited to attend via Zoom at the end of the meeting with their parent. The assessor has discussed how children can be prepared for contact in the months to come following the visit.
At the time of the report Families Forward had faced a difficult 20 months, not least because of the Covid pandemic forcing closure of the centre and staff being furloughed from March 2020 to September 2021 which had understandably affected their income. The assessor discussed various options to help make them become more sustainable and was struck by the commitment, enthusiasm, and dedication of the staff. They are clearly knowledgeable in this area of family separation and want to do the best job they can. The board and staff team are dedicated to making their organisation work and will look to increase private contact and other funding opportunities to allow small projects to develop. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for enhanced (supervised) accreditation.