Cheltenham Child Contact Centre is part of Family Space, a church project based in Hesters Way within West Cheltenham providing supervised contact, supported contact, handovers, and a range of other services. They take private law and parent self-referrals only and do not offer contact to families in the care system or where social care are meeting the costs of the contact. The centre opened in 2000, initially offering supported contact and then introduced supervised contact with this being their second reaccreditation for supervised contact. Family Space also offers a range of other groups and classes aimed at helping families and to encourage family relationships. Hesters Way is in an area of predominately social housing and income deprivation. Children predominantly come from Gloucestershire with parents travelling from all over the country to spend time with them. The centre has good public transport links and walking distance to local parks
The centre is run by the manager, child contact centre family support worker, the staff and volunteer team. The contact centre has been through a period of transition over the past year due to the Covid pandemic and changed venue due to the previous building needing to close. Following the move, they completed a set of risk assessments and communicated these changes alongside new guidelines to the parents using the contact centre to inform families using the centre of the new arrangements with a new venue, guidelines and risk assessments. During the time of change they facilitated letter writing and zoom contact calls between parents and children they couldn’t see due to lockdown rules and regulations.
The centre operates out of a building that is used as a pre-school (also run by Family Space) in the week. As a result, they are very well set up for pre-school children and those in their first few years at school. There is a small hall and a large hall which families can use both with a hatch to the kitchen. An additional small contact room is available accessed via the small hall. An outside garden area is also available. The premises are clean and well maintained – it is a building that needs some repair due to its age but there are plans in place to update the building as money allows.
Information on the centre’s operating procedures for referring agencies and parents can be found on the centre’s website and information sheet. Each parent completes a pre visit prior to the contact starting and children are given the opportunity to visit the centre as well, to see the venue and ask questions. During lockdown and over the previous year these visits have been completed over Zoom. Where there have been additional needs (either physical, social or emotional), children and occasionally parents have been given the opportunity to visit the centre in person. This has then eased the transition into the centre.
The centre staff talk with the children and get to know them, their needs, likes and dislikes so can adapt any toys and equipment to their needs. For those that are shyer, centre staff ask parents to talk to the children and pass on their needs and wants regarding the toys and equipment they might want to play with. The centre has access to all the playgroup toys, bikes, trikes and scooters so all these can be accessed if a child would like something specific to play with. The centre also has a wide range of games, puzzles, craft equipment for older children to engage in. The garden area is great for all ages to run around in and play with a variety of toys of all ages. Children evaluation forms are given out after a few sessions of their contact to offer children the chance to talk about their experience of their time in the centre if they are not wanting to talk to us. These are also given out at the end of their time with the centre.
The Contact Centre uses staggered arrivals and departures. The centre can work with a family’s situation on an individual basis and produce a plan which works for the family. Community contact has taken place depending upon what has been possible due to the Covid restrictions within the last year. The centre is beginning to re offer this service in the wider community and can offer this nearer to the child rather than from the centre. The worker will meet the family at the agreed location. The centre’s policies do not allow for staff to transport children within their cars, so all community contact is either met in the community or accessed by public transport. Handovers are booked and assessed through the referral form with many families using this service as part of the transition away from the centre. Some continue to use the carpark of the centre for their handovers long after they have finished using the inside for contact. This is a safe and neutral place and staff are on hand to support if necessary, as parents know to come in and call if there is a problem. The centre has a list of the children they are expecting to be handed over that day in the car park as well as those who use a staff member for their handovers on the register.
The centre uses a review form at regular intervals and a process is in place to review a family after four supervised contact sessions (unless a different amount is ordered by the court). Reports made during supervised contact sessions are sent out to both parents. These once received can then be discussed if necessary, as this often helps to alleviate concerns a resident parent may have. As parents move away from the centre, the centre writes a parenting agreement plan with the family so there is an arrangement in place for the continuation of contact. They also write these in place for families using the contact centre where there isn’t a court order in place as this helps to focus the number of sessions the centre is used for. This is flexible and can be updated and adapted as needs arise.
The centre does not offer home visits or escort them to the centre. Staff do not use their own vehicles for transporting children. They can use their own vehicles to meet a family for an escorted contact within the community, but children and parents are not transported in their car.
The accreditation assessment was conducted over a Microsoft Teams call due to Covid 19. The manager appears to run an extremely organised/structured centre that serves the local community. We were shown around the building, everything observed appeared in good order. From our conversations with the manager and their team, all seem to be passionate/professional about the centre and achieving the best possible outcomes for the children they work with. The centre has met the requirements for enhanced (supervised) accreditation.