St Johns and St Stephen’s Child Contact Centre is in East Reading, Berkshire and based in St Johns Primary School, offering supported contact and handover services. There is an excellent rail system that makes Reading accessible from London and the South, with a good bus route to enable families to reach the centre. The centre is close to the town centre where there is a theatre, cinema and excellent shopping facilities. Local parks are within walking distance with a large playing field and swings next to the contact centre.
The centre is welcoming and friendly with a bright, inviting contact area. The centre uses two entrances, (one for the non-resident parent and the other for the resident parents/children) with staggered arrivals/departures to avoid any possible confrontation on the premises. All entrances and exits are clearly identified. Parents bringing children to contact use the side entrance to the church’s café in Victoria Way and can use the space in front of the church for parking. Non-resident parents use the St John’s School main entrance (there is a car park adjacent). All families partaking in contact are registered by a volunteer, stationed at both entrances who marks down the time of arrival/departure. Contact is held in a large hall where families can play with their children and on the day of the visit, many had brought their own toys for their children to play with. There is also an excellent enclosed and secure outdoor space that families can use. Volunteers are positioned at various allocated areas in the hall so they can observe the session. The centre has a strict cleaning regime to ensure equipment is thoroughly cleaned after use and all furniture and fittings were in a good state of repair. All toilet facilities have paper towels and soap along with hot water for hand washing. At the time of the report the kitchenette area was not being used.
The centre receives referrals via solicitors, self-referrals, socials services and occasionally Cafcass. Information about the referral process can be emailed, discussed or posted to families and referrers with the relevant forms available to download from the centre’s website. Paper referrals that have been completed by clients are sent to the centre’s PO Box. The centre is also part of NACCC’s Safe Referral System system. Referrers and parents can contact the centre by phone or email, with the co-ordinator responding to any messages/calls within 36 hours. Once the coordinator has accepted a referral they will call the parent/s or referrer to arrange a time for the family to visit separately, including the children. These visits take place before proposed contact so that the parents and children have a chance to see the centre in operation, what is available, location, travel time to centre and gain an understanding of the rules and regulations of the centre. It also gives the children the experience playing in a different environment and what activities are on offer and agreements of what toys the visiting parent will be bringing to the session. The co-ordinator or deputy co-ordinator will conduct the interviews in the centre whilst in operation and informs the parent/s of the outcome.
The co-ordinator kept in touch with families and volunteers whilst the centre had to close due to the pandemic and reopened for face-to-face contact in July 2021. At the time of the report the centre was catering for four families at a time depending on the numbers of children attending and size of families plus to ensure good social distancing. The centre was operating once a month but in January 2022 this was to be extended to twice monthly on a Sunday. The service will extend the number of families attending contact but was still in discussion as to how many families will be in attendance. At the time of the visit there were plenty of activities available for the families to use and it was clear to the assessor that the children appeared to be enjoying their time and space at the centre with their parent. The assessor was also able to speak to two resident parents who were stating their pleasure with the centre reopening and the children being able to see their fathers in a safe and secure environment.
The centre co-ordinator has been volunteering at the centre for seven years, managing a team of fourteen volunteers, some of whom have been at the centre since its opening and others newly recruited. Through discussions with the volunteers on duty, they all mentioned they enjoy and are fully committed to their role. They feel much supported by the coordinator as well as their peers.
St Johns and St Stephen’s Child Contact Centre is well organised and all involved are very dedicated to their roles. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for supported contact accreditation.