Townsend YMCA is operating as an outreach venue for YMCA Bournemouth, delivering all types of contact, but primarily supervised contact (local authority referrals and private court work). It is situated in the middle of a local authority estate, the second most deprived area in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area. The contact centre operates within a children’s centre and runs from a venue which houses the local preschool and youth centre, so they are able to share resources. Naturally there are other activities and services available to parents and children, including a counselling service which is open and accessible to adults and children. Part of the work carried out includes signposting to other services as the centre works with such varied families with wide ranging situations and circumstances. The centre is near Castlepoint which is a large and popular shopping precinct with regular buses and train stations nearby. The centre is easy to get to by car and there is ample free parking.
The centre is very well equipped for all ages of children. The space is comfy, with sofas, tables/chairs and a small kitchen which can be used if parents are wanting to prepare food with their child (supervised contact sessions). The space is clean and tidy and there is a risk assessment for the area, which is checked daily before parents access it. There is a wide range of toys and games available – from baby toys to books, craft, role play, small world toys, scooters and bikes to a permanent table tennis table which is situated outside. The resources and equipment meet the needs of a wide range of ages and stages of children. There is a small amount of electronic equipment for older children. Toys are cleaned regularly and up until recently parents were bringing in their own toys/resources according to Covid19 requirements. The bathroom is accessible and well maintained with a baby changing facility. Additional toilets are available. The outside play area is secure and has access only from the inside. Different entrances/exits are provided and staggered arrival and departure times are used. This is discussed with parents at the pre-contact visit to ensure that each parent understands their role.
Information about how referrals can be made to the centre is available on their website and can be sought by contacting the centre. There is a leaflet for children which outlines what family time is and what they might experience, it also states information about the contact centre. Pre-visits are carried out and children’s needs and wishes are taken into consideration. At the pre-visit there are conversations about the last time the child saw their non-resident parent, how they might be feeling and what they might like to do during their contact session.
Families are encouraged to use a communication book for family time to ensure that information is shared. This is particularly useful when the child is seeing their biological parent from their foster placement. There is clear guidance that goes with the communication book, for example it states that the focus of the communication is on the child, it states the aim of the book which is for it to be a keepsake for the child and it talks about documenting any injuries and sharing of photographs. Families are encouraged to direct children to use the information on the NACCC website to support them as they start to use a contact centre. The centre also encourages parents to use the book “Invisible Thread” which is an excellent resource for younger children. Around the centre children and young people will see posters and other information about the contact centre, the court and the arena that they are currently in. These posters are displayed in a child/young person friendly manner.
Contact plans are discussed, agreed and signed by both parties. These are individualised and contain the relevant information to that particular family. Terms and conditions of using the service are discussed and rules are made clear. Where the contact is supervised, with notes/observations then this is discussed with the parents so that they understand the format of the contact sessions. The service offers indirect contact, handovers, and also virtual contact which was particularly useful during the pandemic (Covid19) but it can be used now if there has been a substantial amount of time between the non-resident and child having contact. Reviews are currently conducted on an as and when basis or every 6 – 8 weeks with both parents and or professionals involved in the family case. Expectations about moving forward with family time sessions are explained. Both parties receive notes after the review, these are agreed and signed. The child’s voice is added whereby a practitioner will seek to gain the view of the child /ren who are involved in the family time sessions. This is sometimes a good way of getting contact to move outside of the centre. If a translator is required, then this would be provided at the cost of the referring body or the parent. Transporting children to and from the centre is sometimes carried out as part of the local authority work but no home visits are carried out.
The team that works at the Townsend child contact centre also works across the other outreach venues and children’s centres as part of Bournemouth YMCA. The team is led by the Lead for Family and Relationship Services who works with a team of committed and professional people who are supported by the centre coordinator. The staff at the centre come with a wealth of experience and from a range of backgrounds – all of which are suited to working in the social care arena. The co-ordinator also supports several volunteers who work for the supported contact service. The centre works with Bournemouth University and recruits part time workers who are completing their social work or psychology training. This is a real asset to the centre as they can bring their skill set to the organisation and also practice their acquired learning.
Children are very well supported here; the staff have positive ways of working with children and ensure that they have what they need whilst they are at the centre for family time. Where possible the children’s voice is heard, and this can be used to help move contact forward. Staff and volunteers are well supported, they receive a comprehensive induction and good training to be able to carry out their roles safely and professionally. The centre is providing for a wide range of people with varying reasons why they are accessing a contact centre and staff are both sensitive, trained and aware of these factors. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for enhanced (supervised) accreditation.