A technological approach to child contact
Guidance sent to NACCC’s member centres on Tuesday 24th March 2020
Forward from NACCC’s Chief Executive, Elizabeth Coe
In these difficult times, I would love to hear from member centres about how you are getting on. Please send me a message if you have the time and let us know at NACCC if there is anything, we can do to support you, so long as it is within our power to do so. The staff at NACCC will also try to call you from time to time to have a chat, if you would find this helpful. Let’s hope if we make the right decisions this will pass quickly.
This document has been written in March 2020, in light of the Coronavirus and the impact that this is having on Child Contact.
Whilst, the number increases year on year we know that there are somewhere in the region of 17,000 – 20,000 children using NACCC Accredited Child Contact Centres annually.
The impact of a mass closure of services is going to mean that thousands of children are being distanced from people they no longer live with and the potential consequences of this can be catastrophic.
As a result of Coronavirus Child Contact Centres are making the difficult decisions to close their services.
Every child contact centre does this: balancing a child’s need to see the people they no longer reside with and the fact that opening a centre might contribute to spreading the virus.
NACCC have produced various information for the general public and Child Contact Centres around operating safely, which can be accessed on the NACCC Website.
It is widely known that where children are not able to enjoy secure attachments with the people that are important to them, this can cause wide and varying implications, which can include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty forming and maintaining other social relationships,
- Social Isolation,
- Lower educational attainment,
- And so on.
We also know that the difficulties listed above have the potential to last well into adulthood affecting people’s lives in a number of different ways.
It is also true that there are a number of parents that are not supportive of child contact and it goes without saying that the restrictions imposed because of Coronavirus might be used as a reason to cut contact. This is likely to be especially true where there might be concerns relating to the possibility of parental alienation.
One of the core functions of a Child Contact Centre, whether supervised or supported is to support families to maintain secure attachments with a view to promoting life chances for children and young people.
In order to achieve this, and in light of the Coronavirus meaning that many centres are no longer able to continue offering the core range of services that have been usual it is now time to start thinking about reaching those children and families that need us most, in other ways.
An obvious solution would be for services to be offering a letterbox style contact. This would typically include the child and person they are having contact with sending letters, emails and parcels to the other person and waiting for a response. For some families this will work well and might simply be a continuation of arrangements that were already in place. Particularly where there is a professional person managing this to ensure that personal details are not given to abusive parties etc and that any content included in such correspondences is appropriate. However, for children that have been having regular good quality face to face contact with people they no longer live with this is unlikely to sufficiently meet their needs, either in the short or longer term.
During these times of extreme challenge and difficulty we would encourage centres and the general public to be creative about child contact arrangements and to try to avoid being restrained by bureaucracy or perceived limitations that might result from things like the NACCC Standards for Child Contact Centres. For example, the NACCC Standards state that supported centres wouldn’t usually be best placed to be providing contact via skype etc. These are unique times and call for unique steps to be taken. NACCC are currently in the position whereby we will support any service that is able to ensure the disruption to children and their families is minimal.
Having said this it is essential that centres pay careful attention to risk levels and their competency when working with different families.If a service feels able to offer any of the services outlined in this document and feels that they have the resource to be able to safely manage this, we would encourage you to do so, in the interest of the children that rely on us. Where there might be concerns about bureaucracy, the NACCC standards or anything else we would encourage you to make contact with us so that a discussion around this can take place.
Apps and web resources that might be used to facilitate contact
There are a range of apps and web resources that can be used to facilitate contact. Without the need for people to be in the same place at the same time.
NACCC are not saying that any of these are perfect, or that they can be as good as face to face contact but in an environment whereby people are being encouraged not to have physical contact this is the best that we have available to us.
A (small) number of centres have recently contacted NACCC to tell us about video messaging apps that have been developed on secure servers to enable technology to replace physical contact. Whilst NACCC have no doubt that these apps will be spectacular and wholeheartedly promote such flexibility and creativity, they will also be quite resource and expertise heavy and this alone will make them out of the reach of many Child Contact Centres and families.
There are a number of apps that already exist to facilitate contact and on the whole, these present as secure enough to be used for the purpose of child contact. There are a range of risks and things to consider but these should not rule this out as an option for ensuring that children to be having contact with the people they care so very much about.
The types of apps that could meet this need vary, some are free of charge others are subscription based and others come with packages that individuals might already have in place.
Whilst NACCC does not support, endorse or work in partnership with any specific provider, Apps and web services that might be considered, could include:
- Facetime (IOS)
- Skype (most platforms)
- Teams (most platforms)
- Zoom (most platforms)
- WhatsApp Video (IOS & Android)
- Facebook Video (Most platforms
- Google Hangouts (Android)
- Google Duo (Android)
- Viber (Android & IOS), and
- Imo (Android & IOS).
This is in no was intended to be an exhaustive list, but merely a demonstration of the range of ways that contact might be facilitated using technology.
Each app or web service will have its own sign and registration procedure, some may contain advertising and others may charge for the services they offer. Typically, the organiser would have the account and then an invitation would be sent to other participants. Those participants then only need to click the link provided within the invitation to access the conference.
This article does not intend to provide instructions regarding the usage of these apps however they are usually intuitive and self-explanatory. If you need any support with these apps or web services, please do contact us because we might be able to assist. Even if we can’t, we have access to IT support for further guidance.
Which ever format(s) centres or individuals choose to use it goes without saying that it is strongly advised that this trialled prior to attempting to use this for the purposes of child contact.
Preparing children for the use of technology enabled contact sessions
The NACCC Standards state that children should be prepared for contact prior to any contact commencing. We would recommend that this remains the practice for contact that takes place with technology.
Typically, Child Contact Centres would prepare children for contact by offering a pre-visit session.
These sessions provide children with the opportunity to visit a Child Contact Centre, to meet with staff, to be given information about the service and most importantly to be able to ask any questions or talk about things that might be worrying them.
In order to enable children to feel able to engage with technology assisted contact sessions we would recommend that the pre-visit is redesigned.
This could take place using technology but would include many of the elements included in a physical pre-visit. The elements that could be considered for this type of preparation could include:
- An introduction to the technology.
- Preparatory Work – it might be good practice to have a recorded video or audio message from the parent that they are planned to be having contact with prior to the first session taking place. This not only supports them emotionally to prepare for this process but also provides the opportunity for them to hear positive messages from the person it is planned that they will have the contact session with.
- Explaining the service being offered in a developmentally appropriate way.
- Agreeing with the child(ren) when sessions will take place and what the duration of those sessions will be, assumedly this will have been agreed with the parents and / or referrer prior to this point.
- Helping the child to understand whether sessions will be recorded or not and how this information might be used in the future.
- Taking time to explore any anxieties that children might have.
- Checking with children what physical arrangements they might need or that you might need them to have in place in order for contact to take place. For example, do they want someone they live with or trust to be physically present or not. Do they need any planned or additional support from the person facilitating the sessions and is there anything specific that they would need in place in order to ensure that things work well for them.
Preparing adults for child contact sessions
The preparation of adults for child contact is essential in terms of arrangements are to be agreed and for ensuring the best potential to work well and that are sustainable once professional services come to an end.
In order to offer a service, the following considerations would need to have been made.
- Referral processes would remain much the same.
- Risk assessments based upon the referral and pre-visit will be important.
- Pre-visits will not need to change significantly but might take place by phone or using the technology already outlined within this document.
- Contact Agreements would need to take place. These could be agreed electronically by people confirming agreement by email and the service providing the contact session accepting this in place of a physical signature. Unless people have the technology and the skills to electronically sign such documents.
- Contact agreements will include many of the usual elements and may also include a selection of those listed below:
- Contact times and dates.
- Those who will or will not be present during contact sessions.
- Arrangements relating to where the session will take place. For example, it should not be considered appropriate for one of the parties to be in a public place where information could easily be overheard or accidentally shared.
- Conversations that will or will not take place with children, adults and or others during contact sessions.
- Recording of the session.
- Abuse of the technology to access unagreed information
Considerations when thinking about using technology to facilitate contact
Anecdotally, it is well known that parents will use their children in the disputes that are taking place. Many parents will deny this, a significant number might not realise this is what they are doing, but regardless those working with children and equally those caring for them have a duty to protect them from this conflict and to ensure that they do not become embroiled in adult issues.
The children engaging in child contact have to have the right to know that the session will take place in privacy. This includes ensuring that sessions are not recorded and used in proceedings.
Therefore, unless otherwise agreed contact that takes place using technology will not include audio or visual recordings, which includes either the parent or the child taking screenshots to record imagery. This should be included within all contact agreements and contact would only take place on this basis.
If contact sessions are to be recorded and this has been ordered by a Court this is clearly something very different. However, in the absence of this happening we really should be seeking to avoid invading children’s privacy in this way.
NACCC would consider any attempt to record a contact session in an unplanned way to be unethical and would expect that any further sessions would be suspended or permanently ended.
If a parent were to act in a way that was not perceived to be in the best interests of their child the centre may choose to offer this as feedback initially, with a view to suspending any offer of a service should this continue.
Another consideration would be that of the Policies and Procedures followed by centres. It is strongly advised that where technology is to be used for supervising contact sessions this will need to be covered by Privacy Statements, Data Protection Policies and information storage outlines so that people are clear how information will be recorded, stored and shared.
The advice of NACCC would be that most centres would not need to record the contact for most families and that for supervised contact observations could be made in the usual way and that for supported contact the usual level of recordings would be appropriate.
The setting up of sessions should also include clear agreement relating to the people present during contact sessions. On all occasions those involved in the session should be pre-planned and their involvement should be risk assessed by the organiser of the child contact session. This includes any person who might not be involved in the session but is present and is able in any way to be aware of the content of the session.
The arrangements set out in this document are intended to support best practice and to keep children safe. It is recognised that whatever measures are implemented there is always the potential that children will be harmed either by the people they live with, those having contact or other factors. Where such risks become apparent all usual safeguarding procedures apply and should be implemented without delay.