Preparing children for the use of child contact centres is key to the service going well. Children will be experiencing a wide range of feelings and emotions and these can be exacerbated by previous experiences of trauma for example.
Children will often worry about upsetting one or the other parent by having contact and will often place themselves in the impossible situation of trying to appease the needs of both parents at once. Where this happens, this can be particularly upsetting and distressing for children and in some circumstances their parents too. For example, children might choose to tell a parent that their time with the other parent is “horrible” or “boring”, they might also share experiences that are reportedly occurred when spending time with the other parent that might be out of context or not factual. They do this because they think this is what the parent wants to hear, and in some cases this might well be true. However, what this also does is creates an environment where parents are increasingly fractious towards each other and the situation, therefore making it harder for them to be able to communicate and work together in the interests of the children. In some cases, the child’s perceived need to appease their parents like this can lead to child protection referrals or police investigations.
Understanding the needs of children and working with them to ensure these needs are met, (so far as is possible) is crucial for the whole family, their ability to engage with services and most importantly their ability to be able to move on from services.
In order to support children, some of the following might assist:
The NACCC website has a range of stories and other information that a resident parent could look at with their child. This would allow the child the opportunity to understand the role of the child contact centre and how they will be supported whilst using this service.
There are a range of stories on Amazon about family break up. These can be helpful in terms of helping children to understand what has been happening in their family and what will be happening in the future.
Sesame Street do a range of cartoons that cover some of the difficulties that families face, these can be readily accessed through an internet search engine and these do an excellent job at presenting information in a way that is accessible to children.
The NACCC website also has resources for children. Our website has been specifically designed around the needs of children. We know that sometimes the people caring for children are not best placed to support those children to prepare for contact sessions. This is not a reflection on the parenting capacity of that person, or a judgement of their character. The reason that parents often find this difficult relates more to their own feelings and emotions following the end of the relationship and therefore their ability to share positive information with their children which will help them to become excited about contact. There is a wealth of information there that is accessible and designed to reassure children whilst also helping them to anticipate what the future might look like. Additionally, NACCC also has an app and a range of stories that parents could support children to be able to access.
The parents that have children living with them are often well placed to take meaningful steps to prepare children for face to face contact. How look will vary from child to child and family to family, but typically it might include:
- It being ok or better still encouraged to talk about contact and the other parent at home. Making something “ok” goes much further than saying it. Children must genuinely feel it.
- Children should have a safe place to be able to ask questions about contact and where possible these should be answered as positively as possible.
- Children might be helped to remember positive memories relating to the other parent, so that they are able to remember better times.
- Children having access to photographs of the parent it is proposed that they will be sharing time with.
- Children should also be offered the opportunity to have a pre-visit at the centre so that they have information shared with them as a level they are able to make sense of.
Child contact centres will also have a range of ways that they support children to access services. These can vary and might include pre-visits or the use of resources. Other centres might also offer introductory sessions where children are prepared for the contact, prior to this taking place. This can happen face to face at the centre, or increasingly centres are finding innovative ways of using technology to support families to feel safe and supported when accessing services. The key is that every child and every situation is different, and centres will have the skills to develop their responses to families to ensure they are supported in such a way that best meets their needs.
As a professional, there are also a range of tools and resources that you might use when working with children. Many of these have already been mentioned, others might include tools like “three houses”, which can be utilised to make sense of a child’s world and their view of this with a view to supporting them to be able to move on.