Key terms used at child contact centres

Contact: Time spent with a significant person in the child’s life who does not live with the child. This should always be in the interests of the child. Often other terms are also used to describe this, “family time” is an example of one of these.

Supervised Contact: This is a form of contact provided where it is assessed that there might be a higher risk or greater complexity in a case. These sessions will be supervised by staff who are experienced in this role. Observations will be made, and reports will be written. It is generally expected that staff will remain within sight and sound of children at all times.

Supported Contact: This is a form of contact where the level of risk is assessed to be lower than might be the case for supervised contact. It is also used as a way to progress from supervised contact. In supported contact, direct observations are not made and reports are not written. Staff or volunteers will be present to ensure the comfort of those engaging in the service.

Virtual Contact: This is a form of contact that takes place online, using video messaging software like Teams or Skype. Virtual contact can be either supervised or supported.

Handovers: This is a service offered by some contact centres, in order to support a child moving from one parent to another. Contact will often take place away from a centre with no professional involvement. Handovers can often be used as a way to progress from supported or supervised contact.

Indirect Contact: This term is a generic term for a wide variety of activities that might be considered contact. These activities can include sending letters or cards (sometimes called “letterbox contact”) or sending gifts. In this scenario, the role of a professional is often to support this process by ensuring that the gifts are appropriate, and letters do not contain inappropriate messages prior to forwarding these to the child. This service can be helpful where one parent cannot know the home address of the child.

Community Contact: This is a contact service offered by Supervised Centres. Sometimes this will have varying other names, “escorted contact” is one example. Community contact takes place in locations like restaurants, shopping centres, cinemas or soft play centres for example. This type of contact is not available at all centres and is not appropriate for all families.

Pre-visit: This is mandatory preparation for a contact visit held at the centre. This will cover the ground rules and expected conduct at the centre. Parents may be asked to sign a contact agreement. Children will also be offered the opportunity to engage in pre-visits in order to help them prepare for the service being offered.

Child Contact Centre: This is a building that is used to provide contact. Where the centre is accredited with NACCC, this centre will be accredited. This means that the centre is safe and effective in meeting the needs of children and families. All child contact centres look quite different, some might include a space like a church hall whilst others might be in specially designed buildings. Supervised Contact might sometimes take place in other locations, like the community. Using a child contact centre is not appropriate as a long term option, for most families. Generally, it should be considered as a ‘short term stepping stone’ to enable more sustainable options for contact.

Co-ordinator: The co-ordinator in a contact centre is basically the person that manages the service. It is usually the case that you will meet the co-ordinator, often at the pre-visit. The co-ordinator is often the best person to speak to if you have worries or concerns.

Contact Supervisor: A contact supervisor is the person that takes responsibility for supervising child contact sessions. Often there will only be one or two regular workers that families come into contact with, in order to ensure comfort and consistency. Contact supervisors will make observations and write reports based upon their observations.  

Child Contact Interventions (CCIs) are short-term interventions of supervised contact. Typically, this is a term “Child Contact Intervention” is used by professionals in the family court or within Cafcass. They are designed to help adults and children establish safe and beneficial contact when this is difficult to do on their own. CCIs should be a learning opportunity for parents with input from the Separated Parenting Information Programme (SPIP).

Preparatory Work: Preparatory work is a service offered (mostly) by supervised contact centres. This can be offered to adults or children. The aim of this is to prepare people for contact, what it will be like and what emotions they might experience. Preparatory work can be most effective where people are very anxious or where they have been separated with no or little contact for long periods of time.

Life Story: Life Story work is the process of helping children to understand and make sense of their lives. This service is often offered to children living in care, although it can be used for other purposes. The aim of such a service is to help them understand the things that have happened in their lives and therefore to support children to develop a sense of identity and therefore, to reduce emotional distress. Life story often concludes with a product for children to keep and treasure, this might include a book, DVD, treasure box, or various other things.

Separated Parents Information Programme: The Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) is a course that helps parents understand how to put children first whilst separating, even though parents may be in dispute. The course helps parents learn the fundamental principles of how to manage conflict and difficulties.

Separated parents will not attend sessions with their ex-partners. In some areas it is free to attend – you can contact your local provider for more information.

If you wish to attend SPIP in Wales (where the equivalent is Working Together for Children) you should contact Cafcass Cymru: cafcasscymrucontactactivities@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

There’s more information about the course on the SPIP factsheet and the SPIP handbook.

Children and Family Court Advisory & Support Service (Cafcass): Cafcass represents children in family court cases in England. Wales has a similar service called Cafcass Cymru. Cafcass independently advises the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests. Their role is to put children’s needs, wishes, and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting.

Family Court Advisor (FCA): The FCA is a Social Worker employed by Cafcass. The role of the FCA is to work with families to help them to decide the best outcomes for their children. Where this is not possible, they will reach conclusions about the best interests of the children and provide this information to a Court. This process will explore where the child should live and who they should be able to spend time with. The enquiries that an FCA will make will also explore risk and how this might be managed, in the best interests of children.

Parental Responsibility: Parental responsibility is a legal term relating to the responsibility that parents have in terms of the responsibilities of caring for and nurturing their children. Mothers have parental responsibility at birth. A father usually has parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate or when he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. Parental responsibility can be granted or removed by the Court.

Resident parent: This is a term used to describe the parent which lives with the child.

Non-resident parent: This is the parent that the child does not live with. Other terms might include “visiting parent”.

Shared Parenting: This is the style of parenting used by families in which conflict is low and parents can effectively communicate about their child. They share the parenting of their child.

Parenting Plan: This is a document drawn up by parents when they separate. The plan should address all the needs of the child and be put together in a child-focused way. The aim of the plan is to enable parents to be able to work together in the best interests of their children, particularly where conflict might make this a challenge. A Parenting Plan does not need professional input, although some families might need this. Templates for parenting plans can be accessed here, from Cafcass. Word Template. PDF Template.

Family Court: The courts will make decisions about what is best for a child. Decisions will ensure that children are kept safe in future arrangements and that their best interests are met. The Court is not needed by most parents who separate. It is best for the child when parents do not need the support of the Court. Parents should only consider this route when other options are either not possible or not safe.

Mediation: Mediation helps separated parents communicate with each other about matters such as contact arrangements, finance, etc. Mediation involves accessing the support of an independent mediator to aid communication. This can help to avoid cases progressing to the court.

Section 7 Report: A Section 7 report is commonly ordered in parental separation cases heard by the Courts. These are ordered by the Court to ascertain information regarding a child’s welfare. The court will often expect these reports to guide on the best interests of the child. Section 7 reports will also address concerns or risks associated with the family. These reports will be completed by a qualified Social Worker, often (but not always) employed by Cafcass.

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