A look back over NACCC’s 30 years as a social welfare charity. NACCC came into existence on 15th June 1991 and a lot has happened since then. Join us in celebrating the commitment of the whole team – all working with the common belief that parenting shouldn’t end when relationships do.
We’ve put together a couple of videos which celebrate our achievements and challenges over the last 30 years:
If you want to find out more about our founder Mary Lower and what prompted her to set up the first private law contact centre in Nottingham (and then NACCC as a charity) do read her story as told to us back in 2016.
From Elizabeth Coe, NACCC’s CEO
We thought it would be good to reflect on the successes and challenges of the last 30 years and certainly since I became Chief Executive in 2012, we have continued to improve child contact standards, raise awareness and tackle challenges head on, whilst meeting the increased monitoring of services required by our main funders and internal standards required by GDPR and other legislation.
I began my time as Chief Executive of NACCC following a difficult period for NACCC. Funding cuts had forced a staffing restructure and there had been several changes in the government departments providing grants to the organisation – from the Home Office in the early days of Cafcass, to the Department for Children and Families, to the Department for Education and in recent years, the Ministry of Justice. Latterly the government departments who issue the grant to NACCC has required increased monitoring of the services offered, and then there was GDPR.
New supervised standards coming soon for contact centres and services using venues other than a child contact centre.
We have continued to review and improve National Standards to make them more rigorous and to take account of any legislative changes and updates in crucial documents like Working Together. These are reviewed every three years for both Enhanced and Supported Centres, and is overseen by a Standards Panel, chaired by Sir Mark Hedley, the Chair of the Derbyshire Family Panel, and members of Contact Centres. We have raised awareness of Contact Centres with MPs (many of whom have visited centres as a result), Media outlets, Local Government and Local Authorities, and through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact and Services. This has led to our foray into parliament through our amendment of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020-21 which was approved by the House of Lords on two occasions but did not get through the Commons. Despite this the government did concede that centres both accredited and non-accredited needed researching to ensure that all those delivering contact and contact services were safe for those who had experienced domestic abuse (see below):
Contact centres – Report on the use of contact centres in England: 1. The Secretary of State must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. 2. “The relevant period” means the period of 2 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed. 3. In this section “contact centre” means a place that is used for the facilitation of contact between a child and an individual with whom the child is not, or will not be, living (including the handover of the child to that individual).https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0290/amend/domestic_rm_cclm_0422.pdf
The last eighteen months have been hard for centres, parents and us at NACCC. We could have gone into lockdown ourselves, but we chose to use the time to further develop the services we provide for children, families and our members. With the support of Family Ties Contact Services an app was developed to provide virtual contact for children and non-resident parents. To date nearly 50,000 virtual contact sessions have been provided. This has kept contact alive for so many children. A guide and training was provided in the use of this app. Many centres have had to close their doors – some because their venues are being used for other purposes such as foodbanks. Some have closed because of staff shielding. Fortunately, things are beginning to open up again.
Our members benefit from training, our special ‘coffee shop live’ members forum and peer support groups. Our training includes bespoke courses for magistrates and the judiciary – raising awareness of how centres should be used. Do read the latest on ‘The Rights Idea? which was born through our work with the Presidents Family Law Working Group and an offshoot of this group entitled “working with children”. And if you missed it do read about our very successful Covid Hero award ceremony!
NACCC has a very small but hard-working team supported by a Board of Trustees who are supportive and active. We all have nothing but admiration for our members who do a very difficult job. This is increasingly being recognised by government, partner organisations, Cafcass and the courts, and we will continue to spread the word wherever and whenever we can.
From Lesley, our Chair of Trustees
Congratulations to NACCC on your 30th birthday, a huge thank you to all the Contact Centre staff and volunteers, NACCC office staff and fellow Trustees for enabling this organisation to grow and become the well respected and influential organisation we are today. I am sure all the children we have helped over the years would wish to thank you also.
Although I haven’t been involved in contact centres for all the 30 years, 19 years ago in 2002 I was part of a team that set up two new contact centres in Blackburn and Darwen, Lancashire. Blackburn Diocese, the Church of England in Lancashire received funding from the Government Parenting Fund. I was employed as a Family Support Coordinator setting up a service based in schools. At the same time a colleague developed work with dads and set up the two contact centres.
The work was all very integrated with some families accessing all the services. The contact centres were staffed by the co-ordinator (paid) and a team of volunteers, recruited mainly from the local Churches and some Diocesan staff, including myself, who also volunteered. As a foster carer I was familiar with contact for children with parents but had no idea at that time about the children in private law proceedings. Reluctant children were an eye opener. As a foster carer supervising contact, all children were excited to see their parents! We always attended the NACCC AGM and memorable venues were the Royal Courts of Justice and the Leeds Armoury. We were fortunate to have regional support workers and Judy Birchall held regular meetings with the Local Authority and CAFCASS. Funding for this work came to an end. We now have excellent support through the NACCCC office team and more recently the online coffee shop, and social media groups. Parents are now expected to take on some responsibility for funding access to this valuable service which helps them to make arrangements for their children.
In 2008 I became the co-ordinator of the Blackburn Diocese Supervised and Supported Contact Service and joined the Board of NACCC as a Trustee in 2015. I have been Chair since October 2020. My role with the Diocese ended in 2017 and I now have a sessional post with Pro Contact supervising contact and delivering SPIP. I am full of special admiration for the army of volunteer co-ordinators and staff who run supported contact centres today. The complexity of family problems are so much more challenging now and Contact Centres have moved a long way from the church hall opened on a Saturday with toys and refreshments provided.
Thank you once again. Lesley (NACCC Chair)
From Pauline – Some personal reflections on the early years
Pauline is one of our assessors but has been involved since day as part of the original steering group which set up NACCC in 1991. She shares her experiences here:
Having been interested in social work with children and families throughout my career, in the spring of 1987 I was fortunate enough to be appointed as a family court welfare officer in the Civil Work Unit of South-east London Probation Service. [In those days family court work was undertaken by the probation service and it was only in 2001 that Cafcass was established as a separate organisation]. The unit was forward-looking and innovative having been one of the first to set up a family conciliation (now mediation) service in 1979 and having established access (now contact) centres in 1983. Part of my role was to run the three access centres for a year.
There was one centre for each of the London boroughs covered by the service – Bexley, Bromley and Croydon. The centres were staffed by volunteers from the probation service volunteers’ organisation (SOVA) and during that year I set up training programmes for the volunteers including induction in conjunction with SOVA. A number came with relevant professional backgrounds such as teaching and health visiting.
It gradually emerged that there were about a dozen other contact centres across the country with some run by the probation service and others often inspired by Mary Lower and her initiative in setting up the Nottingham centre. A number of the centres began to meet for support. Again this included a mixture of family court welfare staff such as Gordon Hastings from the Sheffield centre and volunteers from mainly church-run centres as well as a family lawyer, Ian Daniels, from Nuneaton.
In late 1988 my personal circumstances meant a move to Sheffield and I joined the West Yorkshire Probation Service, again as a family court welfare officer and based in Wakefield. We set up a contact centre in Wakefield and I continued to be involved in the support group which soon led to the first national meeting of what then became the Network of Access and Child Contact Centres. This was around the time of the passing of the 1989 Children Act which, in theory, changed the terminology from custody and access to residence and contact. The idea was to make more child-friendly arrangements out of court involving greater parental cooperation and less conflict for children. However, old habits die hard and ‘custody’ is still heard often, never mind ‘Child Arrangements’. However, as ‘access’ was no longer the official term NACCC eventually became the National Association of Child Contact Centres. The basic values established then are still relevant today, stressing such principles as the importance of impartiality and confidentiality but the focus was predominantly on mutual support at that time. It was felt to be important that any management committee members should have direct involvement in a contact centre. Gradually this was reflected in the election of a number of Regional Representatives onto the management committee.
The rest, as they say, is history. The recognition of the importance of standards of good practice for centres led to a NACCC handbook and eventually to the accreditation system. As the organisation grew the need for a greater range of expertise on the management committee was recognised with appointment of trustees with other areas of expertise. It has been hard for NACCC to maintain its funding as a national umbrella organisation but it continues to provide an invaluable service with a very small number of committed staff. I have been pleased to remain involved with NACCC throughout its thirty-year history undertaking various roles over the years. In retirement I have also worked in supervised contact services to keep in touch on the ground. I continue to be committed to its important work of helping to support the children of separated families. Pauline Lowe, NACCC Assessor