Pre-visit meetings are a mandatory part of the process in setting up supported and supervised contact for a family. It is crucial that these are given enough time and resources to ensure that contact itself runs smoothly. Once a centre has accepted a referral for supported or supervised contact they must invite that child and their resident family member to come for a pre-visit. They must also invite the child’s non-resident family member (or person important to them) for a pre-visit.
The purposes of the pre-visit are three-fold
- To enable the co-ordinator to complete the risk assessment and check suitability of the family for the service offered by the centre.
- To prepare the child and resident/non-resident adults as much as possible to ensure their experience at the centre runs as smoothly as possible.
- To offer additional support to the family members (who will be trying to cope in different ways with the impact of separation) to enable them (if appropriate) to prepare for a route to independent contact out of the centre.
Pre-visits as the final stage to the risk assessment
The pre-visit is avital opportunity for centre staff and volunteers to go through the pre-visit checklist paperwork to identify any issues or concern. NACCC’s national standards for supported contact state that the pre-visit must not take place on the same day as the first contact visit. The reason for this is to allow for a risk assessment to be carried out (checking the suitability of the family for supported contact) and for the ground rules to be explained and signed by each adult.
The purpose of a supported risk assessment is to see if the referral is suitable for supported contact. If a centre is using NACCC’s online Safe Referral System (SRS) then this risk assessment will have already been carried out. If a centre is not using the SRS then this risk assessment will need to be carried out by the co-ordinator at the centre by going through the referral paperwork, contacting all the agencies involved with the family and by going through the pre-visit checklist at the pre-visit. In some cases issues may not become apparent until the pre-visit has taken place and the co-ordinator has had a chance to meet the parents and the child or children.
If issues arise at the pre-visit which identify that for example the family need supervised contact rather than supported contact, then this enables the centre to communicate this to the family and any referring agencies. Contact will therefore not commence at the centre and other arrangements will need to be put in place.
Typical rules at a supported contact centre would normally include the following:
- Parents are responsible for the safety and supervision of their children at all times while at the centre. No child may be left without a parent in attendance.
- Resident parent must leave a contact number when leaving children at the centre
- A child can only be taken from a centre during a visit if this is stated on the referral form, or with written consent of both parents
- Relatives or friends can only attend if they are named on the referral form
- There must be no arguing in front of any of the children. Abusive or aggressive behaviour and racist or other offensive remarks will not be tolerated. Any visitor acting in such a way will be asked to leave
- No mobile phones, photographs (unless agreed with Coordinator) portable computers or pets
- Alcohol, drugs or anyone under the influence of these will not be allowed on the premises
Pre-visits helping to prepare children and adults for contact
A pre-visit also exists to help parents and most importantly, their child to get to know the environment of the centre, the people who run the centre and to understand what will happen at the first contact session. In this respect it can be compared to the preparation visits that a child and their parent/carer make when a child is first starting school or nursery. Centres will in most cases send the parents and children a copy of their leaflet before they arrive at the centre and many have comprehensive information and photographs of their centre on their website. Part of the visit will include a look round the centre so that the environment can become more familiar and the child can see the types of toys and games that the centre has.
Centres work to make the contact centre experience as welcoming as possible:
- The Family Resource Centre in Barnet are developing a leaflet particularly for the children attending.
- Yorkshire Children’s Centre and Families Forward have worded with the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) to develop ‘Buzz my feeling’ boxes which encourage children and young people to explore and express their feelings.
- Buzz CCC in Sheffield has a ‘Getting to know you’ sheet for children to complete at the pre-visit.
- Buzz CCC also have a keyworker system so that there is one person who is familiar to the family and they can go to if they have any queries or concerns.
- St Albans CCC has developed a welcome pack which is sent to parents in advance of the pre-visit.
Pre-visits offering support to families going through the emotions of separation
Parents and children coming for pre-visits can be experiencing many emotions and feel out of their depth and may not know how their situation will improve. The prospect of moving to independent contact can seem very daunting. Elizabeth Coe has urged centres to make use of the resources in the Separated Parents Information Programme at their pre-visit to help parents and to introduce the Cafcass Parenting Plans as a practical tool for parents during pre-visits, reviews and at the the transition to independent contact.
The pre-visit is also an ideal opportunity to give families information on local services, mediation and SPIP courses. Peter at Sheffield Family Contact Centre explained how the additional services provided by their organisation are introduced at the pre-visit:
“As part of our pre-contact assessments, we provide information to all parents about the other services that we provide including mediation, child-inclusive mediation and developing a parenting plan. We have managed to achieve quite a good take up rate from parents using the contact centre for mediation, in order for them to discuss longer term plans and an exit strategy from the centre (with due regard to any safeguarding issues). Through using the contact centre, parents get to know us and this builds confidence in the other services we provide. Giving parents seamless access to dispute resolution services can reduce parental conflict and facilitate out of court agreements.”
If you have any queries or concerns about the pre-visit process, please do contact NACCC direct for more advice and information.