Accredited centres have reported a mixed response on how easy it is to raise awareness about their service with their local court community. Some have had a very positive experience with great networking as a result, whereas other areas are struggling to get representation. In addition, recent court closures and amalgamations have brought communication issues for local centres.

Presenting to Magistrates in Pembrokeshire “Informative… useful… relevant”

Gail, Contact Centre Co-ordinator from Pembrokeshire Family Contact Centre (PFCC) was asked to attend a Magistrates meeting in June at Haverfordwest Court and told us about her experience… “About 10 magistrates attended and the meeting was relayed by video link in the Aberystwyth Family Court. PFCC was the first council run centre in Wales to be accredited in a climate with other family centres in the area faced with closure. We discussed the services provided by our centre and its progression over the last five years terms of case load and improvements to the building and service. We discussed the bulk of our work, procedures relating to the Family Intervention Team and Cafcass referrals and information regarding the WT4C courses that we deliver. This was well received by the magistrates with numerous questions asked about what we do. The Magistrates Family Panel Meeting meets twice a year, so it is hoped that we will be invited back in 2018/2019.

Neath Port Talbot represented at court users meeting “This is an excellent partnership”

Helen, Co-ordinator from Neath Port Talbot CCC told us that she has represented her Contact Centre in the Court Users Meetings and has also been guest speaker to help raise awareness of their service. She added “When there is a new Justice of the Peace (JP) on the Family Proceedings Court they sometimes come to the Centre and attend a session so they see what we do. We also have JPs on our Management Committee. Recent Court closures/amalgamations may change things in future and I hope this doesn’t change our excellent partnership…”

Great networking in Milton Keynes “Everyone is very positive about what we do”

“We regularly attend the local court users group and have a very good relationship with our local judiciary. I have offered them training and we have invited them to the centre. When there have been any changes to the service or expectations I have been invited to the Judges for lunch and a chat about it. We also liaise with local solicitors, Cafcass and other groups such as MK ACT (Women’s Aid) and mediation services.  Everyone is usually very positive about what we do. Donna (Ward Andrews Centre for Children and Their Families)

Good news in Portsmouth “Liaison meeting was really useful – so important to communicate”

We’ve had some great feedback from the situation in Portsmouth – Jan, co-ordinator at Havant & Waterlooville CCCs has told us “This week I was invited to a liaison meeting at Portsmouth Court which is now going to be a twice yearly event! It was called by one of the main Judges in Portsmouth and attended by him, a rep from the Magistrates Court, a Cafcass Officer and the Care Team Leader from the Court. All the CCCs in the area were invited and we were each allocated 2 places – one of my team leaders came with me this week and we plan to rotate that so others get a chance to attend. It was a really useful meeting and we managed to cover a lot of ground in relation to what the Courts expect of us and what we can expect of them. We have agreed to give regular updates about availability and now have email details of who to contact if we have concerns about individual cases. Generally the over-riding message was how important it is for us to all communicate with each other and we all came away very encouraged by it.

Kathleen, Co-ordinator from Chichester CCC in the same area also told us “Portsmouth Family Court invited us and other centres to a meeting with a DJ and magistrate and a Cafcass Officer and this will be repeated every 6 months – now there are fewer Courts all round we could realistically be more used by Portsmouth and Hampshire courts (Chichester being a ‘border’ city). Generally we feel we can call for support from the Judiciary as needed, and they from us as is appropriate. We genuinely feel our local Judiciary, like us, consider the welfare of the child is paramount. We are made to feel valued in word and deed.”

Cluster in Berkshire “opportunity for discussion on changes, share problems and offer support”

“Over 10 years ago a cluster group was set up as Berkshire Child Contact Centres in Partnership.  Our cluster meeting is attended by Co-ordinators from different centres, some solicitors, Cafcass, a mediator and the designated family Judge for Berkshire along with another District judge. This gives us an opportunity for discussion updating on changes in each area of work and a discussion of problems we face and possible ways we may be able to help each other. We meet twice a year.  We have quite a few towns very close together and more recently the Chiltern CCC from just over the border has joined us. We are also able to share training sessions. Pam, St Paul’s CCC, Bracknell

“Would like the resources to promote what we do in our area…”

Mary, at NYAS Contact Service Liverpool told us that they have limited links with their local Family Court and the same applies to the court’s awareness of what they do and their service. “We do need to promote our private facility for supervised contact more but don’t have the resources to do so… we attend the family justice group sub-committee which, although is of limited use in promoting our contact service is interesting for us.”

Postcode lottery

Centre co-ordinators from other areas of the country such as Devon, North London and Shropshire have reported recent difficulties in communication with their local court and to receive notification of when court users meetings are taking place. A centre in Devon has struggled to get links with their local court users committee and Cafcass officers based at the court and feels that this is a contributing factor to their decline in referrals. A centre in North London has struggled to get permission from their local court to display their leaflets and Valerie, co-ordinator for the Shropshire CCCs told us“For many years I attended the Family Courts User Group meetings, however, since re-organisation I found it extremely difficult to be notified of the meetings.”

Local court manager assisting with court order delays

Exeter Southernhay CCC is in touch with their local court to address issues they are experiencing with court orders. “Principally when the order is made no provision is made to communicate the contents to us accurately, or if the court directs we receive a copy, it does not materialise for weeks.  As you can appreciate this is not helpful for us and families who are already using our centre. Problems have occurred both with litigants in person and when parents are being represented by solicitors and barristers. Our local court manager is being most helpful and is setting up a meeting between Cafcass, a judge (HHJ Robertshaw) and ourselves.”

6 ideas to get known at your local court

  1. Magistrates’ meetings/training days – see if you can give a presentation about your centre.
  2. Court users/liaison meetings (sometimes with judiciary, Cafcass, magistrates representative) – see if you can attend and give a presentation about your centre.
  3. Invite local judiciary to your training or open daysExeter Southernhay CCC invited a local district judge to their centre’s AGM to talk about his work in family law hearings… “this led to us having a greater understanding regarding the wording of the orders he makes and he is more aware of our premises. With reduced numbers having legal aid our partnership with the courts are even more essential.”
  4. Make contact with the court to see if your posters/leaflets can be displayed in the Cafcass room and public areas (this may or may not be possible)
  5. Invite local Magistrates/Cafcass officers/JPs to join your management committee (it helps to raise these agencies’ awareness of your service and the difference between supervised and supported contact)
  6. And finally, why not see if the local FCJ is interested in being your Patron? Susan at Pudsey CCC in Leeds has shared the great experience they’ve had… “Our patron was Judge Peter Hunt head of family law at Leeds court and he has now been replaced by Judge Charles Prest also of Leeds court. Both have been great. They know about the centre, attend events and we can exchange feedback such as how much easier it is when a Cafcass officer is appointed to a family. At the handover party they gave a really encouraging speech about contact centres and how they would have nowhere to send the families if it wasn’t for us. Why not try contacting your local Family Court and asking if a Judge would consider becoming Patron for your centre?”
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