Recently we have become aware of examples whereby supported contact centres are being called to Court to give evidence. This is becoming a worrying trend and one that undermines the model we have tried for so long to protect and promote. Supported Centres are essential to children and their families when accessing the family courts and it is also true that without the work that many of you do there would be a massive gap in services that would most likely go unmet otherwise. The consequence of this is that children will be denied contact with the people that they care about.
However, we also know that when levels of pressure and bureaucracy are increased many supported centres feel unable to continue because of the impact this can have on other parts of the service and the lives of those offering the service, often on a voluntary basis.
As you will be aware NACCC has a Judicial Protocol that was most recently reviewed with Sir James Munby, the Head of the Family Division at the time. Since this time a fresh commitment has been given by Sir Andrew McFarlane that the Judicial Protocol also has his support and therefore the current version is accepted as relevant.
Have you ever read the Judicial Protocol? If not, it is worth having a look at this and making a note of the relevant content. This can be found using this link and also within the NACCC Website. The Judicial Protocol is written with the aim of supporting our members to be able to practice in a way that is in the best interests of children and families and Child Contact Centre Volunteers whilst also being genuinely impartial and independent of other processes.
There are occasions when the Courts will order you to attend. What NACCC would recommend that you do when these occasions occur is reply to the person that sent you the Order with a copy or link to the protocol asking if they still need your attendance in light of the information provided. On most occasions our experience is that the Courts will no longer require your attendance from this point.
In order to reduce the likelihood of centres being called to give evidence it is important that the following are taken consideration of:
1. Supported centres do not provide verbal or written handovers. Often, we offer information to very friendly professionals face to face or over the telephone. We have often worked with these people with other families and get on well with them, so it feels ‘safe’. If you do this, it is reasonable that your information will be used in official reports and that you will be called to court to give evidence based upon the information shared.
2. Supported centres do not make or share observations. If you do this (and go to the extent to record these in writing), it is reasonable that your information will be used in official reports and that you will be called to court to give evidence based upon the information shared. Professionals are welcome to come into supported centres to make their own observations if this is something that would be helpful to them.
3. Supported centres do not share written information about families. Exceptions to this relate to where there are issues relating to Safeguarding and in these examples the NACCC Safeguarding Procedure should be followed alongside and secondary to guidance issued by your Local Safeguarding Children Board. If you get into the habit of sharing written notes, reports, emails, updates, letters and so on it is reasonable that your information will be used in official reports and that you will be called to court to give evidence based upon the information shared. The only written information that NACCC would advise sending out would include providing an attendance list and many centres are now finding it easier to provide these to all families leaving the service.
If you follow the advice above it is much harder for you to be Ordered to Court.
In recognition of the fact that your time is valuable, it is also worth considering whether you want to introduce a court attendance fee. Often having a fee can help people focus on how much your attendance is needed. This fee can be whatever you want it to be. I would also suggest that when you write this into your centre documents you consider travel time and costs in order to ensure that these are reimbursed.
The likelihood is that your attendance will never be needed but, in the case, where you are required at least you and / or your service will not be out of pocket.
If ever you feel like you need advice or support relating to anything (it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the content of this article) you are welcome to call, or email and we will always do our best for you. If you would like to speak with me personally or if you need support once the NACCC phonelines become inactive then I would welcome calls on my mobile (please contact the NACCC office for details). It can be the case that I don’t always answer first time, particularly if I am in meetings etc, but leave a message and I will always come back to you.
Philip Coleman – Service Development Manager