NACCC operates a secure online referral system to enable separated parents and other family members to self-refer to accredited child contact centres.
Safeguarding centres, families, children
Behind every application is a child or children. These children need to spend time with their non-resident family member in an appropriate environment. In the majority of cases a supported environment will be suitable and the contact centre can be used to keep communication and contact going for this child which is essential. In some cases, a parent may apply to a supported centre, but the safety issues are such that a supervised centre is necessary. The SRS system operates a traffic light system which screens applications at the initial stage for suitability for a supported child contact centre.
If an application is not suitable the process stops and the parent is given signposting information about supervised services. Applications reaching the ‘hub’ are risk assessed for suitability by NACCC’s social work staff. Over the last year 8 applications were screened as unsuitable before even reaching the hub and 119 applications/cases were not approved for supported contact.1 This preparation work undertaken by the NACCC hub helps to support co-ordinators dealing with referrals. It is not always a quick job to screen and risk assess referrals and as the needs of families become more complex hopefully this is a way in which NACCC can support centres offering supported contact. NACCC is aware that some local authority referrals are accepted by supported centres without question when in fact some of these cases are of parents with multiple problems. Again, the SRS can offer a risk assessment for these cases.
1. NACCC SRS data April 2016 – March 2017
Kelly, the lead social worker who works on the hub writes about her experience:
I have worked on the SRS system for roughly three years and I am still surprised by the complexities and difference between individual cases. When a referral is allocated a conversation is had with both resident and non-resident parent. There has also been a high level of grandparents applying for contact and a high level of mothers applying as the non-resident parent. Often the parents have found themselves in turmoil without the assistance of a professional to help them through the process. I find myself counselling, sign-posting and in a high number of cases explaining to parents what is happening in their court case and how the legal process works. With the loss of legal aid and parents self-litigating I can guide them to the Family Law Panel for a free legal conversation.
Depending on the situation I can signpost parents towards the right help for them. Even when parents are not deemed suitable for supported contact I can put them in touch with a supervised contact centre for a few sessions and ask them to sign on to a course or to engage with the services they need.Parents are not always happy that they are advised to go to a supervised contact centre but once this is discussed from the child’s perspective the parents are open to this. Many parents thank me when they come back for supported contact as they comment on the individual attention and service they have received. A non-resident parent commented ‘looking back now, they would never have got my son in the room. I was a complete stranger to him. The supervised contact centre helped me and my son and the contact flowed’.
If a case is difficult I will discuss this with the centre and try to put a plan in place to manage the family. If the contact centre feels they cannot take the case I discuss this with the family and look at what they can do to get to the supported contact centre stage. I also advise parents to access the online parenting plan and to engage with mediation once contact has started so they can devise a move on plan from the centre. It is important to ensure that the parents do not see the contact centre as a long term solution and I always discuss with them ideas of how contact can move on either via handovers from the centre, third party to support in the community or what the non-resident parent can do to prove they are able to meet the child’s needs in the community.
If a family have any professionals involved with them I can contact them and find out the relevant information to ensure a full risk assessment is carried out. The initial safeguarding checks will look at the history of both parents through enhanced police records and local authority intervention. There is sometimes confusion amongst professionals who are not quite aware of the different levels of supported and supervised contact. Social workers have asked for reports on cases and when they are made aware that this cannot be given from a supported centre they state that the family need a higher level of contact. I have worked with Cafcass and built up a good rapport with centres which allows the SRS system to work smoothly. There are many cases which have come through the SRS system that are not suitable for supported contact centres and this is only through networking with Cafcass and liaising with social services and other agencies that these cases have come to light.
Why not sign up to the SRS? “Invaluable… safe… thorough…”
“We find using the Safe referral system invaluable. We can be confident that the risk assessment process is thorough and Kelly has access to speak to external agencies involved with a family before making a decision if supported contact is suitable for the family. She has the authority to suggest a few sessions of supervised contact before a family comes through to supported contact. It also gives a second opinion to me as manager as to the suitability of the family to beginning contact as well as a port of call with safeguarding concerns around a family before or during their time at the centre. We can also fall back on Kelly’s authority by using her decision to back up decisions we are making around a family. I feel we work well in partnership with the families using the centre.” Sarah, Co-ordinator (Cheltenham CCC)
“For me the SRS is a safe and easy way of families applying for contact. From a Coordinator point of view it is also very easy to use and everything is under one roof, so to speak! The system is logical and helps you keep a good track and record of all the families applying for contact. I like that the Centre keeps autonomy of the acceptance of referrals but Kelly at the NACCC HUB is thorough when making referrals and her referral notes that supports the families referral are to an excellent standard, which really helps. She knows and understands our Centre and is happy to chat about a case at any time pre & post referral/pre visit. I would totally recommend the SRS, it works well for me and our Centre.” Tammy, Co-ordinator (Gloucester CCC)
The system has been recently upgraded with improvements to the screening process and has been made more user friendly for parents and staff at NACCC. The wording of the automatic email which is sent to the resident parents has been worked on in order to explain the benefits of child contact centres and to alleviate concerns. It is hoped that this will increase the engagement with the system from resident parents in particular.
Accredited centres can join the system today!
Full details and application form are on our website – please send the application form direct to the NACCC office.