Ray, Co-ordinator at Glamorgan House Family Development Centre in Swansea shares their experience of the last few months:

As Covid-19 engulfed us, the lockdown descended upon us with little to no notice with mixed messages coming from the authorities and government about the opening of Contact Centres. Visiting parents were distraught and devastated to be told on the 25th of March, 2020, that all contact with their children a “very precious time they shared once a week or fortnight” will be suspended forthwith. We had to act fast to find ways of minimising this unprecedented situation and the impact of the lockdown on children and their emotional needs and rights to see their non-resident parents.

Past experience of the use of digital services during the course of my previous career and ‘Zoom’ came to the rescue. We chose ‘Zoom’ out of all the other virtual service providers because it preserved the confidentiality of the personal details of the parent’s email addresses. Another hurdle before embarking on the virtual contact services was accessing information from the files of the clients as Covid-19 meant I had to self-isolate myself and remain indoors.

Volunteers came to my rescue and with the help of sessional supervisor we started out first supervised contact session on the 4th of April 2020. It has now progressed to 15-18 families each week, including supported contact and both growing in numbers. We amended our Policies & Procedures to include virtual contact services, as all pre contact had to be done electronically such as pre visits and acceptance and confirmation of the terms and conditions of the provision of virtual services. Phil Coleman, NACCC’s Development Director was of great help and his help and assistance throughout these difficult and unprecedented times has been unmeasurable. The CEO Elizabeth Coe was equally involved in helping us get through with lots of positive encouragement from her as to what we were doing.

It was just good to talk to them to get reassurance that we were going in the right direction, thankyou NACCC for the support from all of you, including the activities link for the parents and the children; it worked well. The feedback from the parents in their evaluation forms were very positive, particularly from the visiting parents ‘for the provision of virtual contact enabling them to continue seeing their children’.

To see the children enjoying their time with their separated loved ones mitigated some of the gloom and doom of Covid-19. We’ve seen children have the most enjoyable time with their mother from interacting with quiz to dancing with lots of laughter. Both children were disappointed the session (one hour) was ending and hugged mum on the screen.

Children have been able to share experiences that have helped to provide reassurance and improved well-being. Their pets have been with them, special drawings at home can be shown and they have been able to express worries for the safety of their non-resident parent as a key worker or grandparent’s safety during this difficult period.

“As we reopen, virtual contact will enable us to show children the layout of the centre and familiarise them before they start their contact thus avoiding unnecessary visit to the centre…”

Once the Welsh Government had relaxed many of the restrictions, we reopened the Centre for physical contact as of 20th of July 20, but continued with virtual contact as well, which has many positives. Virtual contact will enable us to show children the layout of the Centre and familiarise them before they start their contact thus avoiding unnecessary visit to the Centre, including doing pre visits. Covid-19 has taught us to be flexible and ready to find alternative ways of improving and providing our services.

Last but not least the innovative way of keeping the children in contact with their non-resident parents during the complete lockdown would not have been possible without the cooperation of both parents and I thank them but particularly the resident parents who put their personal differences aside to see that their child/ren achieve their lawful rights of maintaining their relationship with their non-resident parent.

I do hope that as we move forward and back to the Centre more and more parents will follow their example and ensure that their children have a meaningful relationship with their non-resident parent, their lawful right and in the process support their emotional well-being.

Ray Singh CBE (Hon Dr of Law), Manager/Coordinator

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