Children living in North Yorkshire will now have to travel out of county or risk losing contact with their family members as the last two supported centres in Harrogate and York have reluctantly had to close their doors. These two centres still have willing volunteers and venue facilities but need co-ordinators to lead the team and in the case of York vital funding to continue the service in the future.

Again, children living in Cumbria, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire will have to travel out of area due to local closures and a lack of accredited supervised services in their area.

As mentioned above the situation in North Yorkshire is particularly bleak and over the last 30-months* we have seen the closure of 55 services (including 35 supported only contact centres) with West Yorkshire under particular pressure as the remaining centres take in the extra referrals. We have also seen the closure of 29 supervised services in the last 30 months and although we have had a similar number join NACCC they have not replaced the services in the areas of need. Local children in Cumbria, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire are in urgent need of enhanced accredited provision. Manchester and Wiltshire have also seen significant closures.

Supported contact provision in North Wales has recently become more urgent due to recent supported centre closures. There has always been a lack of any contact provision in mid Wales but this situation is now more concerning with a lack of services in Neath Port Talbot and Merthyr Tydfil. Apart from a concentration of provision in in Carmarthenshire and Cardiff the area generally relies on one centre per county.

*Centres closed during the period 1 April 2019 to 1 October 2021

Is your succession planning sorted?

11 of the 35 supported contact centres that closed over the last 30 months closed because they did not have a deputy in place to take up the reins when the existing co-ordinator retired. Elizabeth Coe has written to members expressing her concerns:

Dear colleagues, this is sad on a number of levels.  Firstly, it means that centres that are still open have developed waiting lists because they have had requests from families from the closed centres.  Secondly, children have often to travel much greater distances.  When children have already waited throughout lengthy court proceedings, and then having to wait for a place at a centre they have lost valuable time with a loving parent...

It is well known, as I have said it often, the job of a coordinator is difficult and should be paid.  I understand that this can present some difficulties for some centres in organising payroll.  I am sure we could help centres to organise this.  A shared coordinator would also mean shared costs.  It would also be sensible in all cases to have a deputy in place who can run the organisation in the absence of the coordinator or take on the role when the coordinator leaves.

We asked Mary, Trustee at Nottingham Child Contact Centre (the first private law contact centre and has been running since 1985) for some advice on their approach. She told us:

Volunteer led organisations rely upon the recruitment of suitable helpers especially in the key leadership roles such as finance, and administration, and training.  Many become charities and Charity Commission Guidance lists succession planning as a strategic responsibility of the governing trustees.   They are required to plan to ensure the future sustainability of the organisation. This applies similarly to those centres that are incorporated as businesses.

The governance of charities is normally documented in a Trust Deed, comprising a set of rules for the operation of the organisation.  Typically, this requires forming a structured management group for organisational leadership.  Mary Lower, the founder of contact centres, recognised the importance of leadership, and she ensured that management control was always shared to sustain the future of the group.

Need further guidance? – checkout the ‘recruitment and volunteers’ and ‘co-ordinating across multiple venues’ conference articles for some top tips from co-ordinators of both supported and supervised contact centres!

Is your centre reliant on a single source of funding?

The majority of the 29 supervised services that have closed recently have closed possibly due to a dependency on a single funder, factors linked to the pandemic or have had to reduce their remit to remain sustainable. 4 supported services have closed due to lack of financial sustainability.

Need further guidance? – checkout the ‘co-ordinating across multiple venues’, ‘fundraising’ and ‘diversification’ conference articles for some top tips from co-ordinators of both supported and supervised contact centres!

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