The way child contact centres are regulated in future represents a major opportunity for the Scottish Government, writes Ian Maxwell
(This blog is an excerpt from Shared Parenting Scotland’s submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Child Contact Centres)
Scottish Contact Centres have evolved over the last 30 years from a totally voluntary ad hoc sector provided by a range of charities to a new stage of official regulation.
Contact Centres provide a place for children to have contact with one of their parents. This type of contact can be self-referred or court ordered where it is felt that some supervision is necessary to determine the validity of concerns that have been raised about safety or competence of that parent or the strength of the relationship with a child.
Contact Centres can also offer “supported” contact where there is no direct supervision and also a basic “handover” service where children can be picked up/dropped off for unsupervised contact.
It is vital that an overall vision statement for the future provision of child contact is agreed, including consideration of the wider areas of family and parenting support that Contact Centres might support.
The existing 45 Child Contact Centres in Scotland are run by a range of local charities, most of them members of the Relationships Scotland network. Some own or rent their own premises, others use space owned by other private or public sector bodies.
One of the key changes in the 2020 Children (Scotland) Act is the introduction of minimum standards for accommodation and staff training in these Child Contact Centres. Shared Parenting Scotland has responded to the current Scottish Government consultation about these changes and our full response is available here.
Our response is drawn from feedback from Shared Parenting Scotland clients who have experience of Contact Centres but also from our own online consultation sessions with Contact Centre users, Contact Centre staff and family lawyers during June and July 2021.
We absolutely acknowledge the role that existing contact centres play but understand they are always under pressure and unsure of long term funding that would allow them to invest with confidence. We equally acknowledge the legislation requires to Scottish Government to overhaul the current set up.
We are concerned that this process risks have a negative impact on the availability of places for children to have court-ordered contact with one of their parents.
The charities who run the centres will have to find additional funding to carry out the necessary changes to their premises and to carry out extra staff training. Some long-standing volunteers may just leave.
There are already significant gaps in the provision of contact centres across Scotland and existing centres are currently struggling to deal with the backlog caused by closure during the pandemic, including arranging court ordered contact and providing court ordered reports.
This is a major opportunity for the Scottish Government to come up with a positive vision for supporting parents at the time they may need most help to do their best by their children.
Ian Maxwell is National Manager of Shared Parenting Scotland