In almost all cases where parents decide to separate, the main concern for both of them is what will happen in terms of the arrangements for their children. Because of the emotion involved, disputes can become toxic with one parent alleging that the other should not be allowed to spend much time with their children or in some cases, should not be allowed any time with them whatsoever.
Where concerns are raised about one parent’s ability to keep their children safe during their time with them, one answer can be for that parent to see their children in a child contact centre where staff and trained volunteers can oversee the contact to ensure that the children are safe and happy. It is therefore worrying to hear from the National Association for Child Contact Centres (NACCC) that 40 centres have closed in the last 18 months throughout England and Wales.
There is no shortage of separated parents who want to spend time with their children so why, might you ask, are these valuable centres in decline? One explanation is that in April 2013 legal aid was cut for almost all family law work meaning that many people are unable to access Solicitors to guide them through the process of making arrangements to see their children. Often people simply don’t know what to do or where to turn for help and this leaves a society with a section of the population who are simply unaware of their options for dealing with one of the most important things in their lives – their relationship with their children.
It is understood from NACCC that in 2013, there were around 15,000 children using contact centres to spend time with a parent or other relative whereas in 2014, this figure dropped to only 9,000. There has been no withdrawal or reduction in funding for these centres but the worry is that because people either don’t know about them or don’t know how to access their services, they are simply walking away feeling as though they have no option other than to give up. It is not a lack of funding that is leading to the closure of these important resources; rather it is a lack of people accessing their services.
Family Lawyers know that sometimes one parent will make completely unfounded and malicious allegations about the other in an attempt to cut off that parent’s relationship with their children. When this happens the parent who is being accused can often end up in the Court process as only a Judge can force one parent to allow the other time with their children. In cases such as this the person making the allegations will need to prove to the Court that they are true. Sometimes the process of dealing with the allegations can take months to finalise and many lawyers will be familiar with cases where once the Judge has determined that there is no evidence to back up the allegations, the parent who has made them then turns around and says that the children (particularly if they are very young) will have forgotten who the other parent is or will be uncomfortable or scared when they are reintroduced to them. Child contact centres can offer a lifeline in such cases to parents desperate to see their children again as the aim of the centres is to give parents and children a safe environment where they can maintain a relationship with their children during a difficult, emotional time. Once it is apparent that the children are quite comfortable spending time with the parent that they do not live with, matters can progress so that quality time can be spent with children away from the centre.
Contact centres are not designed to be a venue where one parent will have to spend time with their children for the rest of their lives but they can be a very important stepping stone towards maintaining a parent-child relationship that otherwise might not exist.
If you would like more information about how to access a child contact centre, or about what you can do if your ex partner is preventing you from seeing your children then why not get in touch to discuss your options.