Friday 22 September 2017

Keeping contact - child contact centres

A new report has highlighted the need for child-contact centres in Ireland to facilitate parents and children who are not living together. Carmel Doyle reports

Carmel Doyle

ONE Family, the Irish organisation for one-parent families, has recently carried out seminal research, focusing on the requirement for child-contact centres in Ireland. The research, which was funded by the Family Support Agency, resulted in the publication of the report Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland.

As part of its research, One Family looked at the provision of contact centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and New Zealand and the ratio of children requiring such services.

In addition, 32 professionals who are involved in contact issues in Ireland, ranging from legal experts to psychologists, contributed to the report, while 25 parents were interviewed – including mothers and fathers, resident and non-resident parents.

Karen Kiernan, director, One Family, describes contact centres as neutral, child-friendly, safe environments that should be welcoming to children and to parents.

"Because One Family works with people who are parenting alone and sharing the parenting of their children, we know that it is an issue for a minority of families where there might be conflict or difficulty in arranging contact between the non-resident parent (who is usually the dad) and the child or children."

She explains how there can often be situations where they may have difficulty in finding a good, suitable place to spend time with their children without it costing them a lot of money.

"A contact centre is a place where both parents can feel comfortable going and it's child friendly.

" They can have very good outcomes for children. The idea is to try to deal with and reduce some of the conflict and stress that can exist for children around contact," she affirms.

Currently, there are nearly 189,000 one-parent families in Ireland, or one in five families, but not every family would require contactcentre services.

The report indicates that an estimated 1,300 parents and 2,700 children per year would benefit from having access to a child-contact centre.

" When you are going through a separation it's hard and we always look for people to keep the focus on their children, as children do have a right to spend time – where appropriate – with both of their parents," says Kiernan.

She says the idea for contact centres is they should be used as a temporary stepping-stone environment to "either improve the skills of somebody's parenting or to help someone to get to know their child".

Also, if parents are in a dispute about how much time the other parent is to spend with the child, or if a child is just getting to know one parent, Kiernan says contact centres can act as a neutral environment where all those issues can get resolved.

"Some of those very individual, unique disputes that parents might have can be resolved and over time when the trust and relationships build up, you would be looking for those families to move out and to have their contact in more 'normal' places." So what needs to happen? " We need around 35 contact centres, with eight of those offering quite high levels of supervised contact.

"Ideally they would be delivered in local areas using existing services so they could be run out of family resource centres, for example. They could then provide a lot of wraparound services that parents require," she says.

In terms of the supervised contact centres, such supervision would be necessary if the child is thought to be at risk from a parent, but Kiernan makes the point that allegations against a parent are sometimes unfounded, thus making it a very harrowing situation for a parent and their child/children until the parent's name is cleared in the courts.

Since the publication of the contact-centre report, Kiernan says One Family has been working with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews TD, and a number of other organsisations such as the HSE, to develop pilot contact centres. Two pilot contact centres are on track to open in Dublin soon. For further information or advice, visit www.onefamily.ie or Lo-Call 1890 662212.

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