Written by Philip Coleman

Service Development Manager at NACCC

Phil has considerable experience in setting up and managing contact centres. His work with NACCC has been to undertake enhanced and supported accreditation inspections.

A question we hear a lot is: “I can’t imagine seeing my kids in a strange place and being watched – won’t it be awkward?”

It is quite normal to feel this way – spending time with your children in an environment which you are not used to can seem very daunting and intimidating. Many parents have not come across child contact centres before and so can feel apprehensive. If you are going to be using a supported centre the volunteers and staff are generally in the background and do not sit with you watching or listening to what you are saying. They want you and your children to have a positive experience and spend good quality time together. The volunteers and staff will go out of their way to make you as comfortable as possible.

“I was shown in the hall… suddenly the boys came in running to me, their arms open, both shouting ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ Big hugs for each one. It was like a rugby scrum only for once I was crying. They had not forgotten me.”

An environment to help you have quality time with your children

We aim to create a warm, sociable atmosphere where you and your children can relax and enjoy yourselves. Contact centres have toys, games and books for children of all ages. Tea, coffee and other refreshments are provided.

Research your local centre

Find out as much as you can about the centre so that it is more familiar when you go for your pre-visit. There may be photos on your local centre’s website showing what the various rooms look like and you should also be sent a leaflet from the centre explaining what it is like and how they run.

Pre-visits

If your local contact centre is accredited by NACCC you will have already been invited to the centre for what we call a ‘pre-visit’. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your worries with the person who runs the centre before the first session when you’ll be seeing your kids.

During the pre-visit you’ll get a chance to look round and the co-ordinator will go through some paperwork which helps them to double check that the service their centre offers is going to be appropriate for your situation.

Your ex-partner and children will also be invited for a pre-visit on a different occasion to you. In this respect it can be compared to the preparation visits when a child is first starting school or nursery.

Again, part of their visit will include a look round the centre so that the environment can become more familiar and your kids can see the types of toys and games that the centre has.

For more information about accredited contact centres please check the NACCC website.

My children don’t like going to the contact centre

It is important to find out why your children are not enjoying coming to the contact centre. It might be a good idea to speak to the coordinator, volunteers or team leader at the centre to see if we can make things more comfortable for your children. We may be able to help by providing toys that your children particularly like.

Parents can also support their children with the emotions related to contact centres by making it ‘OK’ to talk about contact in a positive and exciting way. Children are very perceptive and will feed off the emotions and anxieties of the resident parent.

Helping your children express their feelings

Your centre may have a way of your children giving feedback if they find it hard to put into words how they are feeling. For example, centres in Yorkshire have developed some ‘Buzz my feeling’ sensory boxes (in consultation with the Family Justice Young People’s Board) which support children particularly if they lack the confidence to verbalise their emotions and feelings. It is hoped that this tool can help volunteers, staff and parents to pick up on issues sooner, so that appropriate encouragement, reassurance or other relevant follow-up can take place.

Reviews

You will not be using the contact centre forever. Ideally, contact centres provide a stepping stone to having contact in a more natural environment. In due course you should move on to perhaps just using the centre as a place to pick up/drop off (known as a ‘handover’) and then to make your own independent arrangements for your children without needing the centre at all. The centre co-ordinator will organise a review to help you prepare for this. If this seems too daunting there are some great free online resources to help you make this next step.

Cafcass produce a range of information that will support you when experiencing separation and/or accessing a contact service. We particularly like the Parenting Plans that support separated parents to consider how they might be able toco-parent in a way that puts then needs of children first.

I haven’t seen my kids for ages and am going to see them for the first time in our local contact centre. I am very nervous.

It’s normal to feel nervous and many parents think that their kids will have forgotten them but when they see their kids they realise they haven’t. It’s a special time for you and your kids so take deep breaths and enjoy it.

One dad shared his experience with us:

“I was shown in the hall… suddenly the boys came in running to me, their arms open, both shouting ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ Big hugs for each one. It was like a rugby scrum only for once I was crying. They had not forgotten me.”

Will my kids be safe in the contact centre?

All centres on the NACCC website are accredited and inspected by NACCC to ensure they provide a safe and neutral environment. This endorsed accreditation process demonstrates that the centre is working to agreed and approved national standards, ensuring the safety of you and your children. The national standards are updated by NACCC in line with legislation and good practice.

Which contact service is best for your kids?

There are a range of contact services which can be used depending on your situation and the level of risk.

Supervised contact

Is there a potential risk of harm? Supervised contact ensures the physical safety and emotional well-being of children in a one-to-one observed setting.

Supported contact

Supported contact keeps children in touch with parents if trust has broken down or communication is difficult. Parents or family members do not have to meet and several families use the facilities at the same time.

Handover service

This is when the centre is used for a short period as a drop off/pick up point. Again, family members do not have to meet.

Ways to help your contact run smoothly

The centre has strict rules which are there to make the contact run as smoothly and safely as possible for your children.

Typical rules at a supported contact centre would normally include the following:

  • Parents are responsible for the safety and supervision of their children at all times while at the centre. No child may be left without a parent in attendence.
  • The resident parent must leave a contact number when leaving children at the centre.
  • A child can only be taken from a centre during a visit if this is stated on the referral form, or with written consent of both parents.
  • Relative or friends can only attend if they re named on the referral form.
  • There must be no arguing infront of the children. Abusive or aggressive behaviour and racist or other offensive remarks will not be tolerated.  Any visitor acting in such a way will be asked to leave.
  • No mobile phones, photographs (unless agreed with the coordinator) portable computers or pets allowed.
  • Alcohol, drugs or anyone under the influence of these will not be allowed on the premises

Additional Reading/Resources

You may find our page on How To Tell Your Children You Are Divorcing – Recommended Books useful.

The Handover Book by Ashley Palmer is a unique and simple communication book for separated families. It will allow them both to always be aware of what is happening in their children’s busy lives as they go from one household to another. It’s a way of communicating the important things they both need to know about their children, while keeping your relationship as parents friendly and calm.

Charlotte Friedman has written Breaking Upwards – How To Manage The Emotional Impact Of Separation. Charlotte offers calm, therapeutic advice on everything from how to manage loneliness to letting go of grievance, and draws on illuminating case studies to answer questions such as:  How long before I get over this divorce? How do I tell the children?  How do I cope with the new partner in my ex’s life?

 

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