Family breakdowns are never easy. Even the most amicable of separations will hit a bump in the road somewhere along the line, particularly when it comes to the arrangements for the children. There’s always something to be discussed and an arrangement to be negotiated. What happens when agreements can’t be reached? Or when the court has to step in to help families put their children at the centre and establish the best way forward? That’s where contact centres come in. At Starting Point, our whole purpose is to be a contact centre with a difference. Here we’re taking you through how we work, the people we support and the types of contact we can offer. Everything we do is to ensure that the contact families have is as meaningful as possible for all involved.
Who we support – family can include a lot of people
When it comes to family breakdowns and contact arrangements, there’s the concerns, anxieties and feelings of a lot of people to consider. We’re not just talking about mums and dads here. This is an issue affecting extended family, step-parents and even carers, too.
The non-resident parent – craving some normality
There are a number of reasons why a non-resident parent might be looking to use a contact centre. A court may have decided that contact needs to happen this way initially, or for the foreseeable future. Maybe it’s to allow them to re establish contact after a significant period of time apart. It might also be the result of the communication between both parents becoming so unmanageable, that this is the best way of reducing tension and conflict when contact takes place. Whatever the reason, non-resident parents need support, not judgement. They’ll be experiencing a number of thoughts and feelings about using a contact centre. For example, it’s unfair, it’s dictated by their ex-partner, or it just doesn’t feel like a natural way to parent – all completely relatable and understandable objections. It’s really important to acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, and be a sounding board for any reservations a non-resident parent may have. Ultimately, if contact is to progress, everyone’s got to be fully on board.
The resident parent – feeling out of control
Whilst we work hard everyday to facilitate contact between children and the parent they don’t live with, we’re also very mindful of the needs of the resident parent, too. It’s absolutely crucial to be sympathetic to the anxieties of a child’s primary carer. Many parents find engaging with a contact centre a stressful prospect. This is particularly the case if there’s a risk to the child, or if there have been instances of abuse, substance misuse and/or domestic violence. We put a primary carer’s mind at ease by talking them through the process and how their child is the paramount consideration. This can go a long way to helping contact progress smoothly and successfully. After all, parents want to be assured that their kids are going to be OK.
Grandparents – stuck in the middle
When a relationship ends, and tensions and disagreements arise about who gets to see the children and when, grandparents often get caught in the crossfire. The most heartbreaking consequence occurs when grandparents, who have been used to spending regular time with their grandchildren, can no longer do so as a result of their adult child’s relationship with their spouse or partner ending. A common question in this case is: Do grandparents have rights to see grandchildren? From a legal standpoint, grandparents simply don’t have an automatic right to have contact with their grandchildren. As a result, they often find themselves attending family mediation, or even making an application to court in order to re establish contact. In situations like these, a contact centre can be a source of reassurance, reliability and security. Using a contact centre, along with mediation, can help reduce delay, reduce conflict, and help get problems around contact resolved far more amicably (not to mention economically) than court proceedings.
The types of contact we can help with
If a relationship ends and children are involved, there are a number of ways in which contact between parents and their children can take place. Sometimes, parents are able to agree arrangements between themselves with minimal disagreement and this is of course the best way to get the desired outcome. However, if an agreement can’t be reached, a contact centre may well be the perfect place to get things started, depending on the support you need.
Supervised contact might be deemed appropriate in circumstances where a child is thought to be at risk of harm. This could be because there’s been a history of physical and/or emotional and substance misuse issues. It’s something that may be considered where a child has never met, or has had limited contact with, their non-resident family member. It’s usual for supervised contact to happen as the result of family proceedings before the court, and a recommendation from CAFCASS or a social worker. Sessions are supervised by our knowledgeable and experienced staff, and progress reports are written so that decisions can be made as to how contact can progress. Supervised contact can be difficult for all concerned. But that’s not to say that it can’t be meaningful, enjoyable and engaging for everybody involved.
Where the breakdown of a relationship has resulted in tension and acrimony between parents, supported contact can help things run that little bit smoother. Supported contact is often used in situations where there’s no requirement for detailed reports about how contact is going, and where risks to the child are deemed to be low. It can be helpful where parents are making progress when it comes to overcoming their own personal issues, or where children are reluctant to attend contact. It can also be used where other family members, such as grandparents, are looking to reestablish contact with their grandchildren. At Starting Point, our expert team is on hand to provide parents with the support they need to help them meet the needs of their children, so that meaningful contact can take place and hopefully progress as both the child and non-resident parent starts to adapt.
Indirect contact (inc. letterbox contact)
If a court has ordered that indirect contact is the most appropriate course of action, this means that the non-resident parent can’t have any physical contact with their child or children at all. Instead, the contact happens by way of letters, emails and gifts. In some circumstances, the contact might take place over the telephone. Most commonly, a court orders indirect contact because this is what they deem to be in the best interests of the children involved as a result of the risks posed. And it’s in situations like this that contact centres can help children make sense of their current family dynamic. A contact centre can provide much needed neutral ground for indirect contact to really be able to make a difference.
Just when you think the contact arrangements are sorted, the issue of how the handover is going to happen throws a spanner into the works. At Starting Point, it’s our job to make sure that handovers don’t become a source of stress and contention. This should never be an obstacle to children having contact with one or other of their parents. Sometimes, separated parents are unable to maintain contact with one another. This might be because the tension between them is too much, or because there’s a court order in place preventing them from being in the same place (for example a Non-Molestation Order). Where this is an issue, it’s not uncommon for handovers to be facilitated by a third party. This could be family, friends or a contact centre. Our expert team is always on hand to assist with handovers, providing a safe and neutral pick up point for everyone involved.
Making contact work – our top tips
Whether you’re a resident parent worried about how the use of a contact centre will impact on your child, or you’re a non-resident parent using a contact centre as a way of seeing your children, there are a few things you can do to help ensure that things go well::
- Stick to the agreed dates and times.
- Don’t bring other people. This is about you and your children having meaningful contact.
- Cards and letters should be appropriate for your child. Try to write about the things that engage them, not about the things you’re finding difficult.
- Don’t make your presents and gifts too expensive or elaborate.
- Put all of your focus on helping your child deal with the situation.
- Bad mouthing your ex-partner has no place in successful contact.
- Don’t make any promises.
When relationships break down, or when courts have to step in, making arrangements for child contact can be difficult. And that’s why contact centres exist. It’s our job to ensure that when barriers feel insurmountable, there’s a place that children and parents can go in order to start, rebuild or maintain the level of contact that’s appropriate for their situation. If you’d like to know more about the types of contact we can help with, and how we’re working with families to make contact meaningful and successful, don’t hesitate to get in touch. This might just be your Starting Point.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a child contact centre?
The Starting Point Centre Children’s Contact Centre offers a safe, friendly and neutral space where children of separated families can spend time with their absent parent, and sometimes other family members. Our centre is a child friendly environment, away from high conflict situations, that provides toys, games and facilities that reflect the diverse needs of children affected by family breakdown.
Why use a contact centre?
At the Starting Point Centre we appreciate that separation can be a really difficult time and that some parents struggle to communicate, agree arrangements, see each other, and share their children with their ex-partner or extended family. A relationship breakdown between you and your partner, however, should not affect the bond your child shares with you both, and the importance that you have in their life. Breaking such a bond can have a devastating effect on your child’s happiness and their ability to reach their potential as they grow and develop.
What is Supported Contact?
Supported Contact, is facilitated by contact centre staff who will support children and their non-resident parent/family to meet, spend time together and encourage a healthy and meaningful relationship. Supported contact is suitable for families where there is no risk to the child or those around the child. Staff are available to assist, but there is no close observation, monitoring or evaluation of conversations or interactions. Supported Contact is viewed as a temporary arrangement and is reviewed after an agreed period. It is hoped that families can then move on and make their own arrangements in the best interest of their child.
What is Supervised Contact?
Supervised Contact is offered when a not absent but non-resident parent/family is identified as posing a risk to your child or those around them. Supervised contact will ensure your child is always physically and emotionally safe. Supervised contact is rigorously staffed, monitored and evaluated. Supervised contact takes place in a private space where only your child/ex-partner/family are present. Your child will be accompanied at all times throughout their contact.
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