A few years ago I was approached to aid the set up of a local Child Contact Centre. Naturally, first I looked round to see if it was actually me they were speaking to, or if there was someone behind me. It was confirmed that yes, it was me they wanted. Why? Because I have a background in counselling, working with children and their families, and a lot of safeguarding training under my belt, it all started to make sense.
That was four years ago and today, I find myself in Derby (which, isn’t ‘up north’ according to my fabulous sister in law, who is from ‘up north’ but as it took 5 hours to drive from London and appears to have a driving system all of it’s own, I’m giving it ‘up north’ status), for the National Association of Child Contact Centres Annual General Meeting & Conference. Try saying that in one go!
It surprises me how many people do not know what a contact centre is; they have often heard all the media about social workers removing children from homes etc (Daily Mail reader anyone?) but do not have the faintest idea of what can happen next. For those who are interested: Here is some info:
Contact Centres can be set up by any group of people. Mine (Kingston) was done through our church, as a community project. We set up as a voluntary programme, as in the whole shebang is unpaid and everybody, from the incredible lady (Jean) who runs it, to all the volunteers are there because they want to help those who really need it.
There are 2 types of Contact Centre: Supported and Supervised. Supported is a space (run by volunteers) where non-resident parents, and on occasion, grandparents, can spend time with their child(ren). Volunteers are there to facilitate this and keep the space safe. Supervised, is where the court order that has led to the use of the centre, requires the staff to document the sessions. This is usually in a paid capacity and run by professionals, rather than volunteers.
As Contact Centres are individually run, each one will have their own days/times/procedures. You can find information on centres local to you on the NACCC Website. They are also active on Facebook and Twitter.
There are many reasons why people lose contact with their children. In some cases it is because there has not been a safe environment for them to spend time together, in others, there can be more difficult circumstances. Not everybody who uses a contact centre is there because of a a court order, some are self referrals, where resident parents just need a little help to be able to start the contact again with the non-resident parent.
What is really important to remember is that Child Contact Centre is there for the children. If it is deemed int he child’s best interest for them to have contact with the non-resident parent, then this is somewhere that they can do it safely, with volunteers that they get to know and trust. The ultimate goal of contact centres is to move families on to being able to communicate amongst themselves. Some do this in as little as a few sessions, for others, it can take years.
If you would like to be involved with your local Child Contact Centre, be it by volunteering, offering training, donating supplies or donations to the NACCC, then please do get in touch via their website.