Contact Centre regulation – consultation meeting

The Scottish Government has issued a consultation as part of their plans to introduce regulation of Child Contact Centres, seeking responses by the 12th of July.

Shared Parenting Scotland has arranged an online meeting on Wednesday 5th May from 7-8.30pm to give parents who use contact centres a chance to find out more about the proposed changes and discuss the questions in the consultation.  We have invited some contact centre managers from across Scotland to join the discussion to hear their views about these changes.  More details of the meeting and sign-up details are here.

The Consultation is about the changes that are being introduced by the Children (Scotland) Act 2020.  These include standards for contact centre accommodation and for the training of staff and volunteers, and a new national registration procedure for all the contact centres.  A national inspection scheme and complaints process will also be introduced.

The fact that such changes are being introduced doesn’t mean that existing contact centres are badly run or unsafe.  Scotland’s contact centres have been established over the past 40 years by a range of charities, now operating mainly under the umbrella of Relationships Scotland and funded by a mixture of fees, legal aid and charitable fundraising. Despite this mixed background the 45 current contact centres operate in a professional fashion and already have standards and training for staff and volunteers.

This move puts them all in a nationally regulated framework and will mean that all referrals from courts and lawyers will have to be to these regulated services.

Given the importance of contact centres within the family court system, Shared Parenting Scotland expects that these changes will be accompanied by adequate long-term funding from Scottish Government.   It was estimated in the Financial Memorandum to the Children (Scotland) Act that the cost of regulation of child contact centres for providers could be between £0.76m and £2.52m in initial costs (2022-23) and £0.32m a year in ongoing costs. The costs for the body appointed to oversee regulation are estimated to be £0.49m in the first year (2022-23) and £0.43m a year subsequently in ongoing costs.

Spending such significant amounts of money on regulation should also mean that the actual service should have a guaranteed  funding stream to cover the costs of providing the existing service and developing additional aspects.

At present there are significant gaps in the network of contact centres particularly in the Scottish islands and a lack of provision on weekdays.  The imposition of national standards also provides an opportunity to consider how contact centres can become a key part of a process to assist separated parents to work together to support their children and also to help those parents who have not lived with their children to understand how best to make contact work.

Contact Centres provide an essential service for parents involved in disputes following separation – providing an opportunity for children to restart seeing one of their parents in way which can avoid the need for the parents to see each other.  Contact is usually either ordered by the court or by agreement between the parents.

Sometimes the use of a contact centre is ordered because of concerns about a parent’s capacity to look after children because of drug or alcohol abuse, past violence or simply because the children have not seen that parent for a long time.  In other cases, parents who are perfectly able to look after their children have to use the centre because of a very bitter separation or a lack of trust from their ex-partner.

Contact centres are not intended to be a long term solution for maintaining contact between a parent and child, although handover services can in some cases be facilitated on a longer-term basis to provide a stress-free environment in which the contact can continue.  Services like play therapy, obtaining the views of children and other positive family supports can be provided alongside the operation of child contact sessions – always trying to support the children and their parents to overcome the difficulties or problems that have led to contact centre use.