Although well-established in many other countries Child Contact Centres are relatively new to Ireland. As a result, many people know little about the vitally important role they can play for Irish children.
What is a Child Contact Centre?
- A Child Contact centre has several roles and caters for children who don’t live with both their parents:
- It is a centre which provides a neutral and safe venue for the children of separated parents to meet with one or both of their parents.
- It caters for children in care who have access times with their natural parents
- It also caters or children who live with one parent but can only see the other parent with supervision (for safety or other welfare reasons).
In Ireland, there is a huge shortage of places for children to have supervised time with a parent and this often means that family or friends have to step in to act as supervisors, which is not always ideal. In other cases, access is effectively denied, and relationships drift as a result.
What should a good Contact Centre provide – 3 key areas of support
Handovers: where parents have concerns over meeting with each other or tend to have disagreements at the time of handover, these can be managed by the centre staff. Usually the visiting parent will take the child out of the centre for the duration of the visit, returning them later for collection by the parent they live with.
Support Contact Services: this is basically enabling relationships to develop in a neutral venue, and may include the wider extended family. There can be a range of reasons why such a neutral venue is needed: There may be no other neutral space to meet, ; perhaps they need e to meet a long absent parent, or supervision may be required to meet a parent who is now stable but has a history of mental illness or of addiction. Or it can be a space for a young father who needs support and reassurance in dealing with a young child or infant they do not live with.
Supervised Contact: where a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm during access – then supervision ensures the safety and emotional wellbeing of the child.
At present in Ireland supervision services are provided by Child Contact centres at The Guardian Project in Arklow, Co Wicklow, and at Barnardos – who run a pilot project in Dublin.
Why Ireland needs more Child Contact Centres:
As you can see, a Child Contact Centre can foster parental relationships that otherwise may die, and can provide a safe and neutral venue for children to conduct a relationship with a parent they do not live with in safe and protected way. The centres offer support to both parents and children, and may also support members of the wider extended family.
The need for more centres should be seen as an essential child and parental support service for the growing number of families affected by separation and divorce, and for children in care. The centres can ensure parental visits are conducted in way which meets the best interests of the child but which also promotes and maintains the confidence of their parents.
If you need advice or support on any of the issues raised above, please call Alan Finnerty on 01 637 6200. Or you can email him at email@example.com
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