Do you want to know what supported contact is? You may understand the basic concept, but perhaps you’re unsure how it works. Since the launch of our new child contact centre in Birmingham, I’ve seen that this is often the case.
There’s a lot of uncertainty amongst separated parents. So, what is supported contact? And how is it different from other types of child contact?
What is Supported Contact?
Supported contact enables children to meet their non-resident parent(s) and other family members. It is facilitated at a contact centre and provides a safe, neutral meeting place. There are staff at hand to support children and non-resident parents while they spend time together.
This type of contact is suitable for families where no significant risk to the child, or parents, has been identified.
There are a limited number of contact centres in Birmingham. Some offer a free service and some (like ours) charge a small fee. Free services usually operate at weekends and contact sometimes takes place in communal rooms.
How Does Supported Contact Work?
Recently we’ve been reaching out to other family services in the West Midlands. To let them know that we’re here and also to draw on their experience of facilitating child contact.
I have met a lot of helpful people, including Dennis Dixon and Clive Jones from Hall Green Child Contact Centre. Dennis is the Contact Centre Coordinator and Clive is the Chair of the Board and Trustees.
Instead of just talking about our contact service, I thought it would be good for you to hear from someone who’s successfully arranged supported contact for over 4 years.
During that time they have brought children and non-resident parents together on nearly 2,400 occasions.
After my visit to meet Dennis I asked him a few questions about how their service works. Here’s the questions I put to him – and his answers.
1, Who can make a referral to your contact centre?
We accept referrals for supported contact from virtually anywhere, including:
- solicitors practising family law
- The Personal Support Unit
- Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)
- Mediation Services
- McKenzies Friends
- Local Authority Children’s Departments
- Local Authority Children’s Departments
- Direct self-referrals from parents
2. How can someone make a referral to use your service?
We’ve tried to make our referral process as easy as possible. Editable forms are available online via the Parents page of either of our centres.
3. Do you facilitate contact for many looked after children?
We have facilitated supported contact for ‘looked after’ children. But in the main children in care often need supervised contact.
4. Do people have to live in Hall Green to use your centre?
There are as few as 400 child contact centres in the country. And only 4 supported centres serving the whole of Birmingham. So parents have to travel considerable distance to use our centre. We have had many parents commute to us each week from London and the furthest I can recall was Glasgow.
5. Can families come and look around the centre before contact sessions begin?
We are happy to show people around our centre. This can be during Saturday afternoons 2.00pm – 4.00pm when we are open. Or at other times subject to availability of staff and the non-use of the premises.
If we receive a referral we try to make it a precondition that they pay us a visit before contact begins. Although this can be difficult if there’s a sense of urgency or would entail; a long journey.
6. How much does it cost to use the centre?
We charge no fees whatsoever and survive by grants and our own money raising initiatives.
7. How long does each contact session last for?
Sessions last for up to two hours in a communal room with other families being present.
8. On average, how many supported contacts do families have?
We see ourselves as a ‘short-term stepping stone’ to enable parents to re-build trust. On average we try to limit them to 6 – 8 sessions. Sometimes this is difficult, particularly if contact is meaningful and beneficial to the child.
9. What age group of children do you cater for?
National 50% of children using centre are 6 years old and under. Although we have had children as old as 15.
10. Do you provide toys or games for children to use?
We have a lot of age appropriate games, but generally like to have games and pastimes whereby the child can interact with the parent. This is preferable to electronic games or play stations.
11. What do the staff at your centre do?
The volunteers have various roles at the contact centre. These include Meeting and greeting and recording times of arrival and departure. They also provide refreshments which are free of charge.
Staff generally offer support, particularly if a child is finding contact difficult. They arrive about an hour before the sessions start to set up. They also make sure the centres clean and tidy after the session.
12. Are there many staff available during contact sessions?
Usually there are up to 12 volunteers for each session.
13. How many volunteers do you have?
Between the two centres we have 55 volunteers. We are always ready to receive expressions of interest to become new volunteers.
14. What kind of training do your volunteers undertake?
We a have a rolling programme of training. Training can be face to face, by Power Point presentation, or by workbooks. The subjects covered are:
- Safeguarding training
- Induction training for new volunteers
- Family breakdown
- Health and safety risk assessment
- Encouraging positive contact – Working with dads
- Conflict management
- Domestic abuse
- Understanding substance misuse – impact on families
- Managing reluctant family members
- Family risk assessment
Dennis has generously given up his time to answer these questions and I hope you find the answers helpful. He has also given me sound advice since the launch of Family Matters Enterprise in January 2016.
Dennis and his team of trained volunteers offer a valuable service. As he mentioned, their two centres survive by grants and their own money raising initiatives. I asked him how people can support the fantastic work they do.
“We have a unique way of generating income at no cost to individuals. We use a service called Give as You Live.
They have an affiliation agreements with over 4,000 well known stores and service providers. They’ve raised over £6million for charities in the past 7 years.
You can use this image on either of their websites to help raise money for their charity.