Parenting charity calls for ‘new vision’ for child contact centres

Shared Parenting Scotland has called for a “new vision” to breathe life into the Scottish government’s proposed overhaul of child contact centres.

The government has launched a consultation on changes to the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, proposing an overhaul of child contact centres, focusing on the introduction of standards for centre premises and basic staff training requirements.

Shared Parenting Scotland has published its response to the consultation, making a number of recommendations for a wider approach and calling for a new vision for the contact centres.

Scottish contact centres have evolved over the last 30 years from a voluntary ad hoc sector provided by a range of charities to a new stage of official regulation. Shared Parenting Scotland has said that as we move into this new stage it is “vital” that an overall “vision statement for the future provision of child contact is agreed”. 

The existing 45 centres in Scotland provide a place for children to have contact with one of their parents. This type of contact can be self-referred or court-ordered where it is felt that some supervision is necessary to determine the validity of concerns that have been raised about safety, the competence of that parent, or the strength of the relationship with a child.

Contact centres can also offer “supported” contact where there is no direct supervision and also a basic “handover” service where children can be picked up or dropped off for unsupervised contact.

Shared Parenting Scotland has responded to the government consultation based on feedback from its clients as well as from its own online consultation sessions.

As part of its response, the charity has called for the changes to consider a wider approach for supporting children and parents facing significant problems, rather than just focusing on the “nuts and bolts of building standards and training schedules”.

The organisation has warned that although establishing standards for the premises and training requirements, these should not automatically be taken as an indication that current services are poorly run or deficient.

Its response also called for staff to remain neutral around children, including considering the language they use, and for staff to be trained to deal with cultural and social parenting matters such as parenting in other cultures and religions and the child’s experience with same-sex parents.

The charity also called for an “explicit effort to recruit male staff and volunteers”.

Shared Parenting Scotland national manager Ian Maxwell said: “We absolutely acknowledge the role that existing contact centres play but understand they are always under pressure and unsure of long term funding that would allow them to invest with confidence. We equally acknowledge the legislation requires the Scottish government to overhaul the current set- up.

“We are concerned that this process risks have a negative impact on the availability of places for children to have court-ordered contact with one of their parents.  The charities who run the centres will have to find additional funding to carry out the necessary changes to their premises and to carry out extra staff training. Some long-standing volunteers may just leave.

“There are already significant gaps in the provision of contact centres across Scotland and existing centres are currently struggling to deal with the backlog caused by closure during the pandemic, including arranging court-ordered contact and providing court-ordered reports. This is a major opportunity for the Scottish government to come up with a positive vision for supporting parents at the time they may need the most help to do their best by their children.”

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