A new report published by the Department of Education recommends redirecting the funding spent by courts on making decisions on parents' child contact arrangements to programmes that help them agree on contact independently.
Currently ten percent of parents who separate or divorce seek the assistance of the courts in making decisions about contact arrangements for their children. Research in this area suggests that courts have limited impact on the key co-parenting factors that make contact arrangements sustainable and work best for children.
The Parent Information Programmes is the first available programme for parents involved in litigation about child contact and residence in England. The programme is a Contact Activity, introduced by the Children and Adoption Act 2006 as a tool for courts to facilitate contact.
The Programmes are four hour group meetings for parents referred by the court. Both parties are required to attend the programme, but former couples attend separate groups. The aim of the programme is to encourage parents to focus on children's needs and perspectives.
The results of the evaluation showed that 38% of PIP participants thought participation improved their ability to discuss issues about their child and their ex-partner and 46% thought they have a better understanding of ex-partner's perspective.
The reports authors recommend that PIPs should be made available at an earlier stage and linked with mediation as a mandatory step before proceedings in appropriate cases. The report also says that s suite of programmes are required to address very different needs, including domestic violence programmes to set alongside the basic PIP programme.