More than 40 Child Contact Centres, which help children to keep in touch with a non-residential parent in a neutral venue after separation, have been closed in the past 18 months according to a new report.The National Association for Child Contact Centres (NACC)
said the number of parents applying for help through the family courts has halved, blaming spending cuts in legal aid which has resulted in a lack of solicitor referrals.
Many litigants, representing themselves as a result of their being unable to fund a solicitor through legal aid, are unaware of the services Contact Centres provide and as such, referrals have fallen.
The closures mean that large areas in the north of England and south and west Wales have no centres at all. Some children in these areas are at heightened risk of losing contact with a parent, most typically their father, altogether.
'Given that family breakdown costs the country an estimated £49bn a year, family legal aid cuts may prove a false economy unless more is done to let families know that the contact centres are there to help, and parents can apply to centres directly themselves,' said NACC chief executive Elizabeth Coe.Fiona Turner
, Partner at Irwin Mitchell's Manchester office, said:
The impact of divorce and separation on children is a hugely important issue. For many families facing very challenging and difficult situations, the ability to facilitate arrangements for children to see another parent at a contact centre can be crucial.
It is very worrying to see the closure of a such a high number of child contact centres, as in many cases, they provide an absolutely essential service which ensures that young people are able to remain in contact with a parent in the event of a separation.
Sadly, the closures which have been seen can be linked directly to the decisions made in relation to legal aid in family law, with the centres often being reliant on referrals from law firms. It is vital that work continues to ensure that education about the services available to those facing the difficulty of divorce improves, so that people fully understand what support and resources they have at their disposal and are signposted to those services appropriately. More awareness is much needed.'