The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) has produced a revised protocol for referrals of families to Supported Child Contact Centres, designed to assist judges and magistrates who are proposing to make orders for contact involving the use of one of their centres.
The protocol is endorsed by the President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall and, following recent changes in arrangements regarding referrals to Supervised Contact Centres, only governs referrals to Supported Child Contact Centres.
Supported Child Contact Centres are a valuable resource to family courts dealing with family disputes over contact and offer a safe surroundings for children meeting the non-resident parents.
The protocol stresses that the Child Contact Centre offers supported contact only; and that apart from attendance dates and times, no report will be made to a referrer, Cafcass, a party's solicitor or the court.
Sir Nicholas, who is also the patron of NACCC, said: "It is crucial that Supported Child Contact Centres are used appropriately. This means that the safety of the children being referred, the other families using the centre as well as the staff and volunteers must be considered before an order is made. Supported Child Contact Centres offer a voluntary service and must be able to decide whether to accept or refuse a referral.
"Furthermore Courts recognise that Supported Contact Centres are charities and nearly all the staff are volunteers. They can only undertake their work if free of any risk of being drawn into individual cases or disputes. Accordingly courts and parties will not require or seek their involvement in resolving disputes, writing reports, noting events or attending, in any capacity, any family court hearing.
"This admirable protocol will be of the greatest help to judges and magistrates to ensure that Supported Child Contact Centres are used to their best advantage for children needing this valuable and scarce resource," the President added.
NACCC is also encouraging judges and magistrates and their colleagues to visit the centres that they direct contact. Such visits, the charity says, help the Judiciary to understand the facilities available locally and thus the type of case that is most suited to contact at the Supported Child Contact Centre.