CHILDREN should be seen and also heard when dealing with troubled relationships
Relationships Scotland have 45 child contact centres across Scotland within their national network of services, providing supervised and supported contact facilities for children to spend time with a parent or family member whom they don’t live with.
As a Child Contact Centre Support Worker, my role is to support parents and children using child contact centres run by Relationships Scotland Family Mediation South Lanarkshire. These centres offer supported contact, where contact centre workers facilitate contact between a parent and child without parents meeting. Although parents can self refer to our child contact centres, a majority of referrals come directly from solicitors or through court orders.
Relationships Scotland Family Mediation South Lanarkshire don’t provide supervised contact, where contact is attended at all times by a trained supervisor and there is a high level of intervention in supporting contact. However, there has been an increase in the number of cases being referred to our contact centres where existing issues are present that have resulted in contact not going ahead and this identified a gap between supported contact and supervised contact. This gap has been addressed by development of the Child Contact Centre Support Worker role.
Contact issues are often complex and individual to each case. Domestic abuse and substance misuse are commonly identified as major contributing factors in cases where contact has not been successful within our child contact centres.
When there are difficulties potentially affecting contact going ahead, a referral is made for additional support from the Child Contact Centre Support Worker. This support can be accessed prior to contact going ahead which gives the opportunity to prepare everyone involved, or following unexpected problems arising in current contact agreements. The support offered is flexible to individual needs and increases parental involvement in finding creative solutions to help their children maintain a relationship with both parents, and in some cases extended family, following parental separation. Taking this proactive approach can help avoid potential issues developing and lead towards a more positive outcome.
Within South Lanarkshire, I have supported 15 families within our child contact centres since coming into post in March, 2015. The focus of my work has been understanding each person’s individual circumstances, identifying what is needed to facilitate positive contact, future planning and ensuring that children remain central to the process.
When working with children who are reluctant to have contact with a parent, I have been able to meet with children outwith the centre, get to know them, explore how they are feeling and offer reassurance.
In one case a young girl, Sarah, had been referred for additional support following her refusal to attend arranged contact to see her dad. Following time spent with Sarah and her parents, we discovered that the reason for refusing to attend contact was due to worry that Dad would be angry with her for choosing to stay with Mum. With discussion, time and reassurance, Sarah went on to spend time with her dad, whereas previously this case may have been referred back to court.
Allowing parents and children to be heard at the initial stages of planning contact can be greatly beneficial in helping them feel more in control of a situation that can feel overwhelming and frightening. Parents tell me that they have felt reassured, and better equipped to support their child through the first stages of using the contact centre by engaging with support. Parents are encouraged to reflect on how their own behaviour impacts on their children.
Parents tell me that they want to support their children through contact and children I am working with look to their parents for this support. By tailoring support around people individually our organisation are finding that engaging parents and children in planning for contact has helped deal with potential issues arising and increased potential for moving on to additional family support services, such as family mediation.
• Bernadette Lynass, Child Contact Centre Support Worker, Relationships Scotland - Family Mediation South Lanarkshire www.relationships-scotland.org.uk