Barnardos and One Family launch Contact Service for Children and Separated Parents

Press Release

Barnardos and One Family launch much needed

Service for Children and Separated Parents in Ireland

Dublin, 2 April 2012A new service for children whose parents are separated and who are unable to agree safe and appropriate arrangements for contact was launched today by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, TD. The first-of-its kind in Ireland, the Child Contact Centre service provided by Barnardos, Ireland’s leading independent children’s charity, and One Family, Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families, is operating on a two year pilot in three locations in Dublin: Ballymun, Clondalkin and Tallaght.

A Child Contact Centre is a safe, friendly and neutral place where children can spend time with the parent(s) they do not live with. The aim of the service is to enable children, where possible, to grow up enjoying a positive relationship with both of their parents, even when they don’t live together. Specialist contact centres for children and families involved in marriage and relationship breakdown are common in many countries throughout Europe including Northern Ireland.

The Barnardos & One Family Child Contact Centre service provides a range of contact options including, supervised contact – where contact is supervised for one family at a time; supported contact – where contact is provided for a number of families at the same time, and handover contact – where an arrangement is agreed for one parent to bring their child to the contact centre to be collected by the other parent, without the parents needing to meet. Parents are offered additional family supports like counselling and a key worker to assist them in addressing the issues that led to them to needing to use a Child Contact Centre service, so that they can move on to self-arranged contact over time.

Karen Kiernan, Director of One Family explained, ‘The need for the service was identified in research carried out by One Family (Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland – Family Support Agency, 2010) which clearly identified a significant level of unmet need in relation to children of separated parents. The report shows that based on international provision, Ireland could require 37 such centres throughout the country.’

‘During the course of that research we consulted parents, legal professionals and family support workers and there is overwhelming support for such services. They are particularly vital in situations where there are high levels of conflict between parents, where a parent has had little previous contact with his or her children, or where there are concerns over the safety of the child,’ continued Ms Kiernan.

Francis Chance, Assistant Director of Children’s Services at Barnardos said, ‘The service responds to a need for families who, up until now, have been largely invisible, experiencing a high level of pain, hurt and distress. Family Law courts and judges have had very limited choices as to where to refer parents and children who are having difficulties managing contact. The Child Contact Centres fill that vacuum.”

‘Unfortunately many children have to walk an emotional tightrope while the most significant adults in their lives are deeply entrenched in conflict. By supporting families to manage contact, we are relieving children of a heavy burden, one they often carry on their own. In many cases it can be difficult for the parents to shift their focus away from their relationship to that of their child’s needs. Our focus is the best interests of the children and we look to align the parents as partners working on behalf of their child’s needs. The service brings huge benefit to the parents too, enabling both parents to develop a positive relationship with their child and giving them the peace of mind to know that their child is safe and supported during their contact with the parent they do not live with. Without the provision of specialist supports for separated parents and their children, there is a risk that more children will lose touch with the parent with whom they do not live, most often their father,’ Mr Chance continued.

The Barnardos & One Family Child Contact Centre pilot service is now fully operational in Ballymun, Clondalkin and Tallaght, with significant demand for the service from families, many of whom are involved in court proceedings. Since opening its doors, the service is actively supporting 28 families to create opportunities to have quality time together, some of whom having been out of one another’s lives for many years.

Parents participating in the service have said about their children:

He is much more settled and has developed a good understanding of having two homes and does not see his mum and dad fighting anymore.”

I think the staff take good care of the children and parents too.  They are very interested in the children’s needs and try to make the time with the parents very enjoyable for all concerned.”

I am delighted, my son is a year and a half now and this is the most time I have spent with him getting to know his buzz…” (after first visit)

Speaking at the launch, Frances Fitzgerald, TD said, “As Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, my ultimate goal to seek to achieve the very best for Ireland’s children. Positive interaction between parents and children is pivotal to help achieve this. The contact centre pilot project is an excellent example of what can be achieved when we work together in the best interests of children and families, especially those in difficult or crisis situations.”

”I wish congratulate all involved in getting this project off the ground including One Family and Barnardos, the HSE, the Family Support Agency, Ballymun Regeneration and my own Department of Children and Youth Affairs”

The pilot of the Barnardos & One Family Child Contact Centre service is supported by a team of 28 volunteers who have been trained to assist in the provision of supported contact. The service is funded by: The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, The Family Support Agency, The Health Service Executive and Ballymun Regeneration.

Ms Kiernan concluded, ‘We very much appreciate the co-operation and support we are receiving from Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, her Department and our other funders. We look forward to rolling out of this much needed service throughout the country, in the future.’

Anyone can make a referral to the service by contacting Barnardos & One Family Child Contact Centre at childcontact@onefamily.ie or on 01 4032085/89/80 on Tuesdays from 9.30am – 1pm.

Mr. Chance concluded, “It has been an intensely positive and rewarding experience for the children involved and their parents. We look forward to discussing our interim evaluation findings with our funders later this year.”

The service is also available to children who are living in the care of the Health Service Executive and who need support to have contact with their parent(s).

ENDS

For further information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson:

  • Contact Hilary Fennell, One Family – 087 2359515
  • Contact Irene Lawlor, Barnardos – 086 3980441

Note to Editors:

For more information on the Child Contact Centres see http://www.onefamily.ie/families/parenting-supports/child-contact-centres/ or www.barnardos.ie/

Summary of Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland – Family Support Agency, 2010) available here http://www.onefamily.ie/professionals/policy-research/research-reports/

About Barnardos

Barnardos supports children whose well-being is under threat, by working with them, their families and communities and campaigning for the rights of children. Barnardos was established in Ireland in 1962 and is Ireland’s leading independent children’s charity.

About One Family

One Family has been providing specialist family support services to people parenting alone and sharing parenting for 40 years.  Services include parenting and skills training, counselling, parent mentoring and national information supports.