Courts Need Professionally Conducted Assessments to Ensure Child Safety
Child Contact Centre Pilot Services Evaluation Launched by One Family
(Dublin, Thursday 27 March 2014) One Family – Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families – launches the Evaluation of the Child Contact Centre pilot services and its Policy Recommendations for Policy Makers document on Friday 28 March in Dublin Castle. Speakers include the Hon Mr Justice Michael White of the High Court and Chair of the Courts Family Law Committee; Dr Stephanie Holt of the School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin; and One Family CEO Karen Kiernan.
Child Contact Centre services were run on a pilot basis in two locations in north and south Dublin between 2011 and 2013 by One Family and Barnardos in a partnership arrangement. The service offered a range of assessment, contact and family support services to high-conflict families who were frequently in legal disputes in relation to contact arrangements for their children providing a safe, neutral, child-centered environment for children to spend time with the parent/s they do not live with. Common challenges for families included domestic abuse, poor mental health and addiction.
Families ranged across socio-economic backgrounds and the services were mainly used constructively by courts. Referrals to the service were from the courts (35%), self-referrals (29%) and the HSE/Social Workers (22%). 40% of families had a HSE Social Worker. Currently children may be court-ordered into unsafe contact/access situations due to inadequate information available to court.
An evaluation of the service was conducted by Candy Murphy of CMAdvice and Dr Stephanie Holt of the School of Social Work & Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin based on data for the period October 2011 to April 2013. Dr Stephanie Holt, Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy comments: “For approximately 10-30% of separated families, the process by which contact is agreed is problematic and potentially dangerous. Some parents (both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence) may not see that domestic abuse impacts negatively on their ability to parent well or that such abuse may negatively impact their children. The service worked closely with all parties providing a safe place for the voice of the child to be heard and a core focus on the child’s best interest. With child-centred therapeutic support even young children were able to articulate what they wanted in terms of contact.”
Karen Kiernan, One Family CEO, in responding to the Evaluation, summarises One Family’s recommendations to policy makers: “The courts need access to professionally conducted family assessments in order to make child-centred decisions that will be safe and enforceable. This will save court time and ensure that children do not experience unsafe court-ordered contact visits. Child Contact Centre services offering supervised, supported and handover contact, in conjunction with family supports including counselling, parent mentoring and child therapy, must be part of the ancillary court services contained in the Children & Family Relationships Bill. Effective cross departmental and interagency working is essential involving the Department of Justice and Equality including the Courts Service, the Probation Service, the Legal Aid Board, the Family Mediation Service and COSC; and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs including the Child and Family Agency which now has responsibility for child protection and welfare.”
- Referrals to the service were from the courts (35%), self-referrals (29%) and the HSE/Social Workers (22%). 40% of families had a HSE Social Worker.
- The average age of parents was 33 years old and 79% of parents were unmarried.
- There was an average of two children per family and 66% of the children were aged 8 or younger.
- 72% of families had been in or were in court proceedings with 58% of families having Access Orders in place.
- 77% of children had either never lived with their non-resident parent or not lived with them for over a year.
- At the time of the referral, 61% of children had no contact with their non-resident parent.
- 59% of families in the service were assessed as having a current risk of child abuse and 50% of families had a current risk of domestic violence.
- 23 Child Protection Notifications were sent by the service to the HSE in respect of 38 children.
- The service offered children and parents 455 contact opportunities of which 333 (73%) were taken up.
- The service offered a total of 502 counselling and parent-mentoring sessions of which 387 (77%) were taken up.
Child Contact Centre: Key Learnings – One Family
Final Evaluation of the Barnardos/One Family Pilot Child Contact Centre – CMAdvice Ltd
Executive Summary of the Barnardos/One Family Pilot Child Contact Centre – CMAdvice Ltd
About One Family
One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to those working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 622 212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes the Family Day Festival in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens. This annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland takes place on Sunday 18 May 2014 (www.familyday.ie). For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie.
Available for Interview
Karen Kiernan, CEO, One Family
Dr Stephanie Holt, School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity
For Interview Scheduling/Further Information
Shirley Chance, Director of Communications | t: 01 662 9212 or 087 414 8511 | firstname.lastname@example.org