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Courts Need Professionally Conducted Assessments to Ensure Child Safety

Press Release

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.”

Key Statistics

  • 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.

Further Information

Child Contact Centre: Key Learnings – One Family

Read/download here.

Final Evaluation of the Barnardos/One Family Pilot Child Contact Centre – CMAdvice Ltd

Read/download at here.

Executive Summary of the Barnardos/One Family Pilot Child Contact Centre – CMAdvice Ltd

Read/download here.

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 | schance@onefamily.ie

Child Contact Centre

Launch of Child Contact Centre Pilot Services Evaluation and Recommendations

Child Contact Centre services were run on a pilot basis in two locations in north and south Dublin between 2011 and 2013 by Barnardos and One Family 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.

‘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. It is a child centred environment which allows the child to form or develop a relationship with the parent at their own pace and in their own way, usually through play and child centred activities.’

The services to families that the Child Contact Centre provided included:

  • Assessment to identify whether contact is in the best interests of the child and if so what supports the child and family require including risk assessment.
  • Preparation for contact the child and for both parents.
  • Supervised contact, supported contact and handover contact services.
  • Family supports for parents including individual parent mentoring, mediated parenting plans and counselling.
  • Family supports for children including play therapy and art therapy.
  • Regular reviews with inputs from the child wherever possible and from both parents.
  • Pre and post-contact family supports as required.
  • Information on and referral to other services as required.
  • Court reports as appropriate.

On Friday 28 March, One Family will launch the Evaluation of the Child Contact Centre Pilot Services and our Policy Recommendations in Response to the Evaluation from 9.30am to 11am in the Chester Beatty Library, 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 & Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin; and Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family.

All are welcome to attend but as a limited number of places are available, RSVP is essential. If you wish to attend, please RSVP by email to onefamily@onefamily.ie or call 01 662 9212 by Wednesday 26 March.

Child Contact Centre

Our New Contact Centre gets loads of press coverage

We got loads of press coverage for the launch of our new Child Contact Centre service which is great. Here is One Family Director Karen Kiernan on The Last Word with Matt Cooper explaining all about it at 15 minutes into the clip. http://media.todayfm.com/listenback/98/monday/1/popup

Ger Kelly, Childcare & Parenting Co-ordinator One Family, Karen Kiernan, Director One Family, Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Francis Chance, Assistant Director of Children’s Services, Barnardos and Robert Dunne, Project Leader for Barnardos at Quarryvale Family Resource Centre

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.