Children & Family Relationships Bill | Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Hearings

Today Karen Kiernan, One Family’s CEO and Stuart Duffin, our Director of Policy & Programmes, attended the hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to the Children & Family Relationships Bill and highlighted our concerns regarding ancillary supports for court, child safety issues and Child Contact Centres. Karen’s presentation is included below and the full transcript of the discussion can be read here on, with our submission on page 5 and follow-up questions later in the document.


One Family is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families, providing services to people parenting alone, sharing parenting and going through family transitions. Our policy work is rooted in our extensive family support work over the past four decades.

We welcome the heads of this Bill as it is long overdue and badly needed to support the thousands of families in need of family law services every year. This Bill attempts to reflect the realities that many children and their parents experience in Ireland today and to provide safety and security for them.

We refer the Committee to our written submission for an overview of all our  recommendations; however, today we are going to focus our comments on issues relating to Part 7 – Guardianship, Custody and Access, Part 8 – Safeguarding Interests of Children and Part 9 of the Bill – Making Parenting Orders Work.

We are very familiar in One Family with the practical, financial and legal challenges faced by mothers and fathers going through the family law courts in relation to separation, custody, access, maintenance, domestic violence and related issues. We have been particularly concerned with the lack of information and services available to family law courts when they attempt to make orders in relation to these issues.

Child Contact Centres

We undertook research into the need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland which we published in 2009. Child Contact Centres are safe, neutral and child-centred services where children can spend time with their non-resident parent. They are widespread outside Ireland and are used by courts, social services and families as safe places for high-conflict families to facilitate children having an ongoing relationship with the parent whom they do not live with who is often their father.

Following this research we received funding for a two year pilot project which we delivered in partnership with Barnardos. We offered family and risk assessments, court reports, contact services including handovers, supported contact and supervised contact, family support services including counselling, play and art therapy for children, parent mentoring and mediated parenting plans. These services cost about €200K per year and have closed due to lack of funding.

The independent evaluation of this project was launched last week at an event attended by five members of the judiciary, a large number of legal practitioners as well as family support services, with overwhelming support for the service expressed and offers of resources made. The key policy issues that have arisen through this work which were also published last week are extremely relevant to the Children & Family Relationships Bill and there is an opportunity to get this right for children in the future.

Evidence-based Court Orders

At the moment, family law courts are making critical decisions about children and families in a vacuum. They do not make evidence-based decisions, unlike other branches of law. Irish family law courts do not have independent, quality information on the families presenting to them because unlike other jurisdictions we do not have a court welfare system. This must change.

It is not possible for Head 32: Best interests of the child for example or Head 63: Enforcement Orders to function as you might envisage if courts are not resourced with relevant background information on the family. Children are having unsafe and unsuitable contact with their non-resident parent on a daily basis in Ireland because courts are ordering it as there is a strong pro-contact assumption inherent in family law, because courts do not have full information on the extent and impact of domestic violence and abuse, because courts do not have independent information on addiction and mental health issues, because parents may not recognise the negative impact of violence on their children or their ability to parent, and because courts do not have anywhere to refer parents to for family or contact supports.

So what are the solutions and what can you do?

The provision of a court welfare system must be included in this legislation as family assessments are the basis for making evidence-based decisions. The need for courts and social services to collaborate much more closely to ensure the safety of children is required. A range of appropriate family support services must be included that families can be referred to including a national network of Child Contact Centres. Children’s voices and their best interest may be more appropriately determined through external independent services as was facilitated in Child Contact Centres. The legislation should be clearer around domestic violence and abuse and the required support systems. The legislation must be clear on the range, the benefits and limitations of family supports. There is a serious impediment to people with low incomes accessing family supports however and resourcing needs to be looked at in the future.

Inclusion in this legislation is just one of the steps required to ensure safety for children in private family law proceedings and to avoid repeated court visits for high-conflict families. We estimate that each of the 17 Child & Family Agency areas could have a comprehensive, trained and accredited Child Contact Centre service including all family assessments, contact services and family support services for a total cost of €3.5m per year. We believe that this is excellent value for money particularly compared to legal or court based supports and this is a defined rather than open funding stream.

Karen Kiernan Stuart Duffin One Family


Pilot Child Contact Centre Evaluation and Key Learnings Documents

One Family launches the Evaluation of the Child Contact Centre pilot services and our Key Learnings document containing Policy Recommendations for Policy Makers today, Friday 28 March in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle at 9.30am. 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.

The 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, offering 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. These Child Contact Centres provided 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.

The following documents were launched and can be read/downloaded below:

One Family_Child Contact Centre_Key Learnings March 2014 – PDF

Child Contact Centre Executive Summary December 2013 – PDF

Child Contact Centre Evaluation December 2013 – PDF

You can also read our Press Release, issued on Thursday 27 March 2014:

Courts Need Professionally Conducted Assessments to Ensure Child Safety

Our Response to Draft Heads of Children and Family Relationships Bill: Submission on the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality can be read here: Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 – Response to Draft Heads.

Barnardos and One Family launch Child Contact Centres

Barnardos and One Family are working together to develop a new service called a Child Contact Centre, which is a safe, friendly and neutral place where children can spend time with the parent/s they do not live with. We are now taking referrals for parents who want to use our new centres in Clondalkin and Ballymun. Referrals can come from families or professionals, but the child must live in the catchment area. For more information please see the documents below or for an initial referral contact 01 4032085

Child Contact Centre Leaflet

Referral Form

Guidelines for Referrers

Supplementary Referral Information Form


Dad’s workshop 23 November

Need a hand with parenting? Our next dad’s afternoon workshop ‘Understanding Children’s Emotions and Managing Behaviour’ is on 23 November and it costs E10. Contact Geraldine at 01 6629212 for more information.

Child Contact Centre report gets extensive media coverage

Seminal research by One Family which calls for a network of child contact centres in Ireland was launched this week by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Barry Andrews, TD, and the media response – including the front page of The Irish Examiner,  three pieces in The Irish Times and other print coverage, along with a feature on RTE Radio 1’s Drivetime, interviews on TodayFM, Newstalk and FM104 – as well as many regional stations – proves just how important this research is. Candy Murphy, One Family Policy Manager and author of the report explains, ‘Child contact centres provide a safe, neutral and welcoming environment where regular contact between parents and children that do not live together can be supported and developed in a range of situations.’ For media coverage and information: Read more

One Family seminal research highlights need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland

Ground breaking research by One Family, the leading service provider for people parenting alone and sharing parenting, launched 12 April 2010 at Dublin Castle by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Barry Andrews, TD, has called for a network of child contact centres throughout Ireland. The research entitled Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland was researched and written by Candy Murphy, Policy & Research Manager with One Family.

Candy Murphy explained, ‘Child contact centres provide a safe, neutral and welcoming environment where regular contact between parents and children that do not live together can be supported and developed in a range of situations.’  Read more

One Family launches report on the need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland, Monday 12 April at 10 am

At The Coach House Dublin Castle. Minister for Children Barry Andrews, TD, will launch the report. This will be followed by a seminar chaired by The Hon. Mr Justice Henry Abbott.  See below for a copy of the summary and of the full report…

Summary – Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland

Full Report – Supporting Child Contact: the Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland