Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) (DAB82)

1.1 Amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill

The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) is calling for an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill for ‘all Child Contact Centres and organisations that offer facilities or services for child contact to be accredited in England and Wales.’ PART 7 MISCELLANEOUS AND GENERAL section of the Bill.

The amendment will mean all Child Contact Centres and Services are appropriately and consistently managed and that standards and safeguarding are of a high and consistent quality across England and Wales.

So, as NACCC’s President Sir James Munby said, "every child can experience the same high level of care and safeguarding where circumstances have necessitated their involvement with the family justice system and Child Contact Centres or Services". 

1.2 Background

The UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world with nearly 1 in 4 children living with one of their parents. More than a million children have no contact with one or other parent after separation. The National Association of Child Contact Centres is committed to addressing these impacts by supporting children and families to ensure ‘parenting doesn’t end when relationships do’.

The NACCC accredit 350 centres across England and Wales and we oversee 3,500 volunteers and 1,000 staff. The voice of the child is the focus of our work. We have an Independent Standards Panel, chaired by judge Sir Mark Hedley, which oversees the accreditation and reaccreditation process and reviews and updates the standards by which Child Contact Centres are accredited. Over 17,500 children have benefitted from services accredited by NACCC over the year to April 2019.

1.3 The Context

Local authorities discharge their statutory obligation under Section 34 of the Children Act 1989, to promote contact between children and their parents and relevant others and are subject to legal, inspection and accountability frameworks to protect and safeguard children in their care. However, there is no specific provision for standards for Child Contact Centres and Services. There is also no requirement for oversight of Child Contact Centres and Services for self-referred cases outside the court system.

In private law cases a judicial protocol has been in place for nearly two decades, guiding courts to refer families to Child Contact Centres and Services that are members of NACCC and so subject to the agreed national standards and an accreditation process.

However, there is no specific provision for standards for Child Contact Centres and services. There is also no requirement for oversight of Child Contact Centres and Services for self-referred cases outside the court system. This raises concern around safeguarding and the quality and consistency of standards, which impact the outcome of services to children and families.

This current framework creates a number of adverse outcomes;

· There is a postcode lottery of standard in the provision of Child Contact Centres and Services, presenting risks around safeguarding and quality of services;

· there is a lack of agreed standards in the provision of public law child contact even where it overlaps with private law contact for example, in the area of special guardianship;

· there is no requirement for Child Contact Centres and Services to be subject to quality or safety standards through a process of accreditation.

1.4 Parliamentary background

Baroness Anne McIntosh, a Vice-President of NACCC, introduced a private members bill into the House of Lords in 2016, The Child Contact Centre (Accreditation) Bill. The Bill proposed that all Child Contact Centres or organisations that offer facilities or services for child contact to be accredited. The Bill fell due to the 2017 election. However the Bill created sufficient awareness of the lack of consistent standards and lack of regulatory structure to generate Parliamentary interest in this issue.

1.5 Call for an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill: PART 7 MISCELLANEOUS AND GENERAL section for ‘all Child Contact Centres and organisations that offer facilities or services for child contact to be accredited in England and Wales.’

This will reduce the risk of a postcode lottery of standard in the provision of Child Contact Centres and Services, reduce the risks around safeguarding and improve the consistency and quality of services across England and Wales.

June 2020

 

Prepared 16th June 2020