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24 May 2019

Which Contact Centre is the right Contact Centre?

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When a Court orders that a parent’s time with a child should be supervised it generally means that there are serious allegations in relation to the safety of the child. The place where the parent and child meet or in some cases where changeover happens, should be safe and staffed by people with experience and skills in child protection. Supervisors need good conflict resolution and interpersonal skills and skills to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. As well as providing an environment which ensures there is no risk of harm to the child as result of conflict between the parents or the capacity of the parent themselves to protect a child, staff are the eyes and ears for the Court. Staff might report directly to the Court on the capacity of the parent to provide for the needs of the child and the benefit to the child of spending time with them. Their insights and judgement may assist a Court to decide future parenting arrangements.

It’s a complex area dealing with children going through family breakdown, being separated from a parent and having a Court decide that it is in their best interests to have interactions with a parent supervised.

It is very surprising therefore to discover that while the 65 government funded Contact Centres operating in Australia are accountable to a set of principles to receive their funding – including staff training, record keeping and safe environment provisions – the private sector Contact Centres are completely unregulated and now outnumber the government Centres. There is not even a requirement for Blue Card accreditation for supervisors.

Training for people working in services which provide child protection would seem a basic requirement given the role in the Family Law system. Failure to understand family dynamics, child development and recognise abusive and coercive behaviours could endanger a child. The responsibility of the Centre to be the eyes and ears of the Court can have impact on the safety of a child. In one case the Court received a report from supervisors at a Contact Centre which was highly complementary of the parent ordered to have supervised contact and highly critical of the mother who they considered overly vigilant and extremely controlling and irrational. The evidence before the Court was of a serial abuser who had been convicted of assault of his partners on several occasions and ultimately was ordered to have no contact with the child. The supervisors accepted the perpetrators version of his relationship with the mother and relaxed supervision. The Judge recommended the supervisors undergo training and reflect on their capacity for impartiality.

The rise in private Centres reflects the need for the services and the need for increased funding for training and accreditation.  There is a waiting list for the government funded Centres so the Courts, lawyers and parents will turn to private Centres to facilitate time where there are concerns about the capacity of the other parent or where the conflict between the parents at changeover is a safety issue for the child. When choosing a private Centre users should consider whether it complies with the guidelines for risk assessment and staff training required by the the funded services. 

If we can assist in your parenting matter please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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