What types of child contact are there?
When a Court is determining whether or not a child spends time with a parent or other adult included in the Child Arrangements Order, it will need to consider whether the child should have direct contact or indirect contact, and if direct whether the time spent is supervised, supported or unsupervised/unsupported.
This is where the parent and child see each other 'face-to-face', and can include day-time contact, overnight stays and holiday contact. If the parents cannot agree arrangements after receiving recommendations from Cafcass then the Court will decide on what arrangements will be put in place. The Court will not order any direct contact if this will put the child or the parent with care, at risk of any kind.
In most cases, if direct contact is to take place then this will be at the home of the parent who is spending time with the child but in some cases this is not possible, for example the parent lives in a house-share, or is sofa-surfing as a result of the parents separating, or the property may not be suitable, eg is damp or dangerous. In these cases the parent will spend time with the children 'in the community' which means they can take the children out for the day to whatever child appropriate activity they wish – they just cannot take the child back to where they live.
This covers any other form of contact which does not involve the parent and child meeting up in person and includes telephone calls, video calls, letters, exchange of gifts etc. Where contact has not been taking place for some time, indirect contact is a useful way to build or rebuild a parent's relationship with the child with the intention that sufficient progress will be made to enable the contact to move to direct contact. In some cases however, the potential risk to the child or the main carer from direct contact is so great that the contact will remain as indirect. In these situations the Court, with the help of Cafcass, will determine the frequency of the contact and in serious cases the parent will only be allowed to send the child birthday and Christmas cards and small gifts, and this contact is mainly used to enable the parent to be kept updated as to the child's progress and for the child to retain some 'identity'.
This means that the parent spending time with the child can do so without any other person having to be present and is the goal of the majority of parents not currently spending time with their children. The Court will have to be satisfied that the child will not be put a risk of harm if unsupervised contact takes place.
This will be implemented where there are still some concerns about the parent having unsupervised contact and it is felt that some support is needed. This could occur in cases where the parent has drug or alcohol issues but is taking steps to change, the parent has an illness or condition that could impact on their care of the child, where the child has reservations about meeting the parent alone due to what they may remember about the parent's conduct previously, or if the parent themselves feels they need that extra support. The person supporting the contact will be a friend or family member agreed with the parent with care. This is where grandparents, aunts and uncles come in very useful. The person supporting needs to understand that they need to let the parent deal with the hands on parenting but be prepared to step in if there is a risk, and also be prepared to refuse to let the parent spend time with the child if they are under the influence of drink or drugs.
Supported contact can also take place in a Contact Centre accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) where the sessions are run by volunteers and are attended by other parents and children. A referral can be made direct to the Centre by the parents or their representatives and the Centre Co-ordinator will assess the matter to determine if there is any risk before accepting the family into the centre. Most centres operate on limited hours and mainly on a Saturday and charges can vary. Arrangements can be made for a vulnerable parent to arrive last and leave first to ensure the other parent is already in the building / remains in the building, and the staff will not allow entry to any parent who appears to be under the influence of drink or drugs. In addition, if the conduct of the parent during sessions is aggressive or concerning in other ways, or the child becomes too distressed, the sessions will be cancelled.
Supported contact can be in place long-term but it is the expectation that the time with the child will progress to unsupervised. If it is clear from the start that this will not happen then the Court will consider whether introducing supported contact is an option or whether contact should remain at indirect only.
In some cases more professional support is needed for the child to see the parent face-to-face and in these circumstances supervised contact will be considered. If Cafcass has made the recommendation for Child Contact Intervention then it will refer to the nearest appropriate service accredited by the NACCC and will meet the costs. Here the parent will attend a designated centre to spend time with the child and the time will be monitored and assessed with a report being sent back to Cafcass which will then report to the Court.
If Cafcass recommends supervised contact in its Section 7 Report, but is not willing to refer as part of Child Contact Intervention then the Court can order that supervised contact takes place and it will be one of the legal representatives or one of the parents that makes the referral with either one or both parents meeting the costs of the sessions. A report will be sent to Cafcass which will in turn report to the Court.
Supervised contact is required when it has been determined that a child has suffered or is a risk of suffering harm through seeing the parent. This type of contact safeguards the child from both emotional and physical harm. The sessions help to build and maintain positive relationships between the child and the parent having the contact. The supervisors must have the ability to work with vulnerable children, an extremely anxious parent who has main care and an extremely frustrated or angry parent who is facing restrictions on seeing their child. If an issue arises during a session the supervisor must have the confidence and ability to step in right away.
As set down in the NACC website, supervised contact requires the following :-
• One supervisor to one family with the supervisor in constant sight and sound of the child
• A high commitment of resources including the same supervisor at each session
• The supervisor and the centre having access to all relevant Court papers and transcripts of any judgments in order to supervise effectively. The party making the referral must ensure that the Court Order which contains the direction for supervised contact includes confirmation that the Court has given permission for the documents to be produced
• All contact to be closely observed and recorded
• The contact will take place at a venue that provides privacy and confidentiality to each child and family and which provides maximum safety to all concerned and maximum stimulation for children.
• Contact is time limited and will be regularly assessed and reviewed
The level of supervision during the sessions may reduce if the centre staff feel that it is safe to do so, and a staff member may accompany the parent and child on an escorted outing.
If it is clear that the parent will never have anything other than supervised contact the Court is unlikely to order it and the parent may have to settle for indirect only. Similarly if it becomes clear that supervised contact is not working then a decision needs to be made as to when the sessions end.
If supervised contact is successful then the contact is likely to progress on a stage by stage basis eg from supervised to supported to unsupervised. However in many cases the parent will need to work at the child's pace and not expect too much too soon.
No Contact Order
These are normally used in cases where there has been serious domestic violence suffered by the parent with care of the child at the hands of the other parent, or where there has been abuse of the child. After investigation the Court may determine that the risks of harm to the child or parent with care are so great that no contact, even indirect contact, should take place. The Court does not make these orders freely and must be satisfied that the risks far outweigh any benefit that the child may have from keeping in contact with the other parent.
Order under s91(14) Children Act 1989
In cases where a ‘no contact’ order is made, it is not unusual to also find an order made under s19(14) of the Children Act 1989 which states that:-
‘On disposing of any application for an order under this Act, the court may (whether or not it makes any other order in response to the application) order that no application for an order under this Act of any specified kind may be made with respect to the child concerned by any person named in the order without leave of the court.’
Again these are only made in exceptional cases and prevent repeated and unreasonable applications. They can be made for a specified time or have no time limit imposed.
These orders can protect a parent and child, who have been subject to serious domestic abuse, from the other parent frequently bringing the matter back to Court as a way of exercising continued control, and emotional and psychological abuse, particularly when reports and assessments have shown that the parent is not to have any form of contact. It can also allow time for the parent and child to settle without fear of an application for contact from the other parent.
The Court may also specify that a certain course of action needs to be undertaken before a further application can be made, such as treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist, and the applicant will then need to submit evidence of compliance with the terms of the order, for example for any treatment to have been completed successfully and any risk minimised, before making a further application.
They are more likely to be found in public law cases (ie applications issued by the Local Authority) rather than private law (issued by a parent, relative or other carer of the child). There are certain recognised cases dealing with orders under Section 91(14). The starting point is the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Re P (a child)(residence order: child’s welfare).
Lady Justice Butler Sloss, referred to previous decided cases and set out the general principles which need to be take into account when such an order is being considered :-
• The Court’s paramount consideration is as per Section 1(1) of the Children Act ie the welfare of the child
• The Court can act on its own authority when making an order
• If an order is made it will be an intrusion into the normally unrestricted right of the party to issue an application
• Orders should be the exception and not the rule
• It is a ‘weapon of last resort’ to prevent repeated and unreasonable applications
• The order must be in the interests of the welfare of the child, even if the parents have not made any previous applications. The facts need to be uncommon and there must be serious risk that if the order is not made the child will be exposed to unacceptable pressure
• The Court can make the order without it being requested by any of the parties however the parties must be given the opportunity to be heard on the issue
• An order made be made with or without a time limit
• The level of restriction should be proportionate to the harm it is intended to avoid, and the court should specify, where appropriate, the type of application to which the restriction applies and how long the restriction is to last.
In Re P it was held that an order under Section 91(14) did not break the Human Rights Act 1998 or European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) as the order does not deny access to the Court but requires the Court’s permission before further proceedings can take place.
The position of the Court in Re P was endorsed in Re N (children)  EWCA civ 903.
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