More than 55,000 divorces involve children under 16 years each year[1] and more than half a million children have no contact with a parent after a separation[2].

These children find themselves caught up in a period of great uncertainty as they face the consequences of parents that no longer live together and the repercussions this brings.  At such an unsettling time, children can feel insecure, at blame and as if their lives have been turned upside down.

So, as significant family occasions such as Mother’s Day and Easter approach, it is important to remember that not every family’s experience of spending time together will be the same.  In fact, for many children and young people, contact may take an altogether different form as they seek to restore relationships with the help of a third party.

It’s becoming increasingly common for families to need external help to navigate the complexities of relationship breakdown and to ensure that the child’s need to see their parent(s) is maintained.  This is particularly important as separation often sparks contentious decision-making about where children will live and with who, where they will be schooled and how often access will be granted.  Family contact centres play an invaluable role in creating safe, neutral and conflict-free environments for families to start rebuilding their relationships.

The main aim is to give long-term positive outcomes for children, establishing and maintaining contact with the parent they no longer live with. The service can also be accessed by and offer support to other family members too, such as grandparents and even siblings, enabling them to keep in touch and meet up with a child in a safe environment too.

Family contact centres combine the help of an experienced team of facilitators who guide families through the process with a variety of toys and games to put children and parents at their ease and the relaxed surroundings of a safe, warm and neutral space.

Roger’s experience shows how contact centre support services can make a real difference, to the whole family  He said: “I am separated from my partner and didn’t see my six-year-old son, Billy, for two years.  Every time I tried to see him he became very upset.  Then we got in touch with the NYAS Contact Centre.  Their contact facilitators spent time with Billy, allowing him to get to know the centre and the surroundings and building up his trust.  Billy’s mum was nervous about the process as she had seen him get distressed on other occasions.  My NYAS contact facilitator spent time working with her to help her understand how she could support Billy with this process.

“After four sessions I got to see Billy with my contact facilitator.  The contact went really well and NYAS worked with us in more sessions, supporting me and Billy to get to know each other again.  After these sessions the support workers organised a family meeting, with me, his mother and grandparents.  This gave us the chance to talk about future arrangements so that we can move away from the contact centre and work together for the best interests of Billy.  We are now working together as a family and have regular family meetings.  Now, I see Billy away from the contact centre and pick Billy up from his mum’s home.”

The circumstances that bring families to the contact centres are varied.  Some parents like Roger need help to rebuild their child’s trust while others find it difficult to agree to share their children’s time with others so the neutrality and safety of a contact centre appeals. For some the centre avoids the need to see former partners when dropping off and collecting children.  In other cases, contact centres are used for children who are subject to a care order and allow them to see certain family members in a safe and supervised way.

Regardless of the reason, the benefit is always weighted to one key outcome – to help a child establish and maintain contact with the parent they no longer live with.

NYAS takes referrals from private individuals and a range of organisations such as local authorities, CAFCASS and solicitors.  To find out more about NYAS’ contact centre services and how they can help to rebuild family relationships call 0151 649 8700.

[1] Source ONS 2015 [2] Source NACCC