When Should Child Contact be Supervised?
What is supervised contact?
In proceedings relating to child arrangements the welfare of the child must be the court’s paramount consideration. It is presumed that a relationship with each parent will be in the best interests of children. However, that relationship must be safe. In practice, cases about child arrangements therefore usually involve balancing the value of a child’s relationship with each parent against any safeguarding concerns raised. One way of addressing this balance is for the child to spend time with a parent subject to additional safeguards.
One of the most common safeguards is supervision by another person. The most comprehensive form of supervision is for contact to take place in the presence of a professional at an accredited contact centre. The professional monitors and takes notes on the contact between the child and the parent. Supervised contact is particularly common at early stages of contact and the professional supervisor’s notes provide an evidential basis for determining how contact should progress. There is a cost to such supervision, and this is usually, though not always, met by the parent spending time with the child under supervision. Contact centres are accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (“NACCC”). The NACCC website provides clear information on finding a centre in your area and the services available at each centre.
What is supported contact?
There are also lighter touch forms of supervised contact which are sometimes also referred to as supported contact. An example of this is where contact takes place at a contact centre where there are workers present in the vicinity, but they are not observing that contact session individually or taking notes on it. Another example is where the third party present at contact is not a professional or contact centre worker but rather a trusted person known to the family. Often such contact will take place in the community or at a family member’s home.
How does the court decide whether contact should be supervised?
It is often difficult for the court to decide whether face to face supervised contact is the best option in the interests of the child. Supervision tends to reduce the quality of the contact but also reduces the risk of harm to the child. Contact before proceedings have been concluded, known as interim contact, will be approached with caution by the court. This applies particularly where there are allegations of domestic abuse which have not yet been determined. The court must follow guidance found in Practice Direction 12J. However, recent case law is clear that the court should not accept allegations made without scrutiny, even at an interim stage. If the allegations are serious, a fact-finding hearing may be necessary to determine whether the allegations are true and therefore whether contact should be supervised in the interim or long term. Weight will be given to advice received from social workers, usually through the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (“CAFCASS”). In most cases, a final order should provide for progression towards unsupervised contact. However, in some cases, the risk of harm to the child of unsupervised contact is sufficiently severe that such progression is not provided for. As these determinations are complex and rely on constantly developing law, it is crucial to take expert legal advice.
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Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.