Child contact services - regulation: consultation

The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 gives the Scottish Ministers the power to regulate child contact centres. This consultation seeks views on various aspects of what regulation of child contact centres would look like.

Annex H: Draft Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA)

Fairer Scotland Duty

Title of Policy, Strategy, Programme etc.

Regulation of child contact services.

Summary of aims and expected outcomes of strategy, proposal, programme or policy

The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 (the 2020 Act) gained Royal Assent on 1 October 2020. Section 10 of the 2020 Act gives the Scottish Ministers the power to set minimum standards for child contact centre accommodation and staff training by regulations. The 2020 Act also gives the Scottish Ministers the power to appoint a body to oversee regulation, which would include registering child contact services, carrying out inspections, reporting on inspections, and handling complaints.

Child contact centres play an important role in providing safe venues for conflict-free contact between children, parents, and other people in the child's life. Child contact centres receive referrals from the courts, solicitors and from parents themselves so that contact can be facilitated between a parent and child.

Child contact centres offer a mixture of supported and supervised contact. Supported contact is where centres provide the facilities for the contact and record that the contact took place and not details of how it went. Supervised contact is where contact takes place in the constant presence of an independent person who observes and ensures the safety of those involved.

Child contact centres also provide a handover service where one parent brings the child to the centre to be collected by the other parent. This means that the parents do not have to see each other during the handover.

Child contact services are not currently subject to any external regulation. Although child contact service providers have their own policies and procedures in place, there are no national standards and there is no independent oversight.

The policy aim of regulating child contact services is to ensure all child contact centres are safe locations for children to have contact with a parent or other family member and that children will be protected when they are referred to a child contact centre.

The aim is that by establishing minimum standards and appointing a person to oversee those standards the best interests of children remain at the centre of contact cases and that the best outcomes for children using child contact centres will be achieved. National standards will also ensure appropriate standards apply consistently across the sector.

It is not an aim of the regulations to prescribe what, if any, fees and charges child contact providers should have in place for contact services.

Summary of evidence

There are currently 45 child contact centres across Scotland that deal primarily with private law cases. 42 are members of the Relationships Scotland (RS) network[89] and the Scottish Government is aware of three independent centres in Aberdeen[90], Inverclyde[91] and Glasgow[92].

Unpublished figures from Relationships Scotland show that in 2018-19, 79% of referrals to their contact centres were from the court or solicitors.

It is generally understood that some families with children are much more likely to live in poverty – these include minority ethnic families, families with a disabled adult or child, lone parent families, and families where the mother is under 24 years old. As regards the position on low income and household poverty it is also understood that lone parents (mostly women) and single adults who live alone (mostly men) are much more likely to live in poverty.

Discussions with stakeholders has indicated that families using child contact services tend to be from lower income backgrounds.

Child contact services tend to be used in cases where parents have separated or were never together, so more lone parents may use these services.

Unpublished data from Relationships Scotland shows that younger parents tend to use their child contact services. In 2018/19, 3,615 adults and 2,572 children used their members' child contact centres. The figures indicate that of the 3,615 adults using services, 48% were aged 20-29, 29% were aged 30-39, 12% were aged 40-49 and 11% were aged 50-64. At the independent contact centre in Glasgow 38% of individuals who gave their age were between 20 and 29.

Stakeholders have said that in some cases there can be more reliance on the venues that child contact services provide because parents may not themselves have suitable accommodation for the contact to take place. Some parents may also be unable to afford to access other activities in the community when having contact and may need to rely on the child contact centre facilities.

Stakeholders have also said that many users rely on their relatives or public transport to get to the child contact centre as they are unable to afford their own means of transport.

Child contact providers may charge fees for their contact services. Fees are paid either by the parents themselves or by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) if the parents are eligible for legal aid. SLAB estimate that work up to a value of £0.5 million a year is authorised by them in relation to child contact centres. SLAB indicate that the average cost requested to cover court ordered supervised contact was £644. The Scottish Government understands that generally of the child contact centre income generated by fees a higher proportion tends to come from legal aid than from privately paying users. This may suggest that those using services have lower incomes.

Summary of assessment findings

The available evidence and information suggests that parents and children who experience inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage are more likely to be impacted by the proposed regulation of child contact services.

Inequalities of outcome mean that people have less chance of being treated with dignity and respect.

Establishing minimum standards of accommodation for child contact services will help ensure child contact centre premises are welcoming environments for parents and children to use that are safe, secure, clean, bright, warm and well maintained. The proposed standards will require facilities, toys and equipment to be in good condition with adequate space to meet the needs of children and families.

Establishing minimum standards for staff training will also help improve inequalities of outcome by helping to ensure staff are trained appropriately in a range of areas. It is proposed training standards will cover areas such as: working with families in conflict; responding to children's needs and behaviour; child protection; adverse childhood experiences; parental mental health, drug and alcohol misuse; and an awareness of other services that are available for children and young people.

The assessment has identified that we should consult with organisations and groups that support individuals who are more at risk of inequalities of outcome, for example: separated parents, non-resident parents; one parent families; disabled people and ethnic minority families.

Sign off

To be completed for final version of Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment



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