Publication - Consultation analysis

Regulation of child contact centre services consultation: analysis

This report provides an analysis of the consultation responses to the consultation on the regulation of child contact centre services. This relates to the Children (Scotland) Act 2020.

Regulation of child contact centre services consultation: analysis
Accommodation standards

Accommodation standards

18. The consultation paper noted that this section of the consultation focused on accommodation standards for child contact centres and what minimum standards should be applied to the premises used by the centres so that all are safe and welcoming locations for children and families. This part of the consultation sought views on:

  • What minimum accommodation standards should be considered for the regulation of child contact services.
  • What minimum accommodation standards should be considered for the regulation of child contact services in relation to alternative premises.
  • Adjustments for disabled people at child contact centres.

Minimum standards for child contact centre accommodation

19. The consultation paper explained that in addition to the range of premises that child contact centres operate from, the arrangements in place for use of these premises also varies across the sector, both in terms of the layout of the premises and the times when child contact services are open. Child contact centres are already subject to certain legal duties and obligations in terms of their business and premises; this covers health and safety law, building standards and insurance and equalities.

20. The Scottish Government holds the view that child contact services should take place in a safe, welcoming and child-friendly environment in terms of being comfortable with adequate space for children and parents to play and bond with each other, and to provide age-appropriate toys, games and other play equipment.

21. The first question in the consultation asked:

Q1: ‘How important do you feel it is that each of the following areas are included in the regulations for minimum standards of accommodation (very important, somewhat important, fairly unimportant, very unimportant)?

  • Are clean, bright, warm, well maintained and well ventilated
  • Are safe and secure (including any outdoor areas), free from avoidable hazards and have a secure entry system
  • Have toilets, nappy changing facilities and (where available) kitchen facilities that are in good condition with access to hot and cold water and compliant with existing environmental health and safety requirements
  • Have furniture, soft furnishings, toys and equipment (including outdoor play equipment) and appliances / fittings that are in good condition and compliant with health and safety requirements, including British Standards Institution (BSI) safety standards
  • Have adequate space to meet the needs of children and families using the centre, including sufficient waiting areas
  • Have at least two separate entrances / exits, where possible
  • Have access to age appropriate and good quality play equipment and play spaces, including outside space where possible
  • Have clearly defined evacuation plans in place that staff, parents and children are aware of and that are well signposted
  • Have fire safety equipment that conforms with BSI safety standards
  • Have a first aid box

22. As illustrated in table 3, of those answering this question, almost all respondents felt that most of these elements of accommodation were very important; and most of these were described as being either very or somewhat important. The one exception was for the provision of at least two separate entrances / exits, where 39 respondents felt this was very important, 8 somewhat important and 6 fairly unimportant.

Table 3: Q1: How important are each of the following …. ?
How important do you feel it is that each of the following areas are included in the regulations for minimum standards of accommodation …. Number (%)
Very Imp Somewhat Imp Fairly Unimp Very Unimp No answer
Are clean, bright, warm, well maintained and well ventilated 49 (83%) 4 (7%) - - 6 (10%)
Are safe and secure (including any outdoor areas), free from avoidable hazards, and have a secure entry system 48 (81%) 5 (8%) - - 6 (10%)
Have toilets and nappy changing facilities and (where available) kitchen facilities that are in good condition with access to hot and cold water and compliant with existing environmental health and safety requirements 49 (83%) 4 (7%) - - 6 (10%)
Have furniture, soft furnishings, toys and equipment (including outdoor play equipment) and appliances / fittings that are in good condition and complaint with health and safety requirements including British Standards Institution (BSI) safety standards 50 (85%) 3 (5%) - - 6 (10%)
Have adequate space to meet the needs of children and families using the centre, including sufficient waiting areas 52 (88%) 1 (1%) - - 6 (10%)
Have at least two separate entrances / exits, where possible 39 (66%) 8 (14%) 6 (10%) - 6 (10%)
Have access to age appropriate and good quality play equipment and play spaces, including outside space where possible 49 (83%) 4 (7%) - - 6 (10%)
Have clearly defined emergency evacuation plans in place that staff, parents and children are aware of and that are well signposted 50 (85%) 3 (5%) - - 6 (10%)
Have fire safety equipment that conforms with BSI safety standards 51 (86%) 2 (3%) - - 6 (10%)
Have a first aid box 49 (83%) 2 (3%) - - 8 (14%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

23. Respondents were then asked whether they had any further comments regarding their selections, and 36 opted to provide additional commentary. A number of respondents made general comments, some of which reiterated that all of these are important elements of accommodation: for example, that there is a need for a positive space for children and families that is safe, or that a family friendly environment is important. A small number of respondents noted that all of these elements will not be possible for some child contact centres as some are shared premises or do not have access to outdoor space. Additionally, a small number of respondents noted the need for adequate funding to enable child contact centres to provide these standards of service.

24. Relatively small numbers of respondents focused on each of the specific elements of accommodation as outlined in the consultation paper; the following paragraphs note points made in relation to each.

Are clean, bright, warm, well maintained and well ventilated

25. Only two respondents commented on this element, noting the importance of regular and thorough cleaning.

Are safe and secure (including any outdoor areas), free from avoidable hazards and have a secure entry system

26. Only four respondents commented on this element, mostly in support of CCTV to provide a secure entry system although one child contact service noted this is not possible in all instances; and an individual that this would need to be well regulated.

Have toilets, nappy changing facilities and (where available) kitchen facilities that are in good condition with access to hot and cold water and compliant with existing environmental health and safety requirements

27. Only four respondents commented on this element, most of whom noted that a kitchen is not necessary for positive contact between a parent and child or that kitchen facilities are not needed due to the limited amount of contact time (generally around two hours) spent there. One of these respondents also noted that the provision of kitchen facilities raised health and safety issues.

Have adequate space to meet the needs of children and families using the centre, including sufficient waiting times

28. This element attracted the highest number of comments, albeit from a minority of respondents. The key comment was of a need for space to manage people arriving, leaving or waiting. Safe and secure waiting areas were highlighted as important by a few respondents, particularly as some parents attending will be the victims of domestic abuse and will not want to come face-to-face with the perpetrator of this abuse.

29. There were also small numbers of comments on the need for the environment to be warm and friendly, safe and comfortable, and offering access to age-appropriate space to children of all ages. One respondent suggested that where possible, space should be provided for family to be in shared spaces or separate rooms, depending on the needs of the child. Overall, it was felt that the space available should not exacerbate any anxiety or trauma already felt by service users.

Have at least two separate entrances / exits, where possible

30. This element of the accommodation was commented on by a minority of respondents. The key comment was that separate entrances and exits are important as many of those attending the contact centre will be victims of domestic abuse and should not have to come face-to-face with the perpetrators of this abuse. That said, a few respondents noted this might not always be possible and suggested alternative procedures that could be adopted, such as staggered entrance times, separate waiting rooms or the co-ordination of drop-offs and pick-ups.

Have access to age appropriate and good quality play equipment and play spaces, including outside space where possible

31. A few respondents commented on this specific element, with the key theme being of access to age-appropriate and good quality play equipment that reflect different interests and abilities, and that toys should be kept in good condition. It was also noted that these centres should not be boring for children who are using them. A very small number of respondents noted that there had been a more restricted choice of toys because of the pandemic and the need to thoroughly clean all equipment. Again, there were a few comments that it is not always possible to provide outside space, but where it is possible, this needs to be of a high quality.

32. There were also a small number of comments of the need to ensure that all centres have disabled access.

33. The next question went on to ask:

Q2: ‘Are there any other areas that should be considered for the minimum standards of accommodation?

34. As table 4 shows, of those answering this question, more felt there should be other areas for consideration for the minimum standards for accommodation, than did not. A substantial minority opted not to answer this question.

Table 4: Q2: Are there any other areas that should be considered for the minimum standards for accommodation?
Number
Yes No Not answered
Child contact service (5) 3 2 -
Legal (3) - 1 2
Local authority (4) 2 2 -
Regulator (2) 1 - 1
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 8 - 3
Other (1) - 1 -
Total organisations (28) 15 (54%) 6 (21%) 7 (25%)
Individual (31) 10 (32%) 7 (23%) 14 (45%)
Total respondents (59) 25 (42%) 13 (22%) 21 (36%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

35. A total of 30 respondents provided suggestions for other areas that should be considered for the minimum standards for accommodation.

36. Accessibility to, and within buildings, was highlighted by a significant number of respondents answering this question, with reference to access for disabilities, both physical and cognitive. These included ramps, wheelchair access, sensory adaptations such as sensory lighting, internal signage in braille, hearing loops and the availability of audio and visual access equipment.

37. Accessibility in terms of transport options was also referred to by a few respondents who commented on the need for access by various types of travel, including public transport and active travel. A very small number of respondents noted that in rural and remote areas, public transport is an issue where someone who has experienced domestic abuse has to travel on the same transport with the perpetrator of that abuse. There were also a small number of suggestions for parking to be provided.

38. There were a small number of comments of the need to allow for different users and to be sensitive to their needs, for example, individuals from different ethnic backgrounds, those with communication / language barriers, faith groups or offering varied opening times. Again, there were some comments for the need for the provision of quiet spaces for those who might be feeling overwhelmed. Allied to this point, there were a small number of requests for child contact services to work with users to co-design accommodation.

39. Staff training was referred to by a few respondents, who noted the importance of all staff being trained to provide a welcoming environment, to uphold children’s and adults’ rights to be safe, and can signpost centre users to other forms of support.

40. A number of respondents reiterated points made at the previous question, most notably in relation to the need for well managed and separate waiting areas, and CCTV.

Monitoring accommodation standards

41. The consultation paper noted that it is envisaged that the body appointed to oversee regulation would carry out regular physical inspections of premises, would issue reports on the inspections and would be involved in the complaints handling process. Prior to being registered as a regulated contact service, the regulatory body would carry out an initial inspection, followed by three yearly inspections once accepted on the register. In instances where accommodation standards have not been met, the child contact centre provider would be given the opportunity to address this in a specified timeframe. Question 3 asked:

Q3: ‘Do you agree with the proposed process for, and frequency of, inspections for a provider’s registered premises?’

42. As table 5 shows, a large majority of those answering this question agreed with the proposed process for, and frequency of, inspections for a provider’s registered premises (38 agreed and 6 disagreed).

Table 5: Q3: Do you agree with the proposed process for and frequency of inspections for a provider’s registered premises?
Number
Yes No Not answered
Child contact service (5) 4 1 -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 2 2 -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 3 2 6
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 13 (46%) 5 (18%) 10 (36%)
Individual (31) 25 (81%) 1 (3%) 5 (16%)
Total respondents (59) 38 (64%) 6 (10%) 15 (25%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

43. Respondents were then asked to give reasons for this answer, and 28 did so, a few of whom simply noted their agreement with what is proposed, without providing any further detail, other than comments along the lines of the process allowing for scrutiny and inspection by an independent body.

44. The key comment from a minority of these respondents focused on the frequency of inspections, with most agreeing that three years is a suitable time period and allows for any changes in the service to be implemented. One existing child contact service noted that this fits with their existing quality assurance system. A few respondents, however, felt the period of inspection should be more frequent, particularly in the early years. A small number of respondents were of the opinion that inspections should be unscheduled and unannounced. Alongside this, a small number of respondents suggested there should also be annual self-assessments / evaluations to ensure that the centres run effectively.

45. The importance of the inspection process being positive and meaningful, with support and guidance provided, was noted by a small number of respondents. This in turn will help to ensure continuous improvement on a customer-focused basis, with the sharing of learning and better practice.

46. A very small number of respondents who commented at this question, felt the Care Inspectorate would be a suitable organisation to conduct the inspection process, one of whom noted that the Care Inspectorate is a trustworthy organisation; although one third sector / advocacy organisation queried their suitability given their lack of knowledge in this area.

47. The importance of ensuring that all inspection reports are readily available to the public was highlighted by a small number of respondents.

48. A small number of comments focused on the complaints process specifically, with comments on the need for this to be simple, accessible and open; additionally, that the time period for complaints to be dealt with needs to be short given that service users are often vulnerable children.

49. The next question asked:

Q4: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed sanctions for non-compliance with the accommodation standards?’

50. As table 6 demonstrates, a large majority of those answering this question agreed with the proposed sanctions for non-compliance with the accommodation standards.

Table 6: Q4: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed sanctions for non-compliance with the accommodation standards?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 3 2 -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 5 1 5
Other (1) - - 1
Total organisations (28) 15 (54%) 3 (11%) 10 (36%)
Individual (31) 21 (68%) 1 (3%) 9 (29%)
Total respondents (59) 36 (61%) 4 (7%) 19 (32%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

51. A total of 25 respondents opted to provide additional commentary in support of their initial response; the largest number of whom noted their support for this approach. This approach is seen to be on a par with that for other regulated care services, and to be reasonable and proportionate. That said, one organisation in the legal sector noted:

“Provided adequate time is given for facilities to bring services up to standard then failure to comply ought to result in premises being suspended to give them a chance to remedy any issues. Failure to resolve any problems or repeated failure to comply should result in the premises being shut down. The step should not be taken lightly as families rely on these services.”

52. There were a small number of suggestions for alternatives to be offered. These included suspension rather than removal until standards are complied with or a continuum of options in terms of how concerns are categorised and a timeframe in which to rectify the situation. The need for support, assistance and guidance to help instigate the necessary improvements was cited by a small number of respondents. There were also suggestions for links to other centres to network and share ideas.

53. A few respondents noted concerns with this approach, primarily in relation to instances where changes to premises may be required. These concerns focused on premises that are rented, leased or shared and where centres may be subject to agreement from the landlord for any changes to be made. A third sector / advocacy organisation was concerned that children could have to continue using an inappropriate setting where standards have not been met while the situation is being rectified.

54. The need for clarity was cited by a few respondents – mostly in the third sector – most of whom focused on the phrase ‘an appropriate timeframe’, with suggestions that the timeframe needs to be specified, albeit there might be a need for flexibility in some circumstances. One organisation felt the consultation paper needed to be clearer on the processes when a centre does not meet the required standards.

55. One respondent who disagreed with the proposed sanctions noted the need for a wider quality assurance framework, and outlined the advantages this would bring:

“We disagree with the scope of the proposed standards in itself. A wider quality assurance framework would enable services to “show their workings” in terms of their development of quality services. Any regulatory body can then advise and support improvements on all aspects of the service using the service’s self-assessment and its own observations, interviews and benchmarking. It is possible to provide a poor service within a high quality environment, and a high quality service within an environment that may have many practical weaknesses in terms of the standards. All services in Scotland are under-funded in relation to the relative cost of rents in city locations and the lack of choice in rural and remote locations. The emphasis on a wider quality assurance framework would allow organisations to profile their strengths in practice, not just premises. A service found to have significant weaknesses in practice and premises should be offered support with improvements within a timescale, just as in any regulated service.”

Minimum standards for premises used on an ad hoc basis

56. Currently, to facilitate contact for families in remote areas where there is no permanent centre, rural contact service providers will utilise alternative premises on an ad hoc basis. The 2020 Act allows for this flexibility and provides that minimum standards that have to be met by these alternative premises can also be set down in regulations. Failure to meet these could result in removal of the contact service provider from the register.

57. The Scottish Government is proposing that the same standards outlined for the registered premises should also be applied to alternative premises. It is envisaged that where a new alternative premises is being used and there is insufficient time for an inspection to take place before the contact sessions start, a child contact service could self-certify that the premises meet the required standards. If a subsequent inspection identifies that these alternative premises have not met the accommodation standards, and where it is expected these premises will be used again, the provider would be given time to address the failings within an appropriate timeframe. Continued failure to meet the standards could result in removal from the register.

58. Question 5 asked:

Q5: ‘Should the same minimum standards that apply to registered premises also apply to alternative premises?’

59. As table 7 demonstrates, a large majority of those answering this question agreed that the same standards should apply to alternative premises as also apply to registered premises (46 agreed; 5 disagreed).

Table 7: Q5: should the same minimum standards that apply to registered premises also apply to alternative premises?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 4 - 1
Legal (3) 1 - 2
Local authority (4) 3 1 -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 8 2 1
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 18 (64%) 3 (11%) 7 (25%)
Individual (31) 28 (90%) 2 (6%) 1 (3%)
Total respondents (59) 46 (78%) 5 (8%) 8 (14%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

60. A total of 38 respondents provided further detail to back up their initial response to this question. The key theme from a majority of these respondents was that the same standards should apply to all premises, that there should be a consistency in care and provision or that safety and comfort should be paramount. As one third sector / advocacy organisation noted:

“As noted in the consultation paper - the regulation of accommodation provides an opportunity for consistency of quality for those using the premises, enabling children to have access to the same standard of accommodation, regardless of their location (UNCRC Article 2). [We] welcomes the fact this view is supported by the accompanying draft Islands Communities Impact Assessment, which highlights that it is important to ensure that children and families in island communities experience the same standards at child contact centres as children and families on the mainland of Scotland. Alternative premises may be needed to accommodate for the unexpected closure of the registered premise. The use of alternative premises can ensure the continuation of contact between children and their family members (UNCRC Article 9) and it essential that the accommodation and arrangements fully respect all children’s rights.”

61. One organisation noted that there are now more vacant properties across Scotland due to Covid, and that some of these could be adapted; another that other places such as outdoors venues can offer an alternative.

62. Of those who disagreed with this proposed approach, the primary concern was that alternative premises may be essential to ensure that contact can happen or that it is paramount that the contact takes place. One child centre service suggested that a risk assessment could be conducted for any alternative venues, with photos submitted to the regulatory body, or for a virtual visit, to ensure that contact is not delayed but that the minimum accommodation standards are met.

63. There were a few comments that the minimum standards for alternative accommodation should be considered on a case-by-case basis and should consider the level of risk posed by the use of alternative accommodation. One organisation in the legal sector noted that it might not be practical for all premises to meet all conditions, for example, offering a secure entry system or having two entrances / exits, but that premises should be compliant with fire regulations and hygiene standards. Another organisation noted that some alternative premises may already be in use for some other form of childcare and, as such, will already be subject to other standards. One child contact service noted that it is more important to have well trained staff who can manage the contact, understand how to use a venue and support the family.

64. Question 6 then asked:

Q6: ‘Are there any other areas that you think should be included in the minimum standards for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis?’

65. 24 respondents answered this question, the key comment being that the minimum standards should be the same for all premises, both registered and alternative. There were various mentions of the need for any premises to be fully accessible. Other points made by only one or two respondents largely reflected issues raised at earlier questions and included the need for CCTV at all premises, that the environment, equipment, toys, books and materials provided should reflect the diversity of the local population, and provision of a sports hall.

66. There were a few comments that the key consideration should be the safety and wellbeing of users, and that it might not be possible to offer the same range of standards at alternative premises but that there should be policies to deal with this. One local authority noted that there should be minimum standards but that these should not be too prescriptive. An organisation in the legal sector commented that it would be unrealistic to expect funding to be used for alternative premises if they are used for many different and varied functions. An organisation in the third sector / advocacy sub-group commented that in premises shared with other users, consideration needs to be given to these other users, as some may be inappropriate within child contact centres.

67. Training was raised by a small number of respondents who felt that staff should develop safety plans for adult and children survivors of domestic abuse; or that training should be given to staff so that they can act quickly upon any complaint that is made.

68. Only one respondent – an individual – felt that no alternative premises should be used.

69. Question 7 then asked:

Q7: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for inspections for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis?’

70. As table 8 demonstrates, once again, a large majority of those answering this question agreed with the proposed process for inspections for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis.

Table 8: Q7: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for inspections for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 3 1 1
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 2 1 1
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 7 - 4
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 16 (57%) 2 (7%) 10 (36%)
Individual (31) 21 (68%) 2 (6%) 8 (26%)
Total respondents (59) 37 (63%) 4 (7%) 18 (31%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

71. 24 respondents then provided further comments in support of their initial response to this question. The key comments, albeit only from a few respondents, were that alternative premises should be inspected on the same frequency as normal premises; and that they need to meet minimum standards or be held to similar standards, especially if the premises are a recognised alternative premises and not used on a one-off basis. A child contact service noted that if the premises are not held to the same standards, it can devalue what contact a child has.

72. There were also a few respondents who simply noted their agreement with the proposed process for inspections for alternative premises used on an ad hoc basis.

73. Timeframes were cited as an issue by a small number of respondents, with a request for defined timeframes from a third sector / advocacy organisation. There were also comments about the challenges of undertaking inspections in a short timeframe, with a couple of comments that retrospective inspections would be suitable. A representative body noted that if premises are used in a one-off situation, and they are not expected to be used again, there should be an initial or retrospective inspection but that the premises should not have to register. A local authority requested guidance on how long is considered to be a temporary use of premises.

74. Other comments made by only one or two respondents included that it should be possible to show evidence such as photographs to demonstrate that alternative premises are suitable or to undertake virtual inspections, that providers would need to ensure they have appropriate insurance cover and that inspections should be carried out on all premises prior to use in order to identify any issues and ensure the premises can be used safely. One or two respondents also referred to the need for consistency and transparency during the process and that the proposed process is not proportionate to the purpose of using alternative premises.

75. Question 8 then went onto ask:

Q8: ‘Should a contact centre provider be able to self-certify a premises as appropriate in situations where alternative premises are required unexpectedly or in an emergency?’

76. As shown in table 9, there was support for this proposal from a large majority of respondents; the only opposition came from individuals.

Table 9: Q8: Should a contact centre provider be able to self-certify a premises as appropriate in situations where alternative premises are required unexpectedly or in an emergency?
Number
Yes No Not answered
Child contact service (5) 5 - -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 5 - 6
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 18 (64%) - 10 (36%)
Individual (31) 19 (61%) 8 (26%) 4 (13%)
Total respondents (59) 37 (63%) 8 (14%) 14 (24%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

77. A total of 38 respondents provided commentary in support of their initial response. The key theme – primarily from child contact services – was that child contact services should be trusted to ensure all premises are safe and secure to use; and that they are capable of making decisions about what spaces are appropriate for contact. Additionally, a small number of respondents noted that in an emergency, it should be left to the professionals to make a reasonable risk assessment and be able to self-certify premises.

78. A few respondents across most sub-groups focused on the importance of continued contact between a child and parents, and noted that delays to contact can be damaging to a child and does not serve their best interests. Self-certification is perceived to be a good approach to adopt in order to avoid delay in the provision of alternative premises when they are needed.

79. While there was broad support for this proposal from respondents, a few respondents outlined provisos, although there was little consistency in the comments made. The importance of having policies and procedures in place to deal with this circumstance was highlighted by a couple of respondents; and there were some references to the need to carry out risk assessments and / or have virtual assessments with the regulator. The short term nature of this was also highlighted, with suggestions that the use of alternative premises should be time-limited and short term. A child contact service requested to have the process outlined by the regulator so that self-certification can be carried out safely and effectively.

80. Concerns about the use of self-certification were outlined by a small number of respondents, with an organisation in the third sector / advocacy sub-group noting:

“We have some concerns about a contact centre provider being able to self-certify. The 2020 Act places a duty on courts and solicitors to refer to regulated child contact centre services. Child contact arrangements are generally planned and timetabled well in advance, and we are uncertain why there would be a situation in which contact must still take place but unregulated premises are the only place that it could happen.”

81. Allied to this, there were a small number of comments that self-certification could be avoided as child contact services should already have contingency planning in place and should have already identified alternative premises that could be accommodated within the wider inspection and monitoring arrangements for alternative premises. Similarly, a small number of respondents noted that it is a duty under the 2020 Act for courts and solicitors to refer to regulated child contact services and they need certainty that a specific service is regulated. They also inferred that if the scheme allows for one-off uses of alternative premises, the child contact service should make public notification of this.

82. Of the small number of respondents who disagreed with the concept of self-certification, two individuals felt that this would be an abuse of their powers; and that inspection should always be independent and not via self-certification.

Adjustments for disabled people at child contact centres

83. The consultation paper noted that the functions conferred on the body appointed to oversee regulation may include issuing reports on any failure, or possible failure, by a contact service provider to comply with the provider’s duties under the Equality Act and in particular any duty to make reasonable adjustments to premises in order to facilitate their use by disabled people. This section of the 2020 Act focuses on helping to ensure the observance of the duties set out in the Equality Act, which requires providers to make reasonable adjustments in circumstances where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with non-disabled people. The EHRC has provided information on what service users can do if they think an organisation has not made reasonable adjustments and has a range of powers that enable them to enforce this law.

84. Child contact centre providers are expected to think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need. An organisation is not required to do more than it is reasonable for it to do, and this will depend on, among other things, its size and nature, and the nature of the facilities or services it provides, or the public functions it carries out. Question 9 asked:

Q9: ‘Do you think the proposed arrangements to help ensure compliance with existing duties under the 2010 Act in relation to disabled access at child contact centres are adequate?’

85. As shown in table 10, of those answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this question, there was majority support for the proposed arrangements.

Table 10: Q9: Do you think the proposed arrangements to help ensure compliance with existing duties under the 2010 Act in relation to disabled access at child contact centres are adequate?
Number
Yes No Not answered
Child contact service (5) 3 2 -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) - 1 1
Representative body (2) - - 2
Third sector / advocacy (11) 4 2 5
Other (1) - 1 -
Total organisations (28) 13 (46%) 6 (21%) 9 (32%)
Individual (31) 14 (45%) 6 (19%) 11 (35%)
Total respondents (59) 27 (46%) 12 (20%) 20 (34%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

86. A total of 26 respondents provided additional commentary in support of their initial response. Of those in agreement that the proposed arrangements to help ensure compliance with existing duties under the Equality Act in relation to disabled access at child centres are adequate, a small number noted the proposed arrangements are suitable. A small number of respondents agreed on the basis that disabled individuals have the right to be treated in the same way as non-disabled individuals. Once again, a few provisos were noted by respondents; primarily that most centres rent their premises and can only make adjustments with the consent of the landlord, with one child contact service expressing a concern that stating all centres have to have disabled access could mean that some venues are lost. A local authority felt the proposed arrangements should not be too prescriptive as this could lead to the closure of centres and an allied reduction in the services for those who need them.

87. Of the respondents who disagreed at this question, the key theme was that making reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled access is essential and that disabled people should not be excluded from services to which they are entitled. That said, one child contact service noted that while children with additional special needs should have the best chance to maintain contact with a parent, in many cases, a child’s needs’ can be accommodated by creative planning and staff skills. A regulator noted that the minimum standards should refer to accessibility in the light of their duty to make reasonable adjustments and that it should not be possible to register a contact centre that is not accessible to children and adults with disabilities. Two respondents noted that there should be reference to the existing duties of the Equality Act within the minimum standards for accommodation.

88. Other comments made by one or two respondents included that users should be made aware of their rights to have reasonable adjustments made if they are disabled and that information could be provided on their first visit. One respondent referred to UNCRC Article 12 in relation to providing child-friendly accessible information informing them of their rights to have reasonable adjustments made if they are disabled.

89. Disability was again referred to, with one or two respondents commenting that research suggests there could be relatively large numbers of disabled children using contact centres and that the capacity of a service to meet disabled requirements should be considered by the court in advance of a referral. Furthermore, providers will need support from the regulatory body on how to meet the requirements of the Equality Act.

90. Finally, there was a comment that while premises are important, the ways in which staff can support parents and children is also important. Service users need to be aware of how to express concerns to staff and obtain support.


Contact

Email: family.law@gov.scot