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.
Draft Impact Assessments
163. In accordance with usual practice, the Scottish Government prepared a number of draft impact assessments in relation to the development of policy in this area. Question 20 asked:
Q20: ‘As we continue to develop these policy proposals and work to understand their potential impact, do you have any comments about, or evidence relevant to, any of the following:
a) The draft Business And Regulatory Impact Assessment
b) The draft Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment
c) The draft Data Protection Impact Assessment
d) The draft Equality Impact Assessment
e) The draft Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment
f) The draft Island Communities Impact Assessment
164. A total of 16 respondents made comments about the draft Impact Assessments. A few made general positive remarks about the draft Impact Assessments as a whole, saying they were comprehensive, supported the way forward and helped provide a baseline for positive standards of service. One organisation commented that each centre needs to be safe, welcoming and child-friendly irrespective of user characteristics and demographics.
165. Only a very small number of respondents made comments relating to the draft Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment. Single respondents highlighted the following:
- Concerns that higher costs, increased workload and tighter specifications on premises will lead to a significant reduction in Scottish contact centre provision.
- A suggestion that funding arrangements would be simpler if centres were set up and run directly as a non-departmental public body on behalf of the Government.
- There is an obligation on the Scottish Government to ensure regulation is maintained at adequate levels and avoid the risk to the child’s welfare caused by delays in court proceedings as a result of contact centre operation.
166. The draft Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment generated most feedback. Several respondents reinforced the view that children’s rights should be the foremost concern and must be protected, with mandatory training recommended on this issue. Particular areas identified included a right for children to maintain relationships with the important people in their lives and that allegations of parental alienation can serve to silence young people and therefore impact on their rights. It was also intimated that part of being a child-centred practice is in the design of the child contact centre itself, which can impact positively or negatively on a child’s comfort and wellbeing. A small number of respondents also highlighted some areas perceived as requiring more coverage:
- More on the possible impact of child contact centre closures.
- A need to document abuse tactics in the CRWIA.
- More acknowledgement of the gendered nature of domestic abuse (mostly female victims and male perpetrators).
- More on the duties that child contact centres will be obliged to fulfil upon implementation of the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill (e.g. a perception that confidentiality must be a mandatory part of training requirements).
167. A couple of respondents chose this impact assessment to highlight problems with gaps in data coverage, specifying the following areas:
- No data disaggregation on the distance children are away from the current number of child contact centres.
- Little information on how women / children travel to child contact centres.
- The qualifications of staff.
- Information on the outcomes of contact.
168. Only a couple of comments were received regarding the draft Data Protection Impact Assessment. There was a request for a clear description of the potential for information sharing with other statutory and non-statutory organisations, perhaps involving some standards around information technology usage by service providers and also the training of staff and volunteers in relation to GDPR and information governance; and a concern about the need for robust policies to prevent accidental sharing of data with abusers.
169. On the draft Equality Impact Assessment, a small number of respondents urged that it should include impacts on additional groupings, including adoptive parents and extended families, LGBTQ communities and disabled people.
170. A third sector / advocacy respondent perceived that women were disproportionately disadvantaged in relation to child contact centre attendance; reasons cited included lower car ownership and precarious employment compared to men, resulting in hardship attending child contact centres on Saturdays (when they tend to be open). This respondent also requested the permanent availability of at least one female staff member.
171. However, a small number of respondents perceived the following equalities disadvantages for men:
- The statement ‘Gender-based violence could mean that a female child contact centre user may not feel comfortable with a male member of staff’ neglects to consider whether male users could have similar concerns.
- A lack of rights for fathers within the family law legal system in practice.
- A perceived lack of male staff and volunteers in contact centres, with a suggestion that measures were needed to encourage men to become involved.
172. Only one respondent made a comment concerning the draft Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment. This was an intimation that support was needed (e.g. with travel costs) for unemployed or low income users for whom Legal Aid is no help (e.g. unrepresented parents).
173. Most of the few comments about the draft Island Communities Impact Assessment stated concerns about a lack of services acting as a disadvantage to children in island communities, with a further worry that new regulation must not unnecessarily curtail child contact centres’ ability to provide their services; a child contact service intimated that it was better to have contact in a self-certified service than none at all.
174. Additionally, there were a couple of requests for the draft Island Communities Impact Assessment coverage to be extended to rural and remote areas of the Scottish mainland; and a point that living on an island presents different and specific barriers (e.g. lack of anonymity) to those who have experienced domestic abuse, and that therefore there is a need for child contact centres to consult local domestic abuse organisations in order to gain an understanding of these.
175. The final question in this consultation asked respondents for any further comments they had about this consultation.
176. 23 respondents provided further comments, many of which reiterated themes already covered in the consultation. A large minority welcomed regulation and registration of child contact centres and services, commenting that it was very much needed. A few respondents viewed regulation as needing a child’s rights based framework (e.g. to comply with UNCRC). Two respondents welcomed the flexibility for child contact centres to operate in varying circumstances and environments.
177. A large minority of respondents cited a minimum standard setting approach as being essential, noting a lot of current variation between child contact centres in terms of both standards and variety of services offered; advantages were purported to be the security, health and wellbeing of staff and families, and training of staff and volunteers. Two respondents stated that much depends on the skills, abilities and experience of staff and volunteers. A further two respondents called for greater coverage of risk assessment and understanding of risk within the legislation.
178. Having safe, comfortable and child-friendly contact centres was viewed as being essential to their success by a large minority of respondents. A small number of respondents thought more support from centres was needed for separated parents and children; consultation services with children, play therapy and more outdoor contact time were all suggested.
179. The need for significant investment to raise standards in terms of facilities and training, together with concerns about funding, was the preoccupation of a significant number of respondents. There were also a couple of comments insinuating a continuing lack of clarity about the functions, scope and remit of contact centres, as well as yearly doubts amongst staff as to whether certain centres will stay open.
180. A few respondents cited a need to ensure more access to centres or expand the number of child contact centres to provide more local support (e.g. in the north and south of the country); to this end a review of the accessibility of existing child contact centres and services was suggested.
181. A few respondents mentioned poor experiences of child contact centres; in particular instances of children being forced to enter the building against their wishes, lengthy travel, mental health risks and poor or non-factual supervised contact reports.
182. Finally, single respondents noted a need for more on the effects of Covid on separated families and the route forward, and that if solicitors can refer only to regulated child contact centres they must have accurate information around the status of a child contact centre service to ensure compliance with this duty. One respondent noted a wish to promote the Safe & Together Model (to keep children together with the non-offending parent in the context of domestic abuse).
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