Press Release from NACCC (19/01/2015)

A vital service that keeps children in touch with separated parents is disappearing, due to a lack of solicitor referrals caused by cuts in the legal aid budget.

Over 40 child contact centres (CCCs)[1] have closed in the last eighteen months across England and Wales, leaving hundreds of children with no way to meet with mums and dads who have split up but cannot agree about contact.

The crisis is being driven by legal aid cuts, which have halved the number parents applying for help through the family courts,2 where funding is no longer available. This in turn has cut solicitor referrals to CCCs, 3 which receive small contributions from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) and are mostly paid for by service-users and charitable donations.

Just over 400 child contact centres remain4, mainly staffed by volunteers, and the National Association for Child Contact Centres (NACCC) estimates that at the current rate this vital service will significantly diminish by 2020.

Some areas of Britain including large swathes of the North of England and the South and West of Wales now have no CCC services and other areas are moving in the same direction.

The closures are likely to have a disproportionate impact on fathers, who in nine out of 10 cases (92 per cent)5 are the ‘non-resident’ parent and are now more likely to give up on building relationships with their children without a neutral meeting place. More than a million children currently have no meaningful contact with their father.6 There can be negative consequences for children who are unable to have a positive relationship with both parents and other family members.

The NACCC this week launches a communications drive to raise awareness of CCCs in partnership with charities, schools, GPs, social services and other community groups, aiming to inform parents and their family members that these services exist and that they can access centres directly rather than through the legal system.

NACCC Chief Executive Elizabeth Coe says:

“Given that family breakdown costs the country an estimated £49 billion a year7, family legal aid cuts may prove a false economy unless more is done to let families know that the contact centres are there to help, and parents can apply to centres directly themselves.”

“The best outcomes for children following a separation come are when parents can work together and where conflict is reduced.  Contact Centres can facilitate this at a time when parents are themselves struggling emotionally.

“We want to ensure that this message is clear; families can access child contact centres directly and they don’t have to go through the courts and legal system.”

More information about the campaign including downloadable resources can be found at www.naccc.org.uk and follow @NACCCofficial on Twitter.

(download full release including end notes)

Legal aid cuts cause contact centre closures
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