A new report on safeguarding processes in child contact centres in England has recommended mandatory safeguarding and domestic abuse training for all contact centre staff.
The report, conducted by Cordis Bright and commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), aims to meet the requirements of Section 83(1) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to produce a report on the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm.
One key finding presented by the report is that contact centres provide an important service and enable thousands of parents/carers to have contact with their children safely.
It went on to indicate several aspects of current processes which contribute to effective safeguarding of adults and children. These include strong commitments to safeguarding and child protection, thorough approaches to risk assessment at point of referral, supportive staff networks, comprehensive recording processes, and preventative measures which are generally able to promote the physical safety and security of parents/carers and children.
The report did, however, state that there is scope to improve both emotional safeguarding and the provision of specialist domestic abuse training for staff.
Victim-survivors and children stated that they do not feel protected from trauma and distress before and after contact sessions, and interviewed staff did not feel confident managing disclosures, or recognising and responding to incidents of emotional abuse or coercive control. Only 11% of surveyed staff and volunteers had received specialist domestic abuse training over the last 12 months.
Findings also highlighted the importance of a system-wide approach to safeguarding adults and children from the risk of domestic abuse and other harm.
Evidence suggests that contact centres are increasingly used by referral organisations – particularly family courts – as a key protective factor to mitigate the risk domestic abuse.
However, stakeholders stated they are not a standalone solution, and that there is a need for (1) ensuring referrals to contact centres are appropriate and form part of a network of support from specialist services, and (2) multi-agency approaches to risk assessment, which are regularly updated both on an ongoing basis and as contact arrangements are reviewed.
The above findings led to the report making six evidence-led recommendations:
- Introduce robust, mandatory safeguarding and domestic abuse training for all contact centre staff and volunteers.
- Ensure robust, system wide approaches to risk assessment and risk management, including the provision of specialist support for parents/carers and children.
- Establish processes to centre the voice and experience of the child and parent/carer at all stages of parental involvement, i.e. from referral through to contact progression.
- Establish mechanisms to support and develop the role of contact centres in multi- agency risk assessment of families and children at a local level.
- Support greater exchange of learning and good practices, to improve consistency across contact centre practices and policies.
- Review funding and investment into contact centre provision to ensure locally accessible and affordable provision across England.