Children's Contact Services: ACCSA seeks regulation

Children's Contact Services: ACCSA seeks regulation

22 October 2015
Children's Contact Services: ACCSA calls for regulation

The Australian Children's Contact Services Association calls for the regulation of all CCSs in order to protect vulnerable family members.

Children’s Contact Services (CCSs) are designed to provide a safe, supervised environment for children to spend time with the parent they do not live with, or to facilitate the transfer of children from one parent to another, in circumstances where parents are not able to manage their own parenting time arrangements.

The CCS sector in Australia consists of 65 government-funded services, a number of not-for-profit fee paying services auspiced by non-government organisations, and more than 40 for-profit fee paying services operated by private businesses. The rapidly increasing number of privately operated and fee paying CCSs is a result of ongoing waiting lists in the funded services.

Government-funded CCSs are subject to agreements that include the requirement of 15 administrative approval guideline standards being met. Privately-operated services function under no regulation or accreditation requirements, and may operate outside the boundaries of a broader human service organisation. In the past, some privately-operated services have provided Family Court ordered supervised visits in public domains, such as commercial play centres or public parks, where the visits are facilitated by a contracted staff member.1 All government-funded services operate from dedicated centres, ensure that there are safe entrances and exits, and employ qualified staff who have access to duress alarms.

The reasons that some funded services have ongoing waiting lists are many and varied, and include truncated operating hours due to funding not being adequate to pay weekend penalty rates, the highly complex nature of separated families’ situations, the need for more than short-term supervision, and families being caught in long waits for Family Court hearings. When there are waiting lists at funded services, many family law practitioners respond to their client’s need to maintain contact with a child by promoting the use of privately operated CCSs.

The Australian Children’s Contact Services Association (ACCSA) receives regular complaints from those using private CCSs because there is no regulatory body for them to contact. ACCSA is unable to investigate any such complaint because it is neither resourced nor empowered to do so. Funded services are required to have a transparent complaints process in place and clients have a final option of referring their concerns to the Department of Social Services should the matter not be resolved with the service provider. ACCSA has been lobbying for the regulation of all Children’s Contact Services for some years on the basis that vulnerable family members need to be afforded a baseline standard of safe service delivery when referred by a Family Court.

ACCSA encourages privately operated CCSs to join the Association and gain access to a range of resources and experienced support that promotes better CCS practices. 

The Association has disseminated information regarding the differences between government-funded and privately-operated CCSs to family law practitioners and other post-separation service providers in the form of The CCS Fact Sheet and CCS Checklist.

ACCSA intends to continue its lobbying by advocating that a comprehensive online database, which outlines each CCS’s resources against established service benchmarks, be made available for those making Court Orders or referring families to a Children’s Contact Service.

Further reading and resources

  • Children's Contact Services: Key issues
    CFCA Paper No. 35
    This paper describes the characteristics of families using Children’s Contact Services, and outlines key issues for service provision in this area

1. See, for example, Children's Contact Services: Expectation and Experience(PDF). This report presents the results of the Children’s Contact Services Study, which explored the role of children's contact services in Australia and the expectations different parties may have regarding the use of contact services.

  

The feature image is by Philippe Put, CC BY 2.0.

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Authors

Sue Thompson

Sue Thompson is the Convenor of the Australian Children's Contact Services Association (ACCSA).

Mike Cross

Mike Cross is the Project Worker for the Australian Children's Contact Services Association (ACCSA).

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