Children's Contact Services
Children's Contact Services
Joanne Commerford and Cathryn Hunter
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. This paper is intended for those working in CCSs as well as those working in areas that intersect with CCSs such as family mediation, family law and counselling. It identifies the characteristics of families using CCSs, and key issues in service provision that were identified through a search of Australian and international literature. The issues focused on are: understanding the best interests of children in the context of CCSs; the challenges in working with families to move to self-management of their parenting time; and the potential benefits of an integrated social services model as a strategy for addressing these issues. This paper also highlights the dearth of research investigating outcomes for children and families using the services.
Families who use CCSs tend to be experiencing high levels of conflict and multiple and complex issues such as family violence, mental health problems and substance abuse.
It is unclear from the research whether the "best interests of the child" are being met through the provision of supervision services, although in the limited research available many children express positive views about their experiences using these services.
The family law system plays a crucial role in the CCS process with the majority of cases being referred through a court order. It is unclear how recent changes to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (FLA) will affect the number and types of families using CCSs.
The research suggests that only a small number of families move to self-management of parenting time arrangements, with many leaving the service for other reasons or remaining in the service for long periods of time.
There are families for whom safe self-management of parenting time may never be possible due to the complexity of the problems these families face and the degree of risk - often related to violence and abuse and parental incapacity (e.g., substance misuse and untreated mental illness).
An integrated social services model is recommended for working with families to assist them in transitioning to self-management.
There is a lack of longitudinal research exploring relationship, safety and wellbeing outcomes for children and families who use these services. Further to this, research exploring how CCSs operate is underdeveloped.
Authors and Acknowledgements
The authors wish to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Sue Thompson, ACCSA convenor, Helen McQuinn, Children’s Contact Service Co-ordinator at Relationships Australia, NSW, Elly Robinson, Executive Manager, Practice Evidence & Engagement at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and Rachel Carson, Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, for their feedback, and Interrelate for their support with the broader project.
Cover image: © Susan Chiang
Commerford, J., & Hunter, C. (2015). Children’s Contact Services: Key issues (CFCA Paper No. 35). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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