Evaluation of the Children's Contact Service Activity

Final report

Content type
Research report

December 2023


Rachel Carson, John De Maio, Liz Wall, Briony Horsfall, Emily Stevens, Lixia Qu, Belinda Fehlberg, Grania Sheehan, Jacqui Harvey, Victoria Hovane, Rae Kaspiew

Executive summary


This report sets out the findings of the Evaluation of Children's Contact Centre Activity. Children's Contact Services (CCSs) facilitate the supervision of parenting time and changeover for families, most commonly where the parents are separating, or have separated, and require a safe and neutral venue to enable contact to take place. This study evaluates the work and activity of these services. There are 64 services in scope for this evaluation, operated by not-for-profit providers with funding from the Family Relationships Services Program (FRSP), administered by the AGD. The evaluation was funded by the Australian Government, Attorney General's Department (AGD).

The evaluation presented in this report is a large-scale, mixed-method evaluation comprising:

  • a desktop review of literature, empirical evaluations of CCSs undertaken to date and commentary together with departmental and sector materials relevant to the introduction and operation of CCSs in Australia since 1996
  • an analysis of administrative data drawn from data available from the DSS Data Exchange (DEX) and from the Request for Information (RFI) for data drawn from service provider client record management system and program policies
  • an analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from a national survey of service providers, service management personnel, supervision staff and legal and non-legal professionals referring families to CCSs
  • an analysis of qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with First Nations professionals working with First Nations families
  • an analysis of qualitative data from the semi-structured interviews with parents/carers
  • a Survey of Parents and Carers, including the collection of data in relation to their children's views and experiences of CCSs.

Evaluation design

This evaluation has been implemented in two phases:

  • Phase One involved consultations with key stakeholders and the establishment of an advisory group to support the implementation of the evaluation program.
  • Phase Two involved the implementation of the substantive methodology, with the data collection and analysis for each component of the evaluation culminating in the preparation of the preliminary, draft and final evaluation reports. The Evaluation Research Team liaised with key stakeholders, including via the advisory group mechanism at each stage of this phase of the evaluation.

The activities in both phases have been conducted to ensure that careful consideration is given to the extent to which data might be provided by CCSs to the AGD subsequent to the Evaluation, to support further work in this area. Specifically, the data collection protocols and instruments developed for this Evaluation were designed to facilitate workable arrangements and aim to ensure that, to the fullest extent possible, they may inform future data collection activities undertaken by the AGD.

Evaluation objectives

The objective of this project is an evaluation that considers the history of CCSs and the current context in which government-funded CCSs are operating, and to make an assessment of the extent to which:

  • these services are operating in accordance with, and achieving the objectives of, the relevant guiding documents (including the Grant Opportunity Guidelines and the Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice)
  • how effectively these services are providing culturally appropriate service for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and First Nations populations and are supporting families experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV)
  • the current number and location of CCSs are meeting existing demand for services.

It is important to acknowledge that this evaluation does not constitute an assessment of individual CCSs and is not an accreditation audit of CCSs.

Evaluation questions

The methodology is designed to answer a series of evaluation questions. They have been developed based on the Project Objectives and the Statement of Required Services specified in the Work Order between the AGD and AIFS, together with relevant material including:

  • the Children's Contact Services Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice (AGD, 2018)
  • the Family and Children Activity Administrative Approval Requirements (DSS, 2014) and the Program Information for the Families and Communities program, Families and Children Activity (DSS, undated)
  • the Family Law Services Children's Contact Services Grant Opportunity Guidelines (AGD, 2019)
  • the Australian Children's Contact Services Association Standards (ACCSA, 2008).

The evaluation questions are:

  1. How and to what extent are CCSs providing safe, reliable and neutral places that:
    • facilitate changeover and supervised time
    • undertake intake, initial and ongoing risk assessment of family members separately to ensure commitment and agreement to service protocols
    • provide child-focused information to families
    • orient children to the service setting and surroundings
    • make referrals and regularly review changeover and supervised time sessions with the goal that families will graduate to self-management where it is safe to do so?
  2. How and to what extent are CCSs helping families to graduate to self-management (where this is safe) or to achieve sustained and workable long-term parenting and time arrangements?
  3. To what extent do CCSs provide independent written reports of families' interactions with their service and the changeovers and/or contact sessions to family law courts? What are the nature and quality of these reports and how are they used to inform the decision-making process?
  4. Are the service models provided child-focused/child-centred and trauma-informed? To what extent do the services comply with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations and the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework?
  5. Are CCSs operating in accordance with the Children's Contact Services - Guiding Principles Framework for Good Practice including
    • the role and obligations of CCSs
    • the objectives for CCSs
      • child focus
      • safety
      • neutrality
      • client diversity and cultural sensitivity
      • collaborative service provision
    • the priorities for service delivery
    • the range of services provided
    • the service safety requirements (including safety and security plan requirements, safety policy, procedures and protocols relating to critical incidents, risk assessments)
    • record keeping, policies and procedures
    • the good practice principles for service delivery and resources?
  6. To what extent are the services provided culturally appropriate for:
    • First Nations families
    • CALD families?
  7. To what extent are CCSs supporting families experiencing DFV? How are CCSs providing this support and how effective is the provision of this support?
  8. To what extent are the current number and locations of CCSs meeting the existing demand for their services?
    • What are the expectations of families and professionals using or seeking to use CCSs and to what extent are these expectations being met?
    • Is the referral process operating effectively?


This report was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government, Attorney-General's Department (AGD). The authors would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the AGD Family Law Branch officers and executive.

Particular thanks to the Evaluation Advisory Group, specifically Michelle Ewington, Coral Gilbert and formerly Sue Thompson, co-convenors of the Australian Children's Contact Services Association (ACCSA), Angela Kendall, Toowoomba Children's Contact Service, Dr Susan Cochrane (National Policy Manager, Relationships Australia), Robyn Clough (Manager Policy and Research Family Relationships Services Australia, Jaquie Palavra (Managing Solicitor, Family Law, Legal Aid Northern Territory) and previously Thelma Schwartz (Principal Legal Officer, Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service). We also extend our particular thanks to the management and staff at the participating Children's Contact Services for their significant time and efforts and patience contributing to each of the evaluation elements, including painstakingly collating data for the Request for Information and circulating and participating in the Survey of Professionals and supporting recruitment of parents and carers participating in the Survey of Parents and Carers and qualitative interviews. We also extend our particular thanks to the parents and carers and professionals participating in the qualitative interviews who generously shared their time and experiences. Without these significant contributions, this research would not have been possible.

We also acknowledge and thank the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, including the Chief Justice, the Honourable Will Alstergren AO and Jordan Di Carlo, Virginia Wilson and Michael Raine. Particular thanks to Fiona Mordue Assistant Director or Data Exchange Policy and Operations Performance and Evaluation Branch, Department of Social Services and colleagues for their support in facilitating access to the DEX data for the administrative data component of this research. We also acknowledge Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS), Family Law Pathways National Working Group, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, National Legal Aid, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, Family and Relationship Services Australia, and Women's Legal Service New South Wales for their efforts in circulating the Survey of Professionals.

We acknowledge the multiple services and organisations that assisted with recruitment of research participants and initial consultations including Australian Children's Contact Services Association (ACCSA); the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, Western Sydney Legal Service (WSLS); Upper Murray Family Centre; Uniting Country South Australia; Interrelate NSW; Toowoomba Childrens Contact Service; Relationships Australia; Mallee Family Care; Anglicare; Tamworth Children's Contact Service; Aboriginal Legal Service NSW; Bethany Children's Contact Service. Berry Street; Family Law Pathways Tasmania; Centacare NSW; Child and Family Services Ballarat; Djirra; Family Life; and Comm-Unity Plus Services Ltd.

We also thank the members of the research and ethics committees at both the AIFS Human Research and Ethics Committee, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Human Research Ethics Committee, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Research and Ethics Committee, and UnitingCare Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Hon Dr Sharman Stone, AIFS Director; Liz Neville, AIFS Acting Director, Dr Rae Kaspiew, AIFS Research Director, Systems and Services, Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald, Dr Stewart Muir, Sarah Nguyen and research advisor Heidi Saunders, for their advice and support throughout this research; and our colleagues Lisa Carroll, Katharine Day, Cindy Hetherington, Emma Jankovski for their valuable communications contributions and editing support, and librarian Gillian Lord for her contributions to our literature review.

Views expressed in this publication are those of individual authors and may not reflect those of the Australian Government or the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


Suggested citation

Carson, R., De Maio, J., Wall, L., Horsfall, B., Stevens, E., Qu, L., Fehlberg, B., Sheehan, G., Harvey J., Hovane, V., & Kaspiew, R. (2023). Evaluation of the Children’s Contact Service Activity: Final Report. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.