Child Contact Centres

Oral Answers to Questions — Lord Chancellor's Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth 2:30 pm, 22nd October 2002

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of facilities at child contact centres.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

My Department is working with the child contact organisations to survey the current provision of child contact centres. This will help us to identify where the gaps are in provision and how we can improve that provision. The Government are also providing funding of #900,000 over three years to key child contact centre organisations to develop models of supervised contact aimed at supporting those most at risk.

Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that, in a few cases, contact is between not only parents and children but sister and brother? Over the past three or four years, I have been involved in a case in which the sister is also subject to the provisions involving supervision when she meets her brother. What facilities can the Minister offer in rare cases such as this, in which sister and brother also have to meet under supervision?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance to children of keeping in contact with their siblings, when it is safe to do so. Through the parenting plan, the Government are encouraging parents who are separating to take that into consideration and to discuss it with their children when appropriate. When a court is considering contact between siblings, the children's views should be taken into account, whether through parents or through reports presented to the court. A child may also be separately represented. Of course, if a sibling is unhappy with a contact order, there are ways in which he or she can challenge it. I should be happy to write to my hon. Friend to set out those provisions in detail, if he would like me to do so.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I welcome the Minister's statement concerning contact with children, but is she aware of the deepening concern in Northern Ireland, in the courts and among social services and parents, about the lack of secure accommodation for children and young adults who need that particular kind of care?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

I am certainly aware of the need for more facilities for supervised contact. Obviously, the issue of secure accommodation is not a matter for my Department, but we are looking into the issue of proper facilities for supervised contact, which is why we are carrying out the current survey. I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments and shall ensure that the appropriate Ministers are made aware of them.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although the contact centres do a really important job, it is also vital that the supervision that they offer is precise? There has been a number of very upsetting cases in which children have been attacked, and I hope that my hon. Friend will look closely at the provision of proper security for children who are already at risk and need to be absolutely sure that they are not going to be put into an even more dangerous position by coming to a centre.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not only an issue for children; it can be an issue for other family members as well, particularly women who may be bringing their children to contact centres. It is certainly true at the moment that we need to look much more closely at what is available, particularly in terms of supervised contact. We want to work with children's organisations to develop proper methods of determining what is supervised and what is purely supported. Too often, we feel that there is not enough information available. Sometimes, there is not enough information available to the courts about where children are being sent, or about the adequacy of their supervision. This is something that the survey that we are conducting and the work that we are doing with those organisations will sort out.