Although other organisations provide contact services, they are not specifically funded to do so, and all are reporting an ongoing and growing level of requests for supervised and supported contact.
Figures from the Courts Service show there were 3,491 cases regarding access in the family law courts in 2008 – a doubling of the 2000 figure.
The report, The Need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland, recommends that special centres be set up to take the pressure off separated parents who often have to supervise contact themselves.
One centre which provides a service is the Ballymun Men’s Resource Centre. The report says that it is under “immense pressure” to meet a need which it is completely under-resourced to address.
The service has a waiting list and has to turn potential clients away.
The report also found that judges tended to direct that contact be provided even where there is proven history of violence or abuse.
Professionals interviewed for the study expressed concern that the family courts do not focus sufficiently on children and that the adversarial nature of family law proceedings can work against best outcomes for children in contact dispute situations.
All the professionals agreed that the need for contact centres will continue to grow due to increasing marriage and relationship breakdown, increasing allegations or incidences of abuse, increases in the number of immigrant families who do not have extended family support networks, and increases in cross-jurisdiction cases.
Other issues such as lack of suitable accommodation, transport and distance issues were also seen to create a need for contact centres in accessible locations.
Those interviewed called for changes in the family law dispute process, of which contact centres, and related assessment procedures, could provide one part of the solution.
While acknowledging the availability of a small number of specialist HSE facilities for supervised contact, a number of those interviewed commented on the unacceptable quality of many facilities for supervised contact in private and public family law cases, describing such facilities as often being unsuitable for the development of quality relationships between parents and their children.