Contact Centres often provide a safe environment for separated parents to spend time with their children and since the cuts brought about by LAPSO in 2012 a number of contact centres have been forced to close. A child contact centre known as Footprints in Bradford, West Yorkshire, established some 18 years ago has now found itself also facing closure as a result of Legal Aid cuts. Contact Centres are reliant on referrals being made through solicitors or the CAFCASS, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Historically the West Yorkshire based facility dealt with around 40 families within a year of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment Offenders Act (LASPO) which came into force in April 2013 numbers fell to 30 in the second year and in this last year there have been only 6 referrals. Difficulties were encountered in attracting volunteers which have also contributed towards the decision to close. Local solicitors consider the centre as being crutial in assisting managing progressing contact situations at fragile stages, however the crushing changes brought about by LASPO has meant that many parents embroiled in contact disputes simply do not have the funds to enlist the help of lawyers and that the majority of people lack confidence to follow through with the Court system when acting as litigants in person. The Law Society remains of the view that contact centres are a valuable way of ensuring that children retain contact with both parents during hostile relationship breakdowns and take the view that without early legal advice parents will often not know that such places even exist let alone how they could help their family.
It is hoped by Resolution family law group that this closure is not the start of a longer term trend countrywide.
If you feel that a contact centre referral or further advice on such issues could be of benefit to your case please do not hesitate to contact us on 01524 39760.