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Childrens Contact Services Expectation and Experience Final

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Childrens Contact Services Expectation and Experience Final

    Children’s Contact Services:

    Expectation and Experience

    Final Report

    Grania Sheehan and Rachel Carson

    and

    Belinda Fehlberg, Rosemary Hunter, Adam Tomison, Regin Ip, John Dewar.

Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    TABLE OF CONTENTS List of tables --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- v Acknowledgements ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- vi Executive Summary ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- vii Chapter 1 Introduction -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 1.1 The nature of children‟s contact services in Australia ............................................................................. 1 1.2 The development of children‟s contact services in Australia ................................................................... 2 1.3 The development of children‟s contact services internationally ............................................................... 4 1.4 The operation of children‟s contact services ........................................................................................... 5 1.5 Tension between children‟s interests and the reality of contact service provision, which is to enable

    contact to take place in „high-risk‟ families .................................................................................................. 7 1.5.1 Tension between the referring agency (especially court) expectations of contact services and the reality of

    service provision ................................................................................................................................................. 10 1.5.2 Tensions between parental expectations of contact services and the pressures experienced by contact services

    to move families on from the service .................................................................................................................... 11 1.6 Family violence and the use of children‟s contact services .................................................................... 13 1.7 Research questions ............................................................................................................................... 15 1.8 Structure of the report .......................................................................................................................... 15 Chapter 2 Design, Sampling and Procedures ---------------------------------------------------------- 17 2.1 Qualitative study .................................................................................................................................. 17 2.1.1 Sampling..................................................................................................................................................... 17 2.1.2 Interviews ................................................................................................................................................... 29 2.1.3 Observations ............................................................................................................................................... 31 2.1.4 Analytic approach ....................................................................................................................................... 34 2.2 Survey ................................................................................................................................................. 34 2.2.1 Sampling..................................................................................................................................................... 35 2.2.2 Procedures ................................................................................................................................................. 35 2.2.3 Survey content ............................................................................................................................................ 36 2.2.4 Analytic approach ....................................................................................................................................... 36 Chapter 3 Client Characteristics and Reasons for Referral ----------------------------------------- 37 3.1 Clients‟ parenting arrangements and visitors to the centre ..................................................................... 37 3.2 Ethnic and cultural background of clients ............................................................................................. 38 3.3 Clients‟ socioeconomic characteristics ................................................................................................. 38 3.4 Clients have serious personal and relationship problems ....................................................................... 39 3.5 Reasons for referral .............................................................................................................................. 40 3.5.1 Domestic violence/risk of domestic violence ................................................................................................ 41 3.5.2 Entrenched parental conflict and inability to communicate .......................................................................... 41 3.5.3 Child abuse/risk of child abuse .................................................................................................................... 43 3.5.4 Parental illness or disability ........................................................................................................................ 44 3.5.5 Lack of parenting skills ............................................................................................................................... 46 3.5.6 The impact of substance abuse .................................................................................................................... 47 3.5.7 Resistance by residence parents and/or children .......................................................................................... 47 3.5.8 Risk of abduction ........................................................................................................................................ 49

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Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    3.5.9 Establishing or re-establishing a relationship with the child ......................................................................... 50 3.6 Conclusions ......................................................................................................................................... 51 Chapter 4 The Central Role and Important Functions of the Children’s Contact Services --- 53 4.1 Contact services enable safe and conflict-free contact to occur in a neutral environment ....................... 53 4.1.1 Eliminating parental conflict ........................................................................................................................ 54 4.1.2 Providing a safe and secure environment for children and parents ............................................................... 55 4.1.3 Enabling contact to take place ..................................................................................................................... 58 4.1.4 Service staff neutrality ................................................................................................................................. 60 4.2 Contact services repair and develop the parent-child relationship.......................................................... 62 4.2.1 Controlling the contact parent‟s behaviour .................................................................................................. 63 4.2.2 Working with contact parents to develop their parenting skills...................................................................... 64 4.2.3 Encouraging children to express their wishes ............................................................................................... 66 4.3 Moving families on to self-managed contact......................................................................................... 67 4.4 Contact services as a „gateway‟ to other support services and programs ................................................ 70 4.5 Service staff are a voice for the children in contact matters ................................................................... 70 4.6 Conclusions and recommendations ....................................................................................................... 75 Chapter 5 The Referral Process -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 77 5.1 The process of referral ......................................................................................................................... 77 5.1.1 Referral to a CCS is usually via court order ................................................................................................. 77 5.1.2 Use of a CCS is usually suggested by lawyers, at court ................................................................................. 79 5.1.3 The CSS is not always contacted before orders are made, which has consequences for the content and

    workability of orders ............................................................................................................................................ 80 5.2 The types of orders made ..................................................................................................................... 81 5.2.1 Consent orders versus judicial determination ............................................................................................... 81 5.2.2 Interim orders.............................................................................................................................................. 83 5.2.3 Final orders................................................................................................................................................. 84 5.3 Contents of Orders ............................................................................................................................... 86 5.3.1 Specifications relating to the contact service‟s intake procedure ................................................................... 86 5.3.2 Frequency of contact, dates and times .......................................................................................................... 87 5.3.3 Empowering the CCS ................................................................................................................................... 88 5.3.4 Duration of orders ....................................................................................................................................... 89 5.3.5 Phasing out of supervised contact/changeover.............................................................................................. 89 5.3.6 Other contents of orders .............................................................................................................................. 90 5.3.7 Judicial guidelines and pro forma orders ..................................................................................................... 91 5.4 Factors affecting the ordering of supervised contact ............................................................................. 93 5.4.1 Impact of the FLRA ...................................................................................................................................... 93 5.4.2 Changes in judicial thinking, and in the approach of courts and lawyers more broadly ................................. 94 5.4.3 The relevance of broader social changes ...................................................................................................... 95 5.5 Impact of CCSs on legal practice ......................................................................................................... 96 5.6 Conclusions and recommendations ....................................................................................................... 99 Chapter 6 Factors that Facilitate and Impede the Functioning of Contact Services: The

    Referral Process --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------102 6.1 Knowledge of contact services ........................................................................................................... 102 6.1.1 For what length of time have referral agents been aware of contact services?............................................. 102 6.1.2 How have referral agents become aware of contact services? ..................................................................... 103 6.1.3 Are referral agents well informed about contact services? .......................................................................... 103 6.1.4 The importance of referring well informed clients to contact services ......................................................... 109

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Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    6.2 Communication between referral agents and contact services ............................................................. 111 6.2.1 Strong Relationships between contact services and referral agents .............................................................111 6.2.2 Consultation between referral agents and contact services before court orders are made ............................113 6.2.3 Informal consultation feedback and interaction .......................................................................................116 6.3 Appropriate and inappropriate referrals .............................................................................................. 119 6.4 The contents of court orders made involving contact services ............................................................. 121 6.5 Service accessibility ........................................................................................................................... 122 6.5.1 Operational factors ....................................................................................................................................122 6.5.2 Geographical location ...............................................................................................................................124 6.5.3 Private supervision arrangements ..............................................................................................................126 6.6 Conclusions and recommendations ..................................................................................................... 129 Chapter 7 Service Provision in the Best Interests of the Child ------------------------------------ 131 7.1 Using children‟s contact services - the positive effects for children ..................................................... 131 7.1.1 Safe and enjoyable environment for children ..............................................................................................131 7.1.2 Reduces children‟s exposure to parental conflict ........................................................................................132 7.1.3 Maintains and develops a relationship between the child and contact parent...............................................133 7.1.4 Other positive effects ..................................................................................................................................135 7.2 Using children‟s contact services - negative effects for children.......................................................... 136 7.2.1 Failing to hear children‟s voices on contact matters ...................................................................................136 7.2.2 In some cases centre procedures and staff fail to protect children ...............................................................136 7.2.3 Some children have been forced to have contact against their wishes ..........................................................138 7.2.4 Attending a contact service sends the message that child abuse and domestic violence are acceptable .........139 7.2.5 Service use may de-legitimise children‟s fear of their contact parent ...........................................................140 7.2.6 Contact service use may restrict children and fail to meet their needs ........................................................140 7.2.7 Staff and children may play down the risks of having contact as a coping strategy ......................................141 7.3 The role of CCS staff in monitoring and assessment of risk to children ............................................... 144 7.4 Conclusions and recommendations ..................................................................................................... 145 Chapter 8 Children’s Experiences of Supervised Contact and Changeovers ------------------ 147 8.1 Children identify the role of the CCSs as helping them to have contact in a safe environment that is free

    from parental conflict ............................................................................................................................... 147 8.2 Children have a limited understanding of the specific circumstances that led to their using a CCS ...... 150 8.3 Children report feeling safe and supported by the staff........................................................................ 151 8.4 Adolescents report feeling restricted by centre procedures and compulsory attendance ....................... 153 8.5 Children want to have contact and enjoy their centre facilitated visits ................................................. 156 8.6 Some children want contact to be stopped .......................................................................................... 159 8.7 Children believe that they choose whether or not to have contact ........................................................ 164 8.8 Conclusions and recommendations ..................................................................................................... 165 Chapter 9 Moving on ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 169 9.1 The role of the CCSs in facilitating self-management ......................................................................... 169 9.2 Self-management defined ................................................................................................................... 170 9.3 Movement through centre services and on to self-management ........................................................... 171 9.3.1 Different types of services offered by the CCSs ...........................................................................................171 9.3.2 Parents and children can stabilise in a service ...........................................................................................173 9.3.3 In some families children can be delegated responsibility for moving on .....................................................175 9.3.4 Other catalysts for changing services and moving on from the centre ..........................................................176

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Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    9.3.5 Families can take a long time to move through the centre services and move on ......................................... 177 9.4 Families for whom self-management is inappropriate ......................................................................... 178 9.5 Centre, staff, parent and children factors that facilitate the transition to self-management ................... 180 9.5.1 Factors related to the centre and staff ........................................................................................................ 180 9.5.2 Factors related to the parents .................................................................................................................... 183 9.5.3 Factors related to the children ................................................................................................................... 186 9.6 Conclusions and recommendations ..................................................................................................... 198 Chapter 10 Future service development ---------------------------------------------------------------201 10.1 Models of service provision ............................................................................................................. 201 10.1.1 Integrated social service model ................................................................................................................ 201 10.1.2 Contact only model .................................................................................................................................. 207 10.2 Funding ........................................................................................................................................... 209 10.3 Staff training, support and composition ............................................................................................ 211 10.3.1 Staff training............................................................................................................................................ 211 10.3.2 Support for staff ....................................................................................................................................... 214 10.3.3 Staff composition ..................................................................................................................................... 216 10.4 Conclusions and recommendations ................................................................................................... 216 Chapter 11 Discussion and Conclusions ----------------------------------------------------------------219 11.1 Service provision in the best interests of children ............................................................................. 219 11.2 Expectation and experience of the referral process ............................................................................ 221 11.2.1 „Pro-contact‟ culture led to inappropriate referrals .................................................................................. 221 11.2.2 Unrealistic expectations led to operational issues ..................................................................................... 222 11.3 The role of contact services in moving families on to self-managed contact ...................................... 223 11.3.1 The definition of self-managed contact ..................................................................................................... 223 11.3.2 Families need additional support to be able to self-manage ...................................................................... 224 11.3.3 Types of additional support services and programs needed ....................................................................... 225 Bibliography -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------226 Appendices ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------233 Appendix A: Table of non-funded services............................................................................................................... 233 Appendix B: Sample Diagram ................................................................................................................................. 235 Appendix C: Interview schedules ............................................................................................................................. 236 Appendix D: Observation protocol ........................................................................................................................... 276 Appendix E: Survey................................................................................................................................................. 284 Appendix F: Contact centre exclusion and withdrawal policies ................................................................................. 293

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     Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    List of tables

    Table 2.1 The number of Australian Government funded and non-funded contact services included in the sample (n = 11) ............................................................................................................................................................................ 22

    Table 2.2 Organisational support structures in place for the contact services involved in the study .............................. 25

    Table 2.3 Phases of the contact visit by the person whose behaviour is being observed (an „X‟ designates the context where observations were made) ................................................................................................................................. 33

    Table 2.4 Client load in August 2003 for those Australian Government funded centres involved in the study.............. 35

    Table 3.1 Proportion of clients involved in different types of parenting arrangements (n = 390).................................. 37

    Table 3.2 Proportion of families who presented with various personal and relationship problems (n = 396) ................ 40

    Table 4.1 Reasons for families leaving contact centres ............................................................................................... 74

    Table 6.1 Proportion of residence and contact parents who travel various distances to use a contact service (n = 338) 125

    Table 6.2 Proportion of residence and contact parents who travel various distances to use a regional or metropolitan contact service (n = 338) ..........................................................................................................................................126

    Table 9.1 Service type by the level of staff and contact parent involvement during a contact visit ..............................172

    Table 9.2 History of service movement by time spent using a centre (n = 389) ..........................................................178

    Table 10.1 Proportion of families identified by staff that would receive benefit from additional support services and programs (n = 396) ..................................................................................................................................................205

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Children‟s Contact Services: Expectation and Experience FINAL REPORT

    Acknowledgements

    Particular thanks are due to the contact service coordinators and staff who were most generous with their time and facilities, providing invaluable assistance with the selection of family members and referral agents to approach for participation in this research, with conducting the client survey, and through their facilitation of many interviews at their services.

    We also wish to extend our particular thanks to the many respondents who participated in this project namely residence and contact parents and their children who disclosed much personal information about their post-separation and divorce parenting arrangements, and to the contact service staff, service management committees and auspice organistaions, legal and other referral agents, Australian Government and industry representatives. Most respondents participated in the hope that this information would make a difference to the lives of others. This research project would not have been possible without their willingness to share their valuable knowledge and experiences.

    Our special thanks to Fiona Kelly for her invaluable work compiling our literature review and to Jill Kennard for her warm, professional and considerate approach in conducting the observations and interviews with the children participating in this research. Particular thanks also to our most diligent transcriber Veronica Peek for her tireless work transcribing each of the 142 in-depth interviews for this study, and to April Chrzanowski for her analysis of the survey data and her essential assistance in formatting the report. Thanks also to Helen Jeays for her editorial assistance. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Gillian Mason-Johnson, Yvonne Darlington and Lyn Hulett, who provided us with advice and assistance in conceptualising and conducting the study. Thanks also to the Federal Attorney-General‟s Department for providing direction and for their

    ongoing support and assistance for the duration of the project. The research was funded by an Australian Research Council SPIRT grant in collaboration with the Attorney-General‟s Department.

    Ultimately the interpretation of the research findings is the responsibility of the authors along with any shortcomings in the report.

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