Keeping in touch is vital

WHEN parents split up it’s often the children who get caught in the middle.

Tuesday, 23rd August 2011, 5:30 pm

They can easily lose touch with the absent parent, most often the father, through no fault of their own.

That’s where Gainsborough Child Contact Centre aims to help out.

Run by the St John Ambulance it provides a safe haven for absent parents to meet with their children in a neutral environment.

But more volunteers are needed to help run the service which operates on alternate Saturday mornings at the St John Ambulance unit on Spital Terrace, from 10am to noon.

Centre co-ordinator Paula Gale said: “You do get job satisfaction from seeing children building a relationship with an absent parent.”

“You get families where a parent might not be happy about coming but it’s part of a court order so they have to.”

“Then after six months of using the centre and being ready to move on they are really grateful.”

“Volunteers don’t interfere, they are just there to observe and make sure nobody behaves inappropriately. The childen and parents are left alone for the bond to build.”

“They can help out by making drinks or by encouraging childen to play.”

“It can be quite daunting for young children to meet a non-resident parent who they haven’t seen for a while. To a three-year-old six weeks is a long time.”

Volunteers have to be at least 18 and must be CRB checked. They receive ongoing training through the National Association of Child Contact Centres.

Paula, who lives near Grantham, where she also runs another child contact centre, said that as a divorced mum herself she understood how important it was for children to maintain contact with both parents.

The 49-year-old, who has two teenage children, said: “It’s absolutely important for children to see both parents.”

“I told my children they could see their dad whenever they wanted and luckily we remained friends which made it easier.”

“I think that had quite a positive effect and they see him more now than the probably did when he lived with us.”

“I also think it’s important for children to carry on seeing grandparents and cousins and anyone else from their extended family, especially if they have been used to seeing them a lot.”

“I think they should be able to see them as and when they want to.”

Families are referred to the Child Contact Centre in a number of ways including via the solicitors, children’s services and CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

“They are families who it is felt would benefit from some supervised contact and who are low risk, so there are no issues of drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence and no risk of harm to the child,” explained Paula.

“There are some families who couldn’t seem to care less about the service we’re providing, but there are those who are grateful and that makes it worthwhile.”

*Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can write to Paula at PO Box 7753, Grantham, NG33 5ZS.