In parenting matters where there are allegations of risk of harm to the children, it’s not uncommon that the party alleging the risk may seek that the children only spend time with the other parent on a supervised basis. This supervised contact is usually for a short-term period while the risk of harm is assessed. However, in more complex situations, or where there is a long period between Court dates, the period of supervised time being sought may be lengthy.
Who can supervise?
In some instances, the parent alleging the risk may be satisfied that a family member or friend can supervise the other parent’s time with the children. However, if the allegations of risk are so serious that a family member or friend is not appropriate, it may be sought that supervised time take place through a formal contact centre.
There are a number of contact centres available for these purposes, called Children’s Contact Services (CCS). There are CCS which are publicly funded and CSS which are private and require the parties to pay for the supervised visit. There is generally a long waiting list to get into a publicly funded centre, but the fees for a private centre can be onerous, especially for a prolonged period.
New case law on supervised contact
So, what happens if you can’t afford supervised contact through a private contact centre? The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia recently considered this issue. In the relevant matter the three children, aged 8, 11 and 16, lived with the father and spent time with their mother on a supervised basis. The mother sought that her time with the children be supervised by a “Mr L” rather than a private contact centre as she could not cope with the cost of the formal supervision.
The Court considered the mother’s submissions and stated that “a way of looking at this issue is to ask this question: what risk of harm to the children cannot be addressed by supervision by Mr L that could be addressed by a professional supervised contact service… The Court accepts the mother’s case that continuing to pay for private professional supervision is not sustainable. The Court appreciates that private non-professional supervision such as Mr L means that there is no professional objective person and no written report” but that “it is ultimately a balancing exercise and one which the Court believes can be achieved by using Mr L”.
The Court went on to make Orders that that mother’s time with the children be supervised by Mr L.
Possible establishment of an accreditation scheme for CCS
The Australian Government currently funds 64 CCS around Australia. The rest of the CCS are privately funded. Although there are current standards in place for the public CCS, the Australian Government has no regulatory oversight of the service delivery standards in the private CCS.
The Australian Government has recently produced the consultation paper Establishment of an Accreditation Scheme for Children’s Contact Services and has called for submissions from stakeholders to help inform the possible establishment of a national accredited scheme for CCS. Under this scheme, all CSS would be required to meet and maintain minimum standards around service delivery and safety requirements and standards.
We will provide further updates as the submissions are reviewed and a determination about the accredited scheme is made.