The Family Justice Council has warned that new provisions enabling courts to make parents undertake activities to support contact with their children may be subject to a postcode lottery.
The council, which brings together professionals from across the family justice sector, made the claim yesterday as legislation designed to improve contact and relationships between separated parents in England and Wales came into force.
Under the Children and Adoption Act 2006, the family courts will be able to direct parents in private law disputes to undertake activities designed to support contacts. These include parenting classes, courses to manage violent behaviour or information sessions.
Concerns over availability
However, though the FJC broadly welcomed the legislation, council member Jane Craig said: “We do have concerns regarding the availability of the contact activities that will be vital to its success.
“We are concerned that services for parents, needed to make contact happen, may not be available in all areas, resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’.”
The council urged the government to ensure that sufficient contact activities were available to meet need across England and Wales.
The courts will also have new powers to punish parents who breach contact orders by making them carry out unpaid work.
It will be family court body Cafcass’s role to monitor compliance with contact activity directions and contact orders. Cafcass will also have to carry out mandatory risk assessments when child protection concerns are raised in relation to contact arrangements.