Contact Activities – the big giveaway!

Contact Activity Directions – remember them? Yes, the little used Contact Activity provisions have received a bit of a boost as of 1 April: they are now provided free of charge to any parent ordered to attend such an activity.

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Previously, you will recall (or perhaps not): parents who were eligible for public funding or who would suffer hardship if they had to pay were paid for via funds devolve to CAFCASS. CAFCASS would pay providers of Parenting Information Programmes (PIPs) directly to provide services to the publicly funded or poor. And the rest just had to pay for themselves. But as it turned out this was a bit too complicated for anyone to be bothered to disentangle and so the courts were not making Contact Activity Directions. Hence the new arrangement: step 1 the court orders a party / parties to attend, step 2 the DCSF pays (or DofE or Michael Gove himself for all I know or care) no questions asked. Easy peasy, no excuses.

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I must admit to feeling quite pleased when I worked this out. Not least because I only found out about the changes to the rules when I came across the SI that revokes the power of the Secretary of State to fund these courses. Gaaa!! Reading the new SI in isolation one could be forgiven for thinking (please forgive me) that the Government had simply decided to make all Contact Activities self funding, which would really have rendered sections 11A to 1ZZZZZZ gloriously pointless. However, being a thorough sort of legal researcher I did not stop there. I lawtelled and lexised (are these verbs? or trademarks?) furiously but without joy. I sifted through the ‘always seems to be ever so slightly out of date’ CAFCASS website which did say that all courses were free as of 1 April. But (bless them) the CAFCASS website is not always 100% reliable, and so I sought more evidence… The DCSF / DofE frankenstein of a website was less than useless, I was confronted with pictures of a glowering Gove at every click. And in the end, as is so often the way, it was not my paid-for-through-the-nose subscription service but the power of Google that came to my aid and revealed the explanatory memo to snappily titled ‘THE CHILDREN ACT 1989 (CONTACT ACTIVITY DIRECTIONS AND CONDITIONS: FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE) (REVOCATION AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISION) (ENGLAND) REGULATIONS 2010’ which really tells you all you need to know.

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That memo promises legal practitioners will be provided with updating information but I’m darned if I can remember being told this was changing and there is certainly no evidence of any press release by the DCSF on their website.

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Do we think that once awareness of the changes trickles into the general consciousness there will be an enormous clamour for places on the PIPs and DVPPs? Probably not, there are still 100 other reasons why these orders are not often made, but at least it is no longer 101 reasons.

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P.S. Mediation will I think continue to be funded by the LSC as before.

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