Contact Inactivity?

I promised I would post when I found the elusive list of contact activity providers that the DCSF / CAFCASS have been threatening to publish since early December. And so here is the link. I want to weep. I knew there would be holes in the provision at the outset, but in my region (the South West) there is NO Domestic Violence Programme provision at all, no Parenting Information providers and the four Co-Parenting providers for Avon, Wiltshire and S Gloucestershire (where the two busiest courts are Bristol and Gloucester) are located in Cheltenham, Oxford, Plymouth and somewhere I’ve never heard of in Dorset. I mean how is that supposed to work when half of our clients can’t even afford to or can’t manage to get themselves to their local county court on time? No, contact activities are Do-Do dead in the West Country, for the time being at least.

So the interesting question is, in contact activity deserts like the West Country how will courts approach making enforcement orders? Notionally at least the first line of response to recalcitrant parents is a contact activity direction, followed by an enforcement order if that doesn’t work. What if contact activities are nowehere to be had or ridiculously inaccessible?

New Powers In Contact Cases

The remaining provisions of the Children & Adoption Act 2006  (Part I) finally come into force tomorrow (8 December 2008). They amend the Children Act 1989 to enable the court to make contact activity directions and conditions and to enforce breach of a contact order by way of and enforcement order which imposes an unpaid work requirement (community service) or by compensation order (where the breach has caused a financial loss such as a missed holiday). Contact activities will include things like parenting classes and domestic violence prevention programmes.

Because the idea is that the court will exhaust all other avenues prior to making an enforcement order, which will usually include trying contact activities first, it seems unlikely that many enforcement orders will be made over the next few months, particularly since it is unclear what contact activities will be available nationally or locally.

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It remains to be seen how much these new powers enhance the ability of the court to progress contact within a sensible timeframe in those ‘stuck’ cases, and realistically it is unlikely to become clear for some considerable time. It is possible that the provisions will, whilst giving the court a broader range of powers, do little to speed things up in the implacable cases that we hear so much about.