The Child Contact Centres (Accreditation) Bill [HL] [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2016-2017/0025/17025.pdf] is a private member’s bill introduced by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Conservative). The Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 6 June 2016 and is scheduled to receive its second reading on 3 February 2017. The Bill would make it a requirement for any child contact centre or organisation that offers facilities or services for child contact—when children of separated families make contact with non-resident parents and sometimes other family members—to be accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC). The NACCC is a registered charity and describes itself as a supporting membership body for around 350 child contact centres and services located throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Republic of Ireland. Under the provisions in the Bill, accreditation, or re-accreditation, would only be extended to centres that adhere to relevant NACCC standards. The Bill would insert sections into the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004, and would extend to England only.
Baroness McIntosh has described the Bill’s context and intentions as follows:
NACCC has set national standards and had accredited child contact centres in a private law setting for 25 years. NACCC has ensured robust quality standards in terms of the training of staff and volunteers and in developing processes for safe delivery of contact, which is in the best interests of the child.
Since 2007 these standards, which operate in private law settings, have been revised with input and approval from the relevant government departments and [the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service] Cafcass. For more than a decade there has been a judicial protocol issued by the President of the Family Division [of the High Court] that states when making orders for arrangements for children (contact orders), courts must only refer to a NACCC accredited centre.
NACCC has an independent standards board chaired by Sir Mark Hedley, a former high court judge in the Family Division. As the number of children involved in the public law system where their care is the responsibility of the local authority—‘looked after children’—increases, and local authorities have a statutory obligation under section 34 of the Children Act 1989 to promote contact between children and their parents and relevant others, it is essential to make certain that these same high standards of practice that operate in the private law sector are met in a public law setting. This Bill will ensure that any child contact centre or organisation that offers facilities or services for child contact must be accredited by NACCC.