FAQs on Contact arrangements for children

What can I do to make sure my children are safe when they have contact with their father who has abused me?

If there is a child protection plan this should normally set out whether your child will have contact with their father. There may be legal restrictions on this, for example in his bail conditions if he has been arrested, or other court orders that may be in place. If there are no legal restrictions, the social workers may still decide it is not safe for your child to have contact or they may decide he may have contact in some limited way, for example at a contact centre or supervised by a responsible person.

It is very important that you understand the decision about contact, and that you feel comfortable with it. If you feel it places you or the child at risk of harm, you need to tell the conference why you think this. The child protection plan is not "legally binding" in terms of allowing, stopping or restricting contact. Only a court can make a legally binding decision on this.

The social worker will often ask you and the father to work cooperatively and agree contact arrangements. If you disagree with what the contact arrangements in the plan, take legal advice from a solicitor or contact either Family Rights Group's or Rights of Women's helplines (see where to get further help).

I believe it is in my child's best interests to have a relationship/contact with their father even though we have split, but the social worker does not agree. What should I do?

Sometimes it is hard to see the negative impact of domestic violence on children, even for those close to the children. The social worker may be right that your child's father is too violent, and safe contact cannot be arranged. This decision should be made following a specialist risk assessment.

Still, it can also be damaging to children not to have a relationship with their father and some mothers who have experienced domestic violence still want to allow the children to have contact, or keep in touch, with their father.

It is likely that the social worker is concerned that by allowing contact, the children will be put at risk. The social worker may be worried about your ability to manage safe contact arrangements, or may feel that any contact would be damaging to the children. Your child may have witnessed violence or may be more afraid of their father than you realise.

It is important that your child's social worker has confidence in your ability to protect your child.

Your child's father can pursue contact independently. He can get independent advice on this, and even apply to court for contact, so the courts decide.

A social worker came to see me a few weeks ago and asked me to agree that the children would not have unsupervised contact with their father. I have not heard from the social worker since then. Where do I stand?

It is important that you follow this agreement but if you are unhappy with it or you are unclear about how long this arrangement should last for, contact the social worker and ask them to clarify what they are asking for and why. It is a good idea to ask them to confirm it to you in writing as well. If the social worker is worried that unsupervised contact may place your children at risk they may start child protection enquiries. See here for more information.

You can also check if your child's social worker plans to do more of an assessment of your family's needs, and let the social worker know what you think would help you and your family.

If you do not accept that your child would be at risk as a result of unsupervised contact, you need to ask the social worker what steps they think to need to happen for unsupervised contact to be resumed. You could challenge the agreement or withdraw consent, but it strongly recommended that you first seek advice because so you clear about the potential consequences, including steps the local authority may then take.

The social worker wants me to allow contact between my child and his father, but I feel this would be unsafe, what can I do?

Keep in mind that even if the social worker feels contact is good for your child, the social worker does not have the legal authority to insist on contact against your wishes. The social worker is making a recommendation and this should be based on what the social worker thinks is best for your child, taking into account their wishes and feelings. But only a court can order you to allow or arrange to contact.

If you have a solicitor, you should discuss this with them. You can apply to a court to stop contact between your child and their father. If you don't have a solicitor, you should try to get further advice (see where to get further help) but you can also make the application yourself – contact the office of your local family court about what you need to do.

If there are no legal proceedings, or you are advised by a solicitor that you do not have enough evidence to ask the court order to stop contact, talk to your social worker again about your concerns. Try to agree safer contact arrangements, for example supervised contact, and contact that does not involve you seeing your abuser face to face. Ask the social worker if the arrangements can be reviewed regularly, to address any problems that may come up.