What is supervised contact?
Supervised contact is where contact takes place in a safe, controlled situation, overseen by someone such as a relative or an organisation that provides supervised contact services. It is most often used when one parent has been violent, either towards the other parent or towards the children.
Supervised contact has given many parents the chance to rebuild solid relationships with their children.
When will the Court order contact to be supervised?
If a Family Court is dealing with a dispute about arrangements for the care of a child and one of the parties claims that the other has been violent, the Court will hear the evidence and decide whether the claim is true. If it decides it is true, the Court can order that the person who has been violent will have supervised contact with the child, unless it is satisfied that the child would be safe with unsupervised contact.
When the Judge is making a decision, he/she must take the child's wishes into account, and may appoint a lawyer for the child.
The Court may also require contact to be supervised until it can hear and decide on a claim of violence.
The Court may also order supervised contact in situations that don't involve violence (for example, to re-introduce a parent to a child after a period of no contact between them).
Who pays for the cost of supervising the contact?
In cases of violence when the Court orders supervised contact by an organisation, the cost of the sessions is subsidised by the Government, up to a maximum of 14 sessions for each family. In other cases, the Government does not subsidise the costs.
How long will it be necessary for contact to be supervised?
Contact must continue to be supervised until the Court decides otherwise. The parent or other person whose contact with the child is being supervised will need to apply to the Court for it to allow unsupervised contact. The Court will have to be satisfied that the child will be safe.
In many cases the relationship between the adult and the child improves relatively quickly to the point where supervision is no longer needed. But in some cases supervised contact may continue for a number of years.
Who supervises the contact?
The contact sessions will be supervised by an approved organisation that provides supervised contact services, or by a suitable person decided on by the Court, such as a relative or friend of the family.
What training do supervisors have?
Supervisors employed by organisations belonging to the New Zealand Association of Children's Supervised Access Services all receive extensive training.
However, all supervisors - whether paid employees or family members or friends - will offer a safer service to the child if they:
- understand about children
- stay neutral
- know the risks involved in taking responsibility for supervising contact
- know what to do if things go wrong
- have an independent person to advise them.
Will the supervisors be neutral?
Supervisors will not take sides, even if they're related to one of the parents. Their focus must be the children and their best interests.
The contact visit
Will there be rules?
All supervisors will have rules, whether the supervisor is an organisation or a family member. Clear rules help keep everyone involved safe.
It's best that rules and expectations are clarified and agreed on before the contact visit. Both the children's caregiver and the visiting adult may have to sign a contract setting out the rules and what is expected. Some rules may be about that visit only, such as times for each of them to arrive and leave, what time the contact will take place, and how long the session will last. Or they may be general, such as no smoking or using cellphones during the session.
How the children's caregiver can help them understand what will happen
Tell them where the visits will take place. If it's not a place they know, describe it as a safe, friendly place where they can meet the other adult. If possible, arrange a visit with the children before the supervised contact starts.
Explain about the supervisors - that they are kind adults who enjoy helping children, and that they'll be near at hand during the visits and will make sure the visits are fun.
Make sure the child knows who will be collecting them and that they'll be returning home.
Will the children be happy during contact visits?
The visits should be a happy time for the children. The children's caregiver and the visiting adult are both likely to be feeling anxious, but they should try not to show this to the children, whether before, during or after the sessions. Children will feel more confident if they feel that the adults are confident about the new situation.
Most children will settle easily into their new contact routine with few problems. But remember that children can take time to adjust to change. They are usually aware of tension between the adults, even if it's unspoken, and they may feel torn between them. Often they feel confused about the relationships in the family.
If the caregiver or visiting adult have any concerns, they should talk with the supervisor about what to do.
Suggestions for the visiting adult - what should happen on the visit?
Sessions are more positive if the children choose what happens during them. You can then follow their lead and join in and have fun.
Talk should be about play - not about adult issues. If the children ask a tricky question, try changing the subject or distracting them.
When it's time to go, you may be feeling emotional, but take care not to upset your children. They need to know that you're OK. This is a good time for a hug if the children want one - and then a quick, happy, positive goodbye.
Will the children be safe?
If parents or caregivers are concerned about the children's safety during the visits, they should discuss this with the supervised contact provider before the first visit.
Keeping the adults safe
All adults involved with the arrangement, including the supervisors, need to feel safe. The children's caregiver and the visiting adult may feel more comfortable not having to meet with or see the other. This is why some organisations require them to arrive and leave at different times and insist on more than one staff member being present.
A visiting adult who keeps to agreed rules is also safe from any false claims being made against them.
Who gets feedback on what happens during the contact session?
This will vary. The person with day-to-day care should feel free to ask, but they should remember that confidentiality may be an issue. However, if there's an issue about the children's safety, this takes priority over confidentiality.
If supervised contact has been ordered and paid for by the Court, the organisation doing the supervising will report to the Court at the end of 14 sessions. However, organisations will normally not give information to a lawyer representing a parent or other party.
Need more information or advice?
For more information or advice, click on the links below to other pages or pamphlets on this site, or contact a family lawyer (www.familylaw.org.nz), a community law centre, or the nearest Family Court office.
How can you contact a supervised access service?
The New Zealand Association of Children's Supervised Access Services has a website that lists not-for-profit and private agencies who belong to the Association - visit http://www.anzascs.org.nz/
You can also ask the nearest Family Court office or Citizens Advice Bureau.
Pamphlet: Supervised Contact (PDF, 263Kb)