I apologise but I missed some of the earlier questions, particularly from Deputy Lisa Chambers. I will do my best to cover all of the issues raised. I will try to clarify the difference between child protection access and what we were doing. Our work centres on access in private family law cases where the child or children were living with and in the care of one of their parents but were entitled to have access visits with the other parent. Sometimes there were child protection issues with that parent and sometimes there were no actual issues but there were concerns. It is a very grey area. We would like to see Tusla do more work with private family law cases to try to fill in some of those gaps.
Members asked about situations where the child has been removed, is in care and Tusla is obliged to provide contact between the child and his or her siblings or parents. Sometimes Tusla would ask organisations like One Family or the family resource centres to get involved in that process because Tusla is under resourced, in terms of both space and staff. That is Tusla's obligation. When we ran the contact centres we offered physical space to social workers and also offered our services in terms of enabling contact, but they did not take us up on that. We are very unclear as to why that was the case. We used Quarryvale Family Resource Centre, as Ms Kelly said and we also used a bespoke contact centre in Ballymun which was built for public child cases involving children in care. That centre has separate rooms for each family and the contact is supervised through a window.
There can be cross over. If the system was built well, we could share resources more to enable children in both public and private family law cases to have access because a lot of the processes are the same. The children who are not getting enough attention at the moment are those in private family law cases because their families are expected to do it themselves but they cannot always do so. We are aware that centres in Carrigaline, County Cork and in Arklow, County Wicklow facilitate some private family law contact, as well as contact in child care cases.
Over the years, a lot of this work was done on a voluntary basis in Ireland through the churches. That was certainly the tradition in the UK where a lot of churches ran contact centres in church halls. They were extremely low cost and were run by volunteers, usually with a part-time co-ordinator. The difference between the UK and Ireland, however, is that the former has the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, CAFCASS, which means that children arriving at the contact centres had already been risk assessed, they had their folders and the volunteers knew exactly what they were dealing with. It should be noted that those services were not necessarily moving on the parents. They were solely facilitating contact. In our case, we would also want to intervene with the parents to try to move them on and out of the centre, ideally. That is not always possible but that is what we would be aiming for. Figures indicate that the cost of these centres in the UK is very low but there is good reason for that.
The voice of the child is an issue of concern to us. While there is now a requirement to take into account the voice of the child, the courts have not yet figured out how to hear the voice of the child in any systematic way or how to do so in an age appropriate way. Some judges may hear children in chambers while others may not. There is a lot of work to be done in that area and it will require additional resources. Based on our experience, we would argue that it requires specially trained people to work with children over a period of time to actually figure out what they may need. One Family provides play therapy for children and we did so in the contact centres too, which can be a very effective way of supporting children through a process like separation or any kind of difficulty or trauma.
Members mentioned repeated court visits, particularly around issues like access and maintenance. That is the bane of peoples' lives. We would have got people to reach fairly good agreements around access and shared parenting and then if something happened on the money side, all of those agreements went out the window. It is a constant process of working with people, keeping them focused. Maintenance is a very difficult issue. How maintenance payments are assessed for social welfare purposes is particularly difficult. If, for example, a father stops paying maintenance, the mother may need to go back to court to prove that. It can be a very long process and during that time she can be out of pocket. An attachment of earnings is possible but if the father changes jobs, the mother may have to return to court again. It can be both lengthy and costly. The courts would like more cases to be settled out of court, particularly maintenance cases because the courts are under a lot of pressure.
In the UK, they have the Child Support Agency but my understanding is that it did not do what it was supposed to do. It is very difficult to access money from the liable relative. In countries like Sweden, the state takes the responsibility. The state provides what is needed and guarantees an income to the child. If the liable relative does not pay, the state follows that up. That works very well for children, particularly in terms of combating child poverty. That is the gold standard system in terms of the desired outcome, which is money going to children.
We recently conducted a national survey of people who share parenting. We got over 1,000 responses and we are going to publish the findings of that survey at a seminar with a number of respondents from the legal world and from Tusla on 30 January. I invite all members of this committee to attend that seminar. As I said, we got over 1,000 responses and thousands of comments from parents which we have read thoroughly. Maintenance is a massive issue and a massive trigger.
There are gender issues around separation. Sometimes men can feel that the court, the system or the mediation is against them. Sometimes women say it is definitely against them and that they are treated differently as single parents. There is a great deal of pain and confusion there and, at a distance, the rest of us are looking at all that and finding that it is difficult to make policy because people's experiences are so different. What we are trying to do is understand how people share parenting and what would help them to do it better. We are learning a great deal from that as well. Access and maintenance are a huge part of that but there is no easy answer that we can see.
There was a query on passports and abduction and Deputy Chambers clearly knows a bit about a particular case. We do not have expertise at the level of legal support around abductions. We do a lot of family parenting support and have a helpline. It may be that Deputy Chambers knows more around legal support in respect of abduction. Certainly, we can support people emotionally and signpost them. It is something that is becoming more common. There are concerns around Brexit and whether it will cause more difficulties within the island of Ireland never mind for those living in Britain. It is an area of concern which needs to be looked at. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, has already looked at issues around Brexit and this has come up. Professor Geoffrey Shannon is looking at doing some work around that because we need to know. It is a hugely distressing area. We have worked with people around those cases. It is not our area of expertise. Does Ms Kelly have anything to add to that?