Families from the Newtownabbey borough have been availing of a facility designed to bring parents and children together.
Carrickfergus Child Contact Centre, based in the YMCA building in Irish Quarter West, moved into the new facility from Joymount in January this year.
The service, which is part of the Northern Ireland Network of Child Contact Centres, was set up to facilitate contact between a child and parents or significant others with whom they no longer live following a family break up.
The centre, which is staffed by 34 volunteers, opens twice a week on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
“People can be referred here for a number of reasons but it’s usually through the courts,” said coordinator Shelly McCord. “We facilitate a meeting place between children and another family member, usually a parent but sometimes a grandparent or a sibling. How it works is that the parent who is with the child will come in and they will go to one area of the centre while the other parent will go to a different floor. A volunteer will then take the child upstairs to meet with the parent who is on their own; if you have a situation where there is some animosity between the parents this can avoid conflict.
“In the activity rooms we cater for two age groups: under fives and six to 18 year olds. For the younger kids there are lots of toys, and things like Lego, a Wii and board games for the older ones. At the moment we have 21 families who are actively using the centre, not only from Carrick but from places like Rathcoole, Larne, Ballyclare, Belfast - geographically it doesn’t matter. We do try and work it so that we don’t have a waiting list.
“There are other services operating here at the YMCA building such as the Pregnancy Resource Centre and SureStart as well as family mediation services, so it’s great to have that network of organisations around us,” Shelly added.
“The centre is almost entirely volunteer-run; many of them have been here since the centre opened in Joymount in 2008. We’ll be marking our five-year anniversary in October and we’re always on the lookout for more volunteers.”
For retired civil servant Tim Hedgeley, volunteering at the centre is a rewarding experience. “I’ve been involved with the centre since it moved here from Joymount at the start of this year; it’s a valuable resource for parents and children alike,” he said. “For some parents it’s the only time they get with their child and if it weren’t for the centre many of them wouldn’t have an independent and safe environment to meet in.”