The Annual General Meeting of The Central Belfast Child Contact Centre – a Connor Mothers’ Union initiative – was recently held in the Belfast Cathedral Centre.
It is now more than 10 years since Connor MU proposed the initiative, inviting people with different experiences and expertise to a meeting in St John’s Malone chaired by the present Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, who was rector in Malone at the time.
A committee was subsequently elected and two Mothers’ Union members, Maureen Gordon and Roberta McKelvey, were elected Chairperson and Hon Secretary, posts which they have held until this year, when they both took a decision to retire.
At the AGM, the Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven Barry Dodds, a member of the Management Committee, thanked Maureen and Roberta for their excellent work and dedication to making the Belfast Contact Centre a most valuable service to the city and beyond.
The Centre is run by a paid Coordinator, Melanie Phillips, supported by a rota of 31 volunteers, with funding from the DHSSPS and donations from churches and the Mothers’ Union among others. Volunteers make up the management committee.
Melanie reported that there are currently 48 families on the register consisting of 40 fathers, six mothers, and two sets of grandparents, having contact with 68 children. The majority of the children live with one or other parent, but there are also two long term foster placements availing of the Contact Centre facility. Some of the parents travel a considerable distance.
A factor which has become more apparent this year has been the number of people from different nationalities using the Centre – there are currently five mixed race families.
In some cases children have had no contact with the separated parent before coming to the Centre, and the meeting heard it is gratifying to see the establishment and development through time of meaningful relationships between children and their non resident parent. Frequency of contact can be weekly, fortnightly, or less regularly depending on circumstances and distance to travel. The Centre was open 49 out of 52 Saturdays this year, and on each 25-30 families availed of the facilities.
Dr Fionnuala Leddy, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick children, was the guest speaker. As part of her work she assists in contact disputes and in situations where concern has arisen regarding the care of children.