THE loss of supervised access services at the Togher Family Centre will be detrimental to children and families, according to high-profile legal representatives in Cork.
A number of lawyers have come forward in support of the Togher Family Centre following the news that the centre is due to stop running its child contact services for families referred through the courts.
The closure of this service will affect the most vulnerable, according to Cork Family Lawyers Association chairperson and solicitor Rachel O’Toole.
“It certainly causes a problem. It’s a niche service and it will affect a certain amount of cases,” Ms O’Toole told the Evening Echo."
Grove Cottage at the Togher Family Centre currently provides supervised access visits for separated families.
However, the centre does not receive Government funding to run this service for families referred through the courts.
The centre has made the difficult decision to stop running its child contact services for families referred through the courts from December 22.
One of Cork’s leading judges, Judge Con O’Leary, has also written to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, urging her to grant funding to the centre.
“It is my view that the service provided by the contact centre is invaluable to the children who find themselves the subject of parental disputes where the parents have limited means,” Judge O’Leary told the Minister.
The Cork Family Lawyers Association represents barristers and solicitors working in private family law and in public law child care cases in the Cork area.
According to the association, the removal of facilities at Grove Cottage will lead to additional trauma for families, prolong cases before the courts and unnecessarily damage relationships between children and parents.
The loss of the service will also lead to a significant and unnecessary financial cost to the State in terms of increased legal aid and social work costs.
Part of the problem is, there is no public service that offers families supervised access visits, according to Ms O’Toole.
“The State should provide an agency for supervision,” she added.
The loss of supervised access services will also be highly detrimental to children, according to the former chairperson of the Cork Family Lawyers Association and partner in FitzGerald Solicitors Noel Doherty.
“The negative effect will be huge, in respect of families coming before the Courts in public law care cases and in private family law cases.
“Tusla will also inevitably have to increase their role in the supervision of access at a cost which will be in multiples of the cost of supporting the current service,” Mr Doherty added.
The loss of services at Togher Grove will affect vulnerable families who will not be able to afford to pay privately to see their children, according to solicitor and family law specialist Norman Walsh.
“Appearing before the courts is trauma enough for anybody,” Mr Walsh said.
“But the second low is to be deprived of such a service. It is incredible with the uptake in the economy, that certain departments are granted more funding but vulnerable people are to be hit again.”
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs did not respond to a request for comment at the time of going to print.