A Horsham charity, which helps separated parents stay in touch with their children, has spoken out about cuts to legal aid.
Horsham Child Contact Centre has seen a drop in the number of cases being referred there due to the national cuts, which have made visiting harder.
Historically solicitors would have referred parents to contact centres where the non-resident parent would have been able to meet up with their child in a safe and neutral environment.
However the numbers of referrals have dropped 55 per cent nationally meaning many are not aware the centres exist, leaving them working hard to get their name out there and forcing some to close. Those include three centres in Sussex.
The Horsham centre is not under threat, but it is supporting a campaign by the National Association of Child Contact Centres to make people aware they do not need a solicitor to benefit from the service.
Co-ordinator Dee Floodgate stressed the importance of the centres for struggling families. She said: “There’s a clear message for people in this area that there is a place they can come after a family breakdown, a safe place for the non-resident parent to meet and catch up.”
The Horsham centre has remained open thanks to the work of the volunteers, who have been able to prevent the numbers of visitors substantially dropping, as well as funding from various organisations.
The charity says the closures are likely to have a disproportionate effect on fathers who in nine out of ten cases are the non-resident parent. This will leave many giving up on building a relationship with their children when there is no mutual meeting place.
The Horsham centre meets on the first and third Saturday of each month. Parents can now self-refer at a one-off cost of £20 per parent. For more information www.horshamccc.org