A VALUED service run by volunteers in Dorchester to keep children in touch with separated parents is fighting the threat of closure.

With more than 40 child contact centres closing around the country in the last 18 months, co-ordinator Kelly Strange has stressed the need to keep the Dorchester service going.

The raft of closures has come after cuts in the legal aid budget halved the number of parents applying for help through family courts as funding is no longer available.

The National Association for Child Contact Centres (NACCC) says that just over 400 centres remain and estimates that, at current rates, the service will be significantly diminished by the year 2020.

Kelly said the Dorchester Contact Centre, which operates at the United Church Hall on the first and third Saturday afternoon of every month for families that have had an assessment and referral, is highly valued by those who use it.

She said it attracts a number of people from areas around Dorchester and they would face having to travel to Yeovil or Poole if it were to close.

Kelly said: “It’s a really valued service and if we didn’t have it a lot of parents wouldn’t be seeing their children.

“We need to keep it open because the nearest one is either Yeovil or Poole and for some families that isn’t a possibility.”

She added: “The centre offers a safe and neutral place for children to stay in contact and maintain valuable relationships with their non-resident parent.”

Nationally the NACCC says the closures will have a disproportionate impact on fathers, who in 92 per cent of cases are the non-resident parent.

The NACCC is launching a communications drive to make charities, schools, GPs, social services and other community groups more aware about the existence of contact centres.

Chief executive Elizabeth Coe said: “The best outcomes for children following a separation are when parents can work together and where conflict is reduced.

“Contact centres can facilitate this at a time when parents are themselves struggling emotionally.

“We want to ensure that this message is clear – families can access child contact centres directly and they don’t have to go through the courts and legal system.”

The Dorchester Contact Centre has been running for 14 years and Kelly, who has recently taken over as co-ordinator, said its success was down to the dedicated group of friendly, impartial volunteers who provide the service.

Kelly added that the centre was always on the lookout for more volunteers.

Anyone interested in finding out more can send an email to dorchesterchildcontactcentre@gmail.com