When it comes to children's experiences of domestic violence, a senior official at charity Barnardos has said that they tell them the same things "over and over again".

"What children tell us is 'please listen to us, please believe us'," Stephanie Whyte, Assistant Director of Children’s Services with Barnardos, said.

Ms Whyte said that when it comes to domestic violence and court orders of access for the non-resident parent who has a history of abusing the custody parent, children often do not want to attend the court order access.

"We have had situations where children have told us that they did not want to go to spend time with the abusing parent and that is extremely difficult," Ms Whyte said.

"It's a really difficult situation for children to have to go and visit or stay with a parent who they don't want to stay with and, sometimes, when it's not in their best interests."

One woman, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, was abused physically and mentally in a relationship. She has a protection order, but her ex-partner has court-ordered supervised access regularly with their child. She uses a supervised access service to facilitate it.

"I had to tell [her child] ‘look, we have to go and see this man that you're afraid of. Also, I can't go with you, and there's going to be a woman there that you don't know’," she said.

"This is a small child and you could dress it up however you want, but if there is fear in the child, it’s in the child.

"They would bawl and cling to the car seats. They won't get out saying ‘I don't want to see my daddy. I don't like my daddy'."

She said that in the days leading up to the access visit, her child will be waking up with nightmares, worried about seeing their father.

"Then after the access, they are on a downer basically. If they were an adult, I would say the adult is depressed, that's nearly what it's like," she said.

"It's so difficult for a child to understand why they have to do it.

"As traumatising as it is for the child, that's just something they are going to have to do for years and it's so wrong."


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She added that she would like the court to consider the child's experience in deciding on access.

"Children shouldn’t know trauma. Children should think the world is a happy place and everything is lovely, but children are forced into this. The child is the victim, at end of the day," she added.

The Department of Justice is preparing to publish Ireland’s Third Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender-Based Violence before the Dáil summer recess.

One of the draft goals is recognising the voice of children when it comes to domestic violence and providing an opportunity for their voices to be heard at different levels.

In certain circumstances, such as domestic violence, the court will decide that an access order must be supervised. This means that another adult must be present for the duration of the access visit between the non-resident parent and child.

However, in cases where there is violence, abuse or coercive control, this cannot be supervised by the parent who has custody.

In Ireland, there is no public service system of child contact centres to provide a space for children of separated parents to meet with one or both parents, even where the court orders it.

There are some community or voluntary services. There are private supervised access facilities also.

The services are not regulated by the State and parents have to pay.

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The Men’s Networking Resource Centre was established in Ballymun in 1994. They provide a facility for supervised access.

It is a voluntary service and they operate within a Community Employment Scheme to provide staff for the centre. Ann Hyland runs the centre and said there is always a waiting list.

"Most fathers that are looking for access to their children have jobs to hold down, can only see their children on a Saturday or Sunday. So we’re Monday to Friday," Ms Hyland said.

She added that they would have more men looking to avail of the supervised access facility to see their children, but she said they have also worked with women over the years.

Ms Hyland added that people come from all over the east of the country looking for a space in the supervised access facility, since there are so few running this type of service.

"We'll say no to nobody," she said.

"We wouldn't judge where they are from. It's not a catchment area service. If we have the room, we'll help them.

"Some spaces could be filled for a year or two years depending on how the family is and what the reason is, because every story is different. Every family story is different, whether it be through addiction, domestic violence, gambling, they’re right across the board."

The Men's Networking Resource Centre in Ballymun

Damien Peelo CEO of Treoir, the national federation of services for unmarried parents and their children, said the lack of child contact centres is putting families at risk.

"We've had callers to the service who have outlined their situations, which are horrific, and you wouldn't ask anybody to be put into this situation," Mr Peelo said.

He added that it often happens that one parent has a protection order from the court to protect them from the partner’s abuse, but the court also orders supervised access be allowed, but there is no supervised access centre available.

"The parents themselves are left to bring their child and sit with their child during a supervised visit," he said.

"That's just wholly unacceptable. And that isn't just a one-off incident. That's happening regularly and often."

He said the other issue is that parents are forced to arrange supervised access in public spaces.

"You’ve got parents turning up in fast food chains, in shopping centres, in indoor arenas, trying to walk around for an hour with their child, followed by an aunt or uncle or third party who is watching that interaction," Mr Peelo explained.

"How is that a real meaningful space for parents to have them build any meaningful relationship with their child?

"These are the real stories; this is the impact of what happens for parents and for children where we don't have investment in the supports and services that are needed."