The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights on some practical and regulatory issues related to ensuring the human and technical resources of supervised contacts

Having ex officio extended his investigation launched on the basis of a complaint, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has established that the current system of criteria and regulatory environment of supervised contacts in family and childcare centers, as well as the cooperation and the proceedings of the competent organs,  give cause for serious concern. In order to eliminate this anomaly affecting the rights of the children concerned and their relatives, Ombudsman László Székely has sent a detailed list of recommendations to the competent ministry and the heads of the government offices.

A grandparent turned to the Commissioner complaining that, although, pursuant to the final decision, he is entitled to meet his grandchildren once in a month in a dedicated room on the premises of the guardianship authority, he could not meet them because there was no room available on that day. Since the complaint raised the systemic issue of the missing human and technical resources of supervised contacts, the Commissioner has decided, ex officio, to extend his inquiry into an individual case and conduct a nation-wide review of the enforcement of the right to maintain contact. 

The report states that maintaining contact is a right that a child is entitled to under any circumstance, which may be violated if a person entitled to maintaining contact cannot enforce this right due to the excessive length of proceedings, or to the absence or insufficiency of human and technical resources. In Hungary, ensuring the enforcement of the right to maintain contact falls within the guardianship authorities’ scope of responsibility; and while the legal obligation to ensure supervised contacts is imposed on the family and childcare centers, family and childcare service may also join in on a voluntary basis. The Ombudsman has pointed out that supervised contacts are a temporary, strictly controlled form of maintaining contacts aimed at rebuilding, restoring family ties. The point is to enable the child to maintain contact with the parent or some other person in a way that would minimize the risk of the child’s being traumatized by an ongoing conflict or being exposed to any danger. Making use of this legal institution, the contacting parties may be enabled, after an individually determined period, to exercise their right to maintain contact independently, without supervision.

In this particular case, the authority has admitted that an unresolvable and unlawful situation was created as a result of which supervised contacts could not be maintained since November 2015. The investigation has found that the final and enforceable decision on supervised contacts was not carried out due to technical reasons, and no measures were taken, within a reasonable time, to remedy this situation. The Commissioner has established that the current situation violates the requirement of legal certainty and the principle of due process corresponding to the best interest of the child, as well as the right of due process of the complainant entitled to maintain contact, and the right of the child to protection and care.

When reviewing the situation in the country, the Commissioner has found that the implementation of final decisions on supervised contacts is at best patchy due to the absence of legal regulation providing, in detail, for the material conditions of contact supervision, and the general insufficiency of human and technical resources. For the professionals working in contact supervision, being available during the weekends is a major problem. In the Commissioner’s view, when developing the detailed rules of contact supervision, minimum requirements shall be worked out for contact days falling on weekends, as well, specifying the days and time limits of and the possible consideration for supervised contacts.

Ombudsman László Székely has concluded that ensuring the temporary nature of supervised contacts and the possibility of moving towards maintaining contacts independently within a reasonable time are impeded by the lack of efficient cooperation between the competent institutions. It gives cause for particular concern that the guardianship authority does not pay proper attention to and does not rely on recommendations made by the family and childcare centers in direct contact with those concerned. The current practice is that the agreement is concluded and the in-house rules are presented during the first meeting thus reducing time to be spent on actual contacts. It is worthwhile considering to forward the decision on supervised contacts also to the institution arranging such meetings, and to always specify the date and time of the first contact in the ruling or decision of the court, or the resolution of the guardianship authority

The Commissioner has requested the head of the guardianship authority proceeding in this particular case to take, as a matter of urgency, the necessary measures to make up for the occasions missed and ensure future contacts. He has made a recommendation to the Minister of Human Capacities to engage in supplementing the prevailing legal regulations with the minimum rules relative to the essential material conditions of contact supervision, compensation for missed opportunities, and maintaining supervised contacts on weekends, and to review the availability of human and technical resources of contact supervision in the family and childcare centers. He has proposed to have a methodological manual on contact supervision prepared, published, and distributed to family and childcare centers. The Commissioner has requested the heads of government offices to make guardianship authorities closely cooperate with family and childcare centers when ordering supervised contacts, and to provide information to those entitled to maintain contact on the availability of and access to the childcare center, the family and childcare services arranging supervised contacts, and to call their attention to the importance of prior notification.