Covid-19 is new to everyone, this includes social services and the Court, and everyone has had to adapt to a new way of life because of the virus.
With more time being spent at home, for many this has meant being able to spend more time with their children and families. But what about children who do not live with their parents and families? Does social distancing apply to them? Can social services and/or the Court stop contact taking place?
Government guidelines have made it clear that contact between children in care and their parents is to continue, and that for some children the consequences of not seeing their parents would simply be too distressing.
Whilst the current lockdown and restrictions limit contact between different households, there is a specific exemption made for contact between parents and children. This applies to children whose parents have separated (allowing them to move between households), but also parents who have a child looked after by social services.
There are, of course, circumstances where face-to-face contact is not possible due to Covid-19. A main and common example would be where a parent, child or a member of one of their households are isolating due to having or being in contact with the virus.
It is only logical therefore that any contact arrangements should be assessed on a case by case basis taking into account a range of factors. Different social services have brought into effect different procedures and rules when it comes to contact arrangements during the pandemic, but are still all meant to look at each child on a case-by-case basis and not simply offer the same amount of contact (or not) to each family regardless of their needs or circumstances.
There has been a recent case before the Courts called Re D-S which confirmed that each family should be looked at on a case-by-case basis as mentioned above, and stated that the Court should make its own assessment of what contact is appropriate. The case confirmed that it is not for the Court to say whether social services’ proposals are reasonable, but to decide on its own assessment what is reasonable contact for that particular family. When doing its assessment the Court should consider the child/children’s circumstances, social services resources and the current Government guidance. For more information on this case please go to https://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed212176.
A child’s circumstances are particularly relevant where that child is either a baby or a very young child, as it is generally accepted that face-to-face contact is absolutely crucial and that virtual contact simply will not do. This is particularly the case for new-born babies who cannot interact in any way virtually and where physical contact is key. The Government guidelines make it clear that in those circumstances social services should work with families to ensure that they can have safe face-to-face contact.
If your child is looked after by the social services and you are having difficulties with contact, please do not hesitate to contact our childcare team on 0114 218 4000.