Update 07/01/2021: The government guidance regarding contact with birth parents has not changed since the beginning of lock down. People can continue existing arrangements for contact between parents and children where they live apart’. This means that contact arrangements can continue if the carer thinks it is safe to do so.
There is guidance from the Government about ‘shielding’ people who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ to coronavirus which can be accessed here (updated 7th January 2021). We are aware that a lot of kinship carers and special guardians fall into this category who are worried about contact arrangements with parents. Therefore, we have provided some guidance around contact arrangements below.
In summary, the President of the Family Division issued advice which says: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between homes.” It does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to be move between homes is for the child’s parent to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. Although the guidance does not mention kinship carers, it is likely to relate to children whose care is shared between kinship carers and parents, or if the parents have overnight contact with their children.
These really are unprecedented times and people are having to make difficult decisions to ensure their own safety as well as that of their family. This can be especially difficult for kinship carers. Many are in the extremely vulnerable group. Others are caring for children without a legal order. Many must also arrange and supervise contact between the children and their parents.
We have carefully considered the Government advice, as well as feedback from our kinship care community. We agree with the principle, in line with Government and Family Court guidance, that where contact arrangements can safely continue then they should. The most important thing for kinship carers and parents is to try to talk and agree a way of managing contact during this difficult time.
However, as an organisation we also believe ensuring the safety and well-being of the children, carers, parents and wider community is essential. Therefore, we are advising kinship carers and special guardians the following:
- If the care of the children is shared between kinship carers and parents, and involves overnight stays that are unsupervised, then the normal care arrangements should continue if it is safe for all involved. However, because of the recent up and coming changes, whether children can move between households is subject to government guidance on what to do if an individual or household is isolating, or if it is necessary to shield a person who is extremely vulnerable on medical grounds.
- There is advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of infection which is issued and updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales.
- If there is any disagreement between the kinship carers and parents about contact during this time, then advice should be sought from the local authority straight away. This is essential where there is no court order in place giving the kinship carer parental responsibility. Alternatively, family mediation can be sought. You can find your nearest mediation service here.
- We also recommend that where contact must be suspended due to the coronavirus, kinship carers and parents try to be creative in using alternative contact methods. These could include, facetime, skype, zoom, WhatsApp, emails, telephone call or even writing a letter. There are some useful tips for using video chat for family time here.
We will continue to keep people updated as and when advice changes.