As we are now well into the third national lockdown with restrictions on everyday life continuing, many will be wondering about what impact the coronavirus will be having on children in care and contact arrangements.
Section 34 of the Children Act 1989 states that where a child is in local authority care, the local authority must allow ‘reasonable contact’ between a child and their parents, guardian, any person with parental responsibility or a named person who had previous care of the child. This however can be paused for a period of seven days if the local authority believes it is necessary to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
Although it is expected that Court Orders are to be adhered to in relation to contact, there are circumstances where this may not be possible as many will have experienced during the current pandemic, this could be due to self-isolation or simply down to whether the contact session can be managed in a safe environment with social distancing measures that were implemented in March 2020.
The government has issued guidance which can be found here; but to summarise, under the current national lockdown guidance in relation to social distancing, there are exceptions for the purposes of arrangements for contact between parents and children that do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents. The exception also applies for contact between siblings when they do not live together and one or more of them is a looked after child or a 16/17-year-old care leaver.
If face to face contact cannot occur, contact should be facilitated remotely for example video calls. This may not be appropriate for all children, for example young children therefore the local authority should be working with families to try and facilitate face to face interaction whilst still adhering to the social distancing measures currently in place.
It has also been found that many contact centres remain open to continue to offer support for supervised contact to continue for families, which of course is positive for all during these unprecedented times.
If you are looking for legal advice on contact with children in care during the pandemic, please contact Farleys’ family law team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.