Child Arrangement Orders during Covid-19
With us being in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic, people are increasingly experiencing difficulties with child care arrangements during the lockdown.
Where there is a court order in place which regularises where a child is to live and what time s/he should spend with the other parent/ care giver, the spirit of the order should be adhered to as much as is practicable.
There has been clear guidance issued by the President of the Family Division about children under the age of 18 moving between households.
The decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents/care givers to make in the best interests of the child after an 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.
If your child has an existing health condition, you are pregnant, or someone in your household has a health condition that makes them vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19 then you should follow the Public Health England medical advice.
Alternatives to face to face contact
Where a child spends time with a parent / care giver at a contact center, you can contact the center and see what alternates to face to face contact is available.
Most contact centres will be looking at alternate ways to ensure that contact can continue to take place by using indirect contact, for example, Skype, WhatsApp Video Calling, FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Meet.
The key message from the President of the Family Division is that where lockdown restrictions cause the contact arrangements to be varied, there should be safe alternative arrangements for the child. This will inevitably mean exercising reasonable judgement about the circumstances, as discussed above, with the child’s welfare being at the forefront of your mind.
If during these time you have safeguarding concerns about your child, these should be raised with your local authority’s children’s services department, it has the statutory responsibility for investigating safeguarding concerns.
Unfortunately, there will be times that the all too predictable excuse of Covid-19 will be used as a justification to frustrate contact.
It would be wise when considering whether contact can take place between a child and parents/ care givers, where Covid-19 restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.
The President of the Family Division, also appeared on the BBC1 News (21 April 2020) and commented that whilst these are unprecedented times, there is clear guidance about what to do. To reiterate, the advice is that parents should adopt a common sense approach and those using Covid-19 as an excuse to frustrate contact will be looked upon dimly should such matters come before the Court once we get back to some resemblance of normality.