This guidance is applicable from the 5th November, in the scenario whereby a National Lockdown of England is approved by the House of Commons on the 4th November.

The most up to date Government Advice can be accessed here. The wording of this document on the date above has been used to create this document, most of which has been either directly copies from the link above, or re-worded slightly, to make sense in the context of Child Contact Centres.

1. Use of child contact centres during the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic the government has been supportive of children being able to spend time with both parents (when separate) and travelling between homes. The President of the Family Division has made clear that the Courts will not tolerate parents using the pandemic to unduly frustrate contact.

Our understanding of the guidance as it stands is that Child Contact Centres can remain open, where appropriate measures have been taken to ensure that these are safe. This is interpreted from the following statement, directly copied.

  • Support groups that are essential to deliver in person can continue with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support.
  • Child contact centres being safe is of paramount importance. All the things that have happened to date need to continue to happen. Assessments on making child contact centres Covid secure should be live and continual. A template continues to exist on the NACCC Website to support this and the Government have information here about making workplaces covid secure.

2. Travel

General Travel Guidance allows people to travel for the purposes of using essential services.

Templates of letters that can be given to staff or families can be accessed from NACCC. These can be presented if challenged when travelling for the purposes of contact. You can also produce your own template on the headed paper of your centre should you choose to do so.

Guidance on the government website relating to travel states the following:

“You should avoid travelling in or out of your local area, and you should look to reduce the number of journeys you make. However, you can and should still travel for a number of reasons, including:

  • travelling to work where this cannot be done from home
  • travelling to education and for caring responsibilities
  • hospital GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • visiting venues that are open, including essential retail
  • exercise, if you need to make a short journey to do so.

If you need to travel, we encourage you to walk or cycle where possible, and to plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practise social distancing while you travel.

You must not travel if you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms, are self-isolating as a result of coronavirus symptoms, are sharing a household or support bubble with somebody with symptoms or have been told to self-isolate after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

If you need to use public transport – to travel to work for example – you should follow the safer travel guidance. This includes the rules on wearing face masks and advice on car sharing.

3. Face masks

We continue to receive enquiries about face coverings so thought this might be a good opportunity to confirm some of the information shared and discussed via our ‘Coffee Shop’ members forum over the past few months.

  • Government guidelines should be followed, that are relevant to the area local to your contact centre.
  • Once you have considered local government guidelines, you should think about completing a risk assessment relevant to your centre.
  • The two above would help you to come to a conclusion about facemasks.

We would advise taking an overly cautious approach here and promoting the wearing of facemasks for as many people within contact centres as possible, particularly when moving around the building.

Children are usually exempt from rules relating to masks and it is not difficult to imagine that having a face covering might be quite distressing for them. Therefore, any risk assessment made by centres should take this into account and individual assessments might need to happen for individual children.

Some parents might be exempt or might say that they are exempt. They might or might not have some kind of proof of this or you might know of a condition that would make them exempt. For these people, it is strongly recommended that an individual assessment is written specifically in relation to their needs and any vulnerabilities they might have in order to ascertain whether it is considered safe for them any everyone else for them to be in the centre without a face covering.

There are potential ethical issues about asking someone to prove that they do or do not have a disability that might make them exempt from wearing face masks, which can make it difficult to reach a conclusion in line with the guidance in this article. In some cases, we might be best placed to take their word for it.

However, there are schemes running across the UK, whereby people can access lanyards to evidence this. More information about an example of this can be found here. However, there is a cost associated and there seems nothing to stop anyone joining regardless of vulnerability levels.

Once an approach has been adopted, it is advisable to make this as clear as possible for all families. You might want to consider a temporary set of rules, or rules specific to Covid. You might consider adding Covid specific content to contact agreements when you set these up or review these. Covid agreements should always be discussed at pre-visit and any opportunity before this. It’s also a good idea to have reminder posters at the centre.

As with everything related to Covid, the science is constantly changing and therefore so is the advice, therefore it is advisable to monitor local government guidance and to ensure that a centres approach can adapt to this in a streamlined way.

4. Elderly staff and volunteers

The most recent Government guidance as copied from the first link in this document if detailed here. This guidance should be read particularly carefully by Child Contact Centres with elderly staff teams or volunteer groups.

If you are over 60 or clinically vulnerable, you could be at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. You:

  • should be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise your contacts with others
  • should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace

Clinically vulnerable people are those who are:

  • aged 70 or over (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds)
  • chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • a weakened immune system as the result of certain conditions or medicines they are taking (such as steroid tablets)
  • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  • pregnant

There is a further group of people who are defined, also on medical grounds, as clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus – that is, people with specific serious health conditions. Over this period, we are advising the CEV to work from home. If you cannot work from home, you are advised not to go to work and may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

You are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible but are encouraged to go outside for exercise. The full new guidance will be published on Monday 2 November and the Government will write to everybody who is clinically extremely vulnerable to set out detailed advice while the new restrictions are in place. Current advice is in place at each local COVID alert level.

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