January – February 2021
Guidance updated Thursday 14th January 2021.
On 4th January 2021, the Government for England announced a National Lockdown. The aim of this is to protect the public from a strain of Coronavirus, that is considered to pose a higher risk than the one that came before. The Government are keen to stress that “You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.” These restrictions are expected to last until at least the 15th February 2021.
There are still circumstances in which you are allowed to meet others from outside your household, childcare or support bubble in larger groups, but this should not be for socialising and only for permitted purposes. A full list of these circumstances can be accessed here, will be included in the regulations, and some of which include:
- For arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents and guardians.
- To allow contact between birth parents and children in care, as well as between siblings in care for prospective adopting parents to meet a child or children who may be placed with them.
- To place or facilitate the placing of a child or children in the care of another by social services.
- To provide emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness, or to escape the risk of harm (including domestic abuse).
- To fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service.
- For gatherings within criminal justice accommodation or immigration detention centres.
Support groups that have to be delivered in person can continue (including those provided by Child Contact Centres) with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support – but they must take place at a premise other than a private home.
Where a group includes someone covered by an exception (for example, someone who is working or volunteering), they are not generally counted as part of the gatherings limit. This means, for example, the staff at Child Contact Centres do not count towards this limit of 15.
Are Child Contact Services Open?
It is permitted for supported and supervised Child Contact Centres to continue to offer services to children and families. This will remain under review and updated information will be made available here.
Some Child Contact Services will be unable to open, for the time being, particularly those only offering supported contact. There are various reasons for this, which might include the ability of the centre to keep families safe, any shortage of staffing as a result of self-isolation or restrictions posed beyond their control, by a landlord for example.
Those centres remaining open should give extra consideration to how they will keep families separate and socially isolated, bearing in mind the increased risk. Information about the steps being taken at centres is available further down this guidance.
I’m Worried, Do I have to attend a Child Contact Service?
Some families might not be able to attend services either because they are in some way vulnerable or because they are concerned about the virus and its impacts. Parents are always encouraged to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of their children, but must not unjustly use Coronavirus to frustrate Child Contact.
The Courts are aware of examples where the Coronavirus has been used as an excuse to frustrate the process of children having contact with parents they do not live with. The Courts will not tolerate this and take robust action where this is noted to be happening.
The President of the Family Division – Sir Andrew McFarlane. Has provided guidance to parents when considering Child Contact particularly during Coronavirus and where Child Arrangement Orders might be in place. This can be accessed here.
What are Child Contact Services doing to keep children and families safe?
Child Contact Services have been working in ways that keep children and their families safe since March 2020. They are experienced and confident at doing this.
All Contact Services will have risk assessed their services to ensure that they are keeping families safe. Some centres will have used a NACCC Template to do this, others will be using an equivalent at-least as good.
All child contact centres will have amended the way they work with children and families in order to protect them from the virus. Steps taken are likely to include:
- Personal Hygiene. Most centres will be asking you about your health and wellbeing in order to ensure that they are able to keep other families safe. Furthermore, you will also observe increased Soap, Hand Sanitizer, Antibac, Gloves, Signage and other things in place.
- Additional Environmental Hygiene Measures. Buildings will be cleaned more frequently, particularly parts of the building touched or used by multiple different people. You may notice windows open, to increase airflow or one way systems where these were not previously used.
- Staff and Volunteers will have access to PPE. Risk assessments at centres will have identified the PPE required at centres and you may have noticed some subtle differences.
- Social Distancing Measures in place. All centres will have measures in place to facilitate social distancing. In many cases, this will be the kind of thing you will already be familiar with. However, at some centres, you might have noticed your currently not as close to other families, if you see them at all. Or, you might also notice waiting areas have closed that were previously open.
- Track and Trace. All centres have processes in place to share personal information with Track and Trace. They might ask you to scan a QR Code on a mobile phone, sign in and out of the building, or both. Information, as required, will be shared with Track and Trace in a way that is safe and secure.
- Training. NACCC has given members access to E-learning relating to managing risks posed by Coronavirus. Many will have completed this, others may have completed an equivalent or have alternative arrangements in place.
If you are worried, anxious or unsure – speak to the centre. They would rather you tell them and they will be able to set your mind at ease. If you have reasonable cause to stop attending a Child Contact Service discuss this with them at the nearest possible opportunity.
Contact with my child has stopped because of Coronavirus, what can I do?
It is a sad reality of this pandemic that some children have had contact arrangements with their parents disrupted because of Coronavirus. In most cases, this is not what is in their best interests. In fact it can be emotionally harmful to keep implementing and then revoking contact.
NACCC urge parents, and where necessary professionals to work together, in the best interests of children to ensure that disruptions to contact are minimal and where necessary avoided altogether.
This might be achieved by:
- Changing the date and time of contact to ensure as many families as possible get to use services.
- You might temporarily use a different contact service if your usual one has closed, but others remain open, locally to where the child lives.
- Asking mutually trusted family or friends to take over the supervision of contact or facilitating handovers. Before doing this be sure that this is acceptable with not only the parents but also within any guidance provided by Courts, Cafcass, Local Authorities or other professionals.
- You can access virtual contact from an ever-increasing number of services. This does not need to be a centre near to you and this is often a very affordable way of maintaining essential links to children, where other options are not available.
- Parents might be able to make arrangements independently of contact services where this is safe and appropriate.
- Where other options are not possible, contact might be able to be sustained by the passing of letters, cards, pictures and gifts. This is not likely to be as enjoyable as seeing a parent they do not live with, but it does keep that other parent in their lives.
Where disruptions to contact can not be avoided, children should be offered information, at a developmentally appropriate level about the changes to their lives. They should be offered reassurance that things will return to normal, as soon as possible, and that their absent parent still loves them.
I share parental responsibility for a child with someone I don’t live with – can I still see them?
Where parental responsibility is shared, existing arrangements can continue and the child can move between both parents, and therefore between both parents’ households (and support bubbles where relevant).
My child does not live with me but there are regular arrangements in place so we can continue to have contact with each other – can these arrangements continue?
Yes – for children who do not live in the same household as their parents and have existing arrangements in place to visit and safely have contact, these arrangements can continue. This could include children in foster care, children’s homes and adoptive placements.
Can wider family members come to (supervised) contact sessions, when this takes the total number of participants to 6 or 7 (not including staff)?
NACCC are advising against this for the time being.
I live in elsewhere in the UK but child contact is in England, can I still travel?
Anyone who is in England, whether resident or travelling here, is bound by English Government Rules. However, travelling to a destination in England for Child Contact is a reasonable excuse to leave home.
Do children, parents, staff, or volunteers have to wear face coverings?
It is recommended that parents, staff and other adults wear face coverings, where a person is not exempt. Children may choose or parents may exercise parental responsibility about face coverings for children, where this is developmentally appropriate.
My family use a Contact Centre, do they test for Covid-19?
Probably not, most contact centres are run by people qualified or experienced in Health and Social Care and therefore, they would not ordinarily have expertise onsite to arrange or deliver testing. To arrange a test you should follow the information available on the Gov.uk website.
I work at a Contact Centre, am I eligible for priority testing?
Yes, people who work at contact centres are considered to be ‘Key Workers’ and therefore, eligible for testing. You will be contacted when it is your turn to be tested by the NHS. It might be worth making sure that the NHS know your ‘Key Worker’ status to make sure you are on the correct list. NACCC has a ‘Key Worker’ letter, you could post or email to your GP. Otherwise, you could contact the NHS Test and Trace service using the number below to discuss this.
How can I arrange for staff or families to be tested for Covid-19 at the contact centre?
Discussions about arranging tests for staff have been taking place on our Peer Support groups, so if you’re running a centre you might want to join one of these or attend a Coffee Shop Live.
To the best of our knowledge, it is not currently possible to offer testing onsite. The strategy for testing is being planned and implemented by the Government and NHS, therefore, they are making arrangements for testing that happen in locations they organise.
Agencies that might be able to assist.
The government have this information available about testing and how people can access tests.
Public Health England
Public information access office
Public Health England
133-155 Waterloo Road
If your enquiry relates to coronavirus (COVID-19) please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Main switchboard – 020 7654 8000
Telephone: 0300 311 22 33
General Post (including complaints, but not legal proceedings): NHS England, PO Box 16738, Redditch, B97 9PT
NHS 119 – Test and Trace Service
Telephone – 119