Child Protection concerns do not cease during a worldwide pandemic. Child Protection is not immune to the Coronavirus. There is no doubt at the present time that Social Workers and front line Child Protection Staff will be reduced in numbers due to the virus or self-isolation. This alongside a profession that is already understaffed and under-resourced will place enormous strain on their ability to carry out their statutory duties and, in particular, the requirement to visit, support and check up upon vulnerable children who remain in the care of their families. Herein lies the dilemma.
The Government has advised that, currently, entering other households significantly increases the risk of spreading this deadly virus for, as we know, the virus is easily spread from person to person and by touching surfaces or objects with the virus on them. Whilst social distancing measures are suggested to be put in place, such measures are often difficult to maintain and are not foolproof.
On the other hand, with the closure of schools and nurseries to most children, (although places are available for children of Key Workers and vulnerable families) this protective measure is weakened. Should Social Care therefore demand to be let into a house? Does the need to protect children outweigh the risks of Covid-19? This is a very difficult question to answer and clearly comes down to a balance of risk. In the current times, perhaps some flexibility is required.
One answer could be that Social Workers could see the children in the garden or on the drive to undertake their safe and well checks, weather permitting, whilst maintaining a safe distance and if necessary look through windows to gain an impression of the downstairs of the house. Discussions with parents could also take place outside, whilst maintaining social distancing. If the weather is unkind, those checks and discussions could take place indoors subject to the Social Worker adhering to government advice, unless the family is in self-isolation, when a glance through the window or, indeed, the letterbox may be the only option.
If this applies to you, our advice is to always comply with any requests by Social Care to see your children where it is safe to do so. Also, in the current times, be prepared to answer your mobile to your Social Worker and, if you are asked by your Social Worker to send your child to school, then you should do so unless they or you are ill and need to self-isolate. When you engage and cooperate with Social Care, a level of trust is built up and Social Care are likely to be less worried and wanting to take more serious measures. It is accepted by all that this pandemic causes anxiety and you may well be worried about the risk of infection and the spread of disease to vulnerable relatives.
Should you wish to seek advice or discuss your concerns with one of our experienced Child Care Solicitors, please call Clare Cuomo on 01332 225219.
Please note, all advice and opinion offered in this article are subject to change in line with the latest government advice.