When Children are removed from their parents and placed with foster carers, either on an interim or permanent basis, the Local Authority shares parental responsibility (the right to make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing) with either one or both of the parents.
The Local Authority has a duty to promote contact between parents and their children, subject to this being in the best interests of the children and only when it is safe to do so. Contact is often direct (face to face) and either in a children’s centre or in the community and usually supervised by a contact worker. Sometimes, however, contact is indirect (by way of letter, cards, emails and telephone calls).
Contact with their parents is important for the children because it provides the children with the security of knowing that their parents love them and are interested in their welfare and it helps to reinforce a sense of family identity for the children.
Only if there are extraordinarily compelling reasons can the Local Authority put a stop to contact taking place between children and their parents. What this means is that only in very serious cases, when it is necessary to safeguard and protect a child’s welfare, should the Local Authority decide that contact should not continue. The Local Authority can do this for 7 days but any longer than this and the Local Authority will need a court order. This is because the Courts recognise that this is a very important decision to take and one which needs to be fully considered by the Court, taking into account the views of the parents as well as the Local Authority and the Children’s Guardian. Even when a court order is made, the Local Authority is still under a duty to regularly review this decision and should allow contact to resume as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.
So, what happens to contact in the middle of a deadly, worldwide pandemic? Can contact between children and parents continue to take place safely? During these unprecedented times, when the advice from the Government is to stay at home except for specified reasons and to maintain social distancing, the question is a novel and difficult one to answer. Add into the mix the fact that the availability of some contact workers will be significantly reduced due to self-isolation or absence through illness, then it is likely that difficult decisions will have to be made.
The approach taken by Derby City Council is that, sadly, it is having to suspend all direct contact between parents and their children at the present time. Instead, Derby City Council is proposing that contact takes place via social media, wherever possible, or by phone. It is recognised that this is not ideal, however, in order to follow Governmental guidelines and keep everyone safe, the Local Authority feel they have no option but to do so. Indirect contact can of course continue and social workers should be keeping parents informed as to how their children are as much as possible.
If this applies to you and you are not currently able to enjoy direct contact with your children, please be patient and understanding in these extremely difficult times, even if you do not agree with the decisions being made by the Local Authority. At a time like this, the court is unlikely to intervene, especially when all other options are few and far between. If, however, you would like to discuss contact with any member of our Child Care Team, then 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.