Protocols for seeing children and families and using offices during the Covid-19 pandemic published
Two new protocols setting out our approach to returning to in-person work with children and families and using Cafcass offices during the Covid-19 pandemic have been published.
The protocol on our return to in person work with children and families explains that we will be using both remote video technology and in-person visits to speak with children. Since the national lockdown began in March, we have been able to work effectively with children and their families using remote video and telephone meetings and for some this has been their preferred form of contact with us. The judgement about whether in-person or remote work is in the best interest of the child will be made by the Family Court Adviser who will make sure that the rationale is understood by the child and their family or carer.
We understand that in many circumstances it is essential for a child to see a Family Court Adviser in-person, so whenever this takes place we will make sure that care is taken to protect the health and safety of everyone involved in the visit. Where a visit is judged to be necessary, a risk assessment will take place in accordance with Government guidance and will be overseen by the line manager for the adviser.
Our Family Court Advisers will work with the children and families who are to be seen in-person to decide which location is the safest and most appropriate. This may include their home, outside spaces such as parks or one of our offices.
The second protocol explains that we are going to start opening 17 Cafcass offices from 27 July so our Family Court Advisers can safely meet with children to understand their needs, wishes and feelings and to enable them to make recommendations to the family court.
Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto said:
“Understanding children’s wishes, feelings and hopes for the future is one of the most important duties we have. Speaking up for them in family proceedings and making recommendations to the court about their safety and best interest is equally important. The relationships we make with children, their families and carers help us to do this work well and it is always a priority to see them during our work together. We have been seeing children remotely since the period of national lockdown began in March and we have been able to continue to work effectively, receiving feedback that for some this is their preferred means of engaging with us. For others however, in-person contact is necessary for us to understand their lives, relationships, joys and worries. Being able to see children again with their families is a very special milestone for us. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues at Cafcass who have worked so hard to enable us to plan for this in the safest way possible and to others who will have the privilege of face to face contact once again.”
We understand that some children cannot or do not want to see us remotely. We also understand that for some children it is safer for them and in their best interest for us to see them in-person, and we will therefore be able to use some of our offices to do this.
There are many measures in place to make sure our open offices are safe to use for children, families and our staff. These include deeper cleaning arrangements, the provision of hand sanitiser to visitors, face coverings for all staff, full compliance with social distancing measures and limiting the number of people in each office at the same time.
The Protocol for returning to in-person work with children and families is available and the Protocol for Using Cafcass Offices is also available. They both follow the publication of our Cafcass protocol for attending court on 29 May.
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As a children solicitor I recently went to see a child face to face. He was involved in a bitter 16 (4) dispute and although I had already had a Zoom call with him he was worried if one of his parents could overhear him from the next room. Where there is such a dispute the influence of one parent cannot be protected against and the child is likely to be constrained in giving wishes and feelings to solicitor and guardian.