Advice for parents and carers on Covid-19
On this page you will find guidance and resources, including the latest advice from government and Public Health England, on the situation surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. We continue to monitor the situation and we are updating the page regularly to ensure the information is helpful.
On 24 March, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, provided advice on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders.
On 9 June, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, published ‘The Road Ahead’ for the Family Court in England and Wales. The document seeks to establish a broad framework for both public and private cases in the Family Courts over the next six months as the Covid-19 crisis continues.
Working with children and families
We are currently using both remote video technology and in-person visits to speak with children. This has allowed us to work effectively with children and their families 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 (FCA) who will make sure that the rationale is understood by the child and their family or carer.
In circumstances where it is essential for a child to see an FCA in-person 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.
You can see the full protocols for in-person work and visiting Cafcass offices here:
- Attending family court protocol – this sets out how and in what circumstances our practitioners will attend the family court.
- Returning to in-person work with children and families – this explains our current approach to seeing children and families and in what instances we will ensure we have an in-person meeting with the family.
- Using Cafcass offices during the Covid-19 pandemic – this explains how we intend to open our offices safely to ensure we are able to see children and families that need to see us.
Frequently asked questions
What is the protocol for attending an appointment at a Cafcass office?
If you are asked to attend a Cafcass office the office will be made Covid-secure in accordance with all government requirements. The advice for attending a Cafcass office includes;
- Please do not arrive any more than five minutes before your meeting is due to begin;
- We recommend that, if possible, you make alternative arrangements for the care of your child/children if they do not need to be seen to ensure we do not have too many people on site, and we request adult parties attend their appointments alone;
- If your child/children are being seen please bring any toys or items to keep them occupied with you as at present we do not have toys available due to cleaning and hygiene regimes;
- It is also requested where possible you bring any refreshments you may require with you;
- Upon arriving at our office, you will be asked to follow some simple Covid-secure procedures. This will involve;
- sanitising your hands using the station we have provided for you
- confirming your details, so that we can book you in for your appointment at reception.
- You will also be guided to use the office space securely following the clear signs and floor markers in place to ensure we always maintain social distancing measures for everyone’s safety.
There may be some specific local guidance and advice, for example regarding the use of face coverings. Please ensure you follow this advice. Cafcass staff will do the same.
I am due to have an appointment at a Cafcass office but have symptoms of Covid-19. What should I do?
If you, or someone you have had close contact with or cared for, have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the last 14 days, or you have experienced any symptoms in the last 14 days (high temperature, new continuous cough, loss of taste or smell), please contact your appointed FCA. We will endeavour to make alternative arrangements to speak with you.
Are Child Contact Centres affected by Covid-19 and what does this mean?
The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC), Cafcass, and Cafcass Cymru continue to work in partnership reviewing information from the NHS, World Health Organisation and Public Health England.
As of 22 June 2020 NACCC recommended that contact centres make independent decisions about whether they feel able to re-open their services. The readiness of centres to be able to offer services will vary significantly. Please contact the NACCC or your local contact centre to find out what services are available locally. You can find your local contact centre here.
The key message from the President of the Family Division is that where coronavirus restrictions cause the contact arrangements to be varied, there should be safe alternative arrangements for the child. This will include reasonable judgement about the circumstances, including the child’s health, the risk of infection, and the presence of any vulnerable individuals in the household.
Further advice is available on the NACCC website here.
Attending family court
On 19 March 2020 the President of the Family Division set out guidance on how the family court would operate following the ‘lockdown’ and confirmed a default position that all family court hearings would take place remotely.
On 23 March the President clarified that this did not prevent live hearings taking place in urgent cases provided this could be done safely. The Protocol for conducting safe live court-based family hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic sets out a number of expectations of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service as well as proposals for the conduct of live hearings.
You or your solicitor will receive information on what this means for any upcoming hearings you have, including the possibility that it may be delayed. If you have a case with Cafcass, your Family Court Adviser will also explain to you what is going to happen when they know.
Hearings that cannot be heard by video or telephone and which cannot be delayed will be held in a priority court and tribunal building. Please click here for more information.
Please note that the list of open priority court and tribunal buildings might change over time in line with public health advice. You can find the contact details for every court and tribunal building by using the courts and tribunals finder, which is being regularly updated.
As the Family Court continues to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division published ‘The Road Ahead’ (9 June 2020) for the Family Court in England and Wales establishes a broad framework for both public and private cases in the Family Courts over the next six months as the Covid-19 crisis continues.
Frequently asked questions
Why have I not heard anything about my family hearing yet?
Due to Covid-19, local courts have experienced delays in processing applications and hearing cases. They are working hard to progress applications through the family justice system but there is a delay of up to 18 weeks in some courts. Cafcass will be in touch with you as soon as we can, nearer the time of the hearing. If you have not received any confirmation from your local court about your application being processed, then please contact the court directly.
I have tried to dial into my virtual court hearing but couldn’t connect
Please contact your local court and seek advice on connecting to virtual hearings or to ask about rescheduled hearings.
I have been asked to attend a course by the courts but have not heard anything about the referral yet
Due to the impact of Covid-19, there is a current delay in orders being sent to Cafcass to progress these referrals. As soon as Cafcass receives the official order from court we will make contact with the provider and contact you to confirm the referral is in progress.
There is now advice available for parents who have made a new child arrangements application or enforcement application because of issues arising from the pandemic.
The Government has agreed that courts can make some temporary changes to their usual processes to help you get the support you need as quickly as possible. Not all courts will follow these changes but if yours does, there is advice available for you here. When reading the advice, you will see that it suggests you may receive a letter from the court if it decides the application is related specifically to Covid-19 restrictions. This letter is available to view in full here.
Frequently asked questions
Should my child still travel between parents as per the court order?
The Government has clarified that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.
The President of the Family Division issued advice about compliance with child arrangement orders during the current Coronavirus crisis. This states that whilst children can be moved between separated parents it does not mean that children must be moved between homes.
The decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make in the best interests of the child after an assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
If you are concerned your child has an existing health condition, you’re pregnant, or someone in your household has a health condition that makes them vulnerable to the impact of the virus then you should follow the Public Health England medical advice.
Please read the Cafcass advice on effective co-parenting during a pandemic for further guidance on complying with a Child Arrangements Order in these circumstances.
Should my child still travel between parents if the child – or someone in their household – has or might have Covid-19?
If your child – or someone in their household – has contracted the Covid-19 virus or they are displaying any the symptoms listed on the Government health advice pages, they should be self-isolating and should not be transferring between households. This is in line with the Government advice for households with possible Covid-19 infection.
If you are worried your child has contracted the Covid-19 virus you should follow the Government advice on reporting new Covid-19 cases and alert your Family Court Adviser.
General information and advice
Please visit our resources for parents and carers page which provides a list of other resources and organisations that can offer independent advice.
If the information provided in the frequently asked questions below does not answer your questions or you have a specific question regarding your case, please contact us here.
Frequently asked questions
I’ve received a text from Cafcass asking me to send them my email address – is this genuine?
Yes – we have sent a text message to some of the families Cafcass is working with who we do not have a verified email address for. We would like to be able to contact all families by email because we are currently unable to contact families by post due to working remotely. We will send a secure verification email first so that you and Cafcass can verify each other’s identity – we will ask you to respond to this email to confirm some personal details such as your address or date of birth. We will never ask for further confidential information such as bank details. If you have any concerns, please call 0300 456 4000.
What should I do if I am worried about my child’s safety?
If you have safeguarding concerns about your child, you should raise these with your local authority’s children’s services department, which has the statutory responsibility for investigating safeguarding concerns. Contact details can be found here.
What should I do if I have concerns about domestic abuse?
Cafcass is alert to the very difficult situations in which families may find themselves in as the situation surrounding Covid-19 develops. The Government has published guidance to support people who are experiencing or are at risk of domestic abuse. This guidance also includes information about the support and help people can access to manage their own behaviour during this time.
If you are concerned about the safety or yourself or a child, you should contact your local authority or the police immediately. If you have an open case with Cafcass, you should also discuss your concerns with your Family Court Adviser.
Children who are worried about their safety should speak to an adult they trust and tell them why they don’t feel safe. Children can also call ChildLine on 0800 1111 for help and advice. Speaking to their Family Court Adviser or social worker can also help if they have one – if they do not have one, they should contact their local authority. In an emergency, children should call 999.
What’s happening with my SPIP or other commissioned services?
We are working with our commissioned services providers to offer remote support where it is safe to do so and technically possible but there is going to be a delay whilst we set that up. The provider will be in touch with you when this has been finalised and is deliverable.
Do you have information that can help me balance working remotely with a busy home life?