COVID-19 guidance for children and families
Cafcass has put together the following guidance to support children and families as the situation surrounding COVID-19 develops. We will do everything we can to help you and make sure that our service continues to run as effectively as possible. This information will be regularly updated. If the information below does not answer your questions, please get in contact with us here.
Advice for families on effective co-parenting and child arrangements
On 23 March, the government published full guidance on staying at home and away from others, which clarified that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. On 24 March, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, provided additional advice on compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders.
Our National Improvement Service has put together some advice to encourage effective co-parenting and help maintain your child’s routine in these uncertain times. It is important that families amicably try to find solutions that are in the best interests of the child and the health of those around them. Please click here for the advice.
Please also visit our resources for parents and carers page which provides a list of other resources and organisations that can offer independent advice.
Advice for children and young people on coronavirus
The Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) has published a new COVID-19 information booklet for children and young people which is packed full of great advice. The booklet includes ‘top tips’ for keeping in touch with family and friends, how to make the best of being at home, and what to do if feeling unsafe or unwell. FJYPB members also give their thoughts on how COVID-19 is affecting them.
Frequently asked questions
Cafcass is going to fully remote working. How will this affect my case?
From Monday 23 March, we closed down all our offices to the public and the majority of our staff started working remotely. Due to the increasing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Cafcass is promoting the use of Skype and looking into other forms of video conferencing, such as WhatsApp and FaceTime, as a way of completing interviews with parents and direct work sessions with children and young people. We will be doing our best to minimise any delays arising from remote working.
We have issued guidance to our Family Court Advisers to make sure that video conferencing will be used effectively during assessments, safely, and in the most cost-effective way for our families. While we are encouraging the use of video conferencing, if the child or parent raises concerns about this then an alternative arrangement will be considered. The Family Court Adviser working with you in your case will be in touch with you to discuss video conferencing if it is required.
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.
I have an upcoming court date. Will I be required to attend?
The President of the Family Court has published guidance saying it will be moving to remote hearings with immediate effect. You or your solicitor will receive information on what this means for any upcoming hearing 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 from Monday 30 March 2020 following the Government’s decision to consolidate the work of courts and tribunals into fewer buildings. 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 will be regularly updated.
Should my child still travel between parents as per the court order?
The Government has now 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 has 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.
“The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”
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.
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.
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.
The guidance from the NACCC in the short term is that people should not be attending Child Contact Centres, for the purposes of contact in the current climate. This is in line with information shared by the President of the Family Division regarding Child Contact Activities (CCI), the Support for Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP), the Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme (DAPP), and DNA testing.
From Wednesday 25 March, the family courts suspended any new ordering of contact to take place at contact centres. Some accredited Child Contact Centres are looking at alternative ways to ensure that child contact can continue to take place, by exploring different methods such as working creatively with families to see if trusted people or family members can take up the role of the contact centre, or by using indirect contact (e.g. Skype/ WhatsApp/ FaceTime).
At this point we would strongly urge members of the public to contact 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.
Click here to read the full statement from NACCC, Cafcass, and Cafcass Cymru.
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 following the introduction of ‘Stay at Home’ rules. 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?