Children, Families and the Covid-19 Pandemic
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The Coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on many families, carers and children, and placed further pressure on the child welfare and family justice system.
Families and the child welfare system – experiences during the Pandemic
Many families are experiencing poverty, isolation and other forms of stress at a time when many support services – for issues like substance misuse and domestic abuse – have had to close temporarily or offer a reduced service. These services are often critical in reducing risk and provide reassurance to social workers about specific families.
Practitioners within local authorities are juggling priorities and facing funding pressures, and the family justice system is working through the complexity of remote working. Whilst video calls and email can be helpful, digital poverty leaves numerous families unable to access advice, and/or take part in critical discussions about their family.
Calls to Family Rights Group’s advice service and the findings from an online survey of more than 650 kinship carers published by the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care indicate that the pandemic has widened the variations in practice.
Some social workers and children’s services leaders have taken creative steps to maintain relationships with families and enable children to remain safely within their family network, but this is far from routine. In the main child protection conferences and child in need meetings are either taking place by phone, or parents are having to join by phone. Parents have reported not seeing key documents ahead of calls and conference meetings, not understanding who is on the call, the nature of the concerns or the implications of the decisions being made.
As a result parents are feeling even more excluded from the critical decisions being taken about their children. Their ability to ensure their voice is heard and to challenge (where needed) the information set out by the professionals is being severely compromised.
The pandemic has made it more difficult than ever to find mother and baby placements and to locate places in residential mother and baby units. These placements provide an opportunity for an independent assessment of a parent’s ability to parent their child. Without this assessment the chances of a baby being removed increases.
The pandemic is unprecedented, and we recognise that some practitioners are trying to respond to specific circumstances, albeit within very difficult working conditions.
However we are aware of cases of delays in family members being assessed as potential carers for a child who will otherwise be taken into care or adopted. Elsewhere we have heard reports of authorities resorting to procedural responses and blanket rules about the contact between children and their birth families.
Adoption and Children: Coronavirus (Amendment) Regulations 2020
The Government introduced The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus (Amendment) Regulations 2020 to temporarily relax and amend requirements on children’s care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new regulations made fundamental changes to safeguards for children in care in England. Much concern was expressed, including by Family Rights Group about the lack of evidence as to the need for these changes, the lack of consultation in drawing up these measures as well as the impact that they may have across local authorities on children, families and practice.
Specific briefings drafted by Family Rights Group
Response to Department for Education Guidance for Children’s Social Care Services: Family Rights Group drafted the Kinship Care Alliance briefing (29 May 2020) that summarised these concerns and proposed amendments to the guidance to inform local authority practice and Government thinking.
Family Rights Group briefing set out our specific concerns about the changes to Foster for Adoption and adoption panel. We highlighted that the consequences of foster for adoption for the child and their family can be lifelong and therefore robust checks and balances need to be in place.
Further information about Foster for Adoption can also be found in the section on Children and Families Act 2014.
The Secure Training Centre (Coronvirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020
Changes by the Ministry of Justice to statutory rules for secure training centres allows the solitary confinement of children, as young as 12 for up to 22.5 hours a day in their cells instead of the usual 10 hours. It also dilutes children’s rights to family contact and education. The expiry date for these reductions in children’s rights is not until 25 March 2022.