My children are in foster care – can I still have contact/family time during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown?

The North East local authorities (Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham) have issued the following statement about contact:

As a result of the current situation, Children’s Services have been forced to stop all face to face contact arrangements.
Each local authority has been making efforts to keep as much contact going in difficult circumstances as possible and this is a step which has been taken extremely reluctantly.

Wherever possible arrangements are being made to provide parents with indirect contact by phone or video link. These arrangements will vary from case to case, depending on the age of the children, the technology available to foster carers, the need for supervision of contact and the extent to which the security of the placement and the identity of the foster carer’s home needs protecting.

As much as possible contact will be led by the individual child’s needs, but parents will need to accept that the pattern and quantity of contact will be very different from that envisaged by the Court and by the original care plan. Children’s Services will be doing their best to support the continuing relationship between children in care and parents, and we hope that parents can trust that this is the intention.

The Court has already indicated that they are not going to be able to order contact where a Local Authority does not have staff available, and this will be the case for all local authorities in view of the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March. We will be reviewing the situation in three weeks’ time when the Government review their position, but until then we ask that you bear with us and try to dissuade parents from making applications for contact orders. We appreciate that you will have many sad and angry parents, but we are simply unable to continue providing the expected levels of contact in the current circumstances.

The law says where a child is in the care of a local authority, the authority has to allow the child reasonable contact with their parents. They can only stop contact with permission from the court. In normal circumstances, parents can make an application to the court for contact arrangements to be decided by a judge. In the current situation with everyone being told to stay at home, judges would say it is reasonable for local authorities to stop face to face contact or family time and arrange it by phone or a video link of some sort instead. This means that realistically there are no steps we can take on behalf of our clients who have children in foster care to make sure they can have face to face contact.

This will be extremely distressing for parents who are used to being able to be in the same room as their children several times a week. We know you are already going through a very difficult time dealing with the stress of court proceedings about your children. We have some suggestions to try to make the best of things:

  1. Be as flexible as you can about what platform you can use to have virtual contact. Download apps like Zoom and Skype so you are ready to sign up for video contact. Make sure you can access Wi-Fi so you can make these virtual platforms work and keep your device or phone charged up
  2. Make the most of the contact – plan ahead to make it as good an experience for the children as possible. There are some tips here
  3. Try your best to manage your emotions when you are dealing with the social worker or foster carer. Not only are they people having to cope with a lot at the moment, but getting angry will make things worse not better and could lead to you getting less virtual contact.

At this stage (30 March 2020), we do not have an understanding of the approach Local Authorities will take to giving parents any kit they need such as phones or devices to be able to make this virtual contact work. If this is an issue for you we would argue to the Local Authority that they have a duty to promote reasonable contact and they should help with providing kit to make this happen, in the same way they pay travel expenses.

We are still here to answer questions and give you advice about this and any other issues about your children and the legal process. Visit our Family webpages for more information.