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Covid 19 – What does this mean for Child Arrangements? UPDATED (December 2020)

UPDATED 8th December 2020 – Child Arrangements, Self Isolation and Childcare Bubbles

The Government has now confirmed that under-18s who are subject to child arrangement orders are still permitted to move between homes, despite the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The full lockdown, which was announced on March 23rd, did not initially include detail about whether or not it would apply to families living with child arrangement orders, but that has now been clarified and it is fine for children to see both parents as per their existing arrangements.

Browell Smith & Co had been contacted by many parents concerned about what the lockdown meant for their child arrangements: these families now have reassurance that no laws will be broken if they stick to those arrangements.

In our original blog post, below, we did advise that people took a sensible approach and continued to follow Government health guidelines, especially if any member of either household was displaying any symptoms of Covid-19 infection, and even more so if there were any vulnerable members of the family in either household. This article has been updated on 8th December 2020 to take into account the most recent guidance.

Original article:

In a very short space of time, the deadly Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our daily lives. These are unprecedented times and people all over the world are encountering issues that would have seemed impossible just two months ago.

While the absolute priority is public health, and keeping our families and those around us safe, that has created further challenges as people start working from home and/or self-isolating to limit the spread of the virus.

With schools and nurseries being closed to almost all pupils from 20th March and increasing numbers of people working from home and social distancing, the issue of how to care for children at home is one such challenge.

It’s more complicated still for divorced or separated parents who have pre-existing child arrangements in place, which require children to spend time in different households.

Browell Smith & Co has been contacted by a number of people to give advice on how to handle child arrangements in light of the spread of Coronavirus, and especially when they are sick and/or self-isolating. There is certainly no precedent in case law for dealing with child arrangements during a pandemic of this scale and severity.

The President of the Family Division released some guidance back in March 2020 on complying with Child Arrangement Orders.

The Coronavirus: Separated Families and Contact with Children Paper dated 2nd December 2020 also provides information  in response to some key questions that you may have. You can read that paper here.

Child arrangements while self-isolating

The purpose of self-isolation is explained in the advice given by the Government and it should be taken incredibly seriously. If you are self-isolating because you are showing symptoms, then we strongly recommend you continue to do so – even if your symptoms are relatively mild, self-isolating could literally save lives.

Regulation 2 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 states that if an adult or child has tested positive for Covid-19 or has come in close contact with someone with Covid-19, they are required to self-isolate. You are also required to self-isolate when travelling back to the UK from abroad, unless that country is exempt. You can see that guidance here.

The regulations state that where someone is required to self-isolate, they must remain in:

  • their home;
  • the home of a friend or family member;
  • a bed and breakfast accommodation, accommodation provided or arranged under section 4, 95 or 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999(1) or other suitable place.

That person self-isolating must not leave the above specified places, except where necessary. The regulation does NOT currently list visiting a parent whom a child does not usually live with as a reason why a person self-isolating may leave the house.

The governmental guidance on self-isolation states that if you live with someone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result, you should stay at home for 14 days. This is because you may have been exposed to the virus and could pass it on to others, even if you don’t have symptoms. You can see that guidance here.

However, if you are a contact of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, but you do not have symptoms, other people living with you do not need to self-isolate and should follow the general guidance. If you do develop symptoms, you should arrange to have a test. If you live with other people, they will need to begin self-isolation at home while you wait for your test result. You can see that guidance here.

Bear in mind that symptoms might not be showing today, but people can be infectious before they show symptoms. An apparently healthy person today could have a fever and cough tomorrow, so don’t take good health for granted.

Also consider using technology to maintain contact – conversations on the phone, or by Skype/Facetime etc, if a child needs to be isolated with one parent. This could be the most practical solution, especially if there are older/vulnerable relatives in either household whose health needs must be prioritised.

In short:

  • You are should still comply to your child arrangement orders in accordance with the guidance.
  • If you show symptoms, follow Government advice – it is designed to save lives
  • Vulnerable, elderly or at-risk family members’ health must be the priority
  • Use technology such as Skype or Facetime as an alternative way to maintain contact during isolation.
  • If in doubt seek specialist advice

Childcare Bubbles

According to the Government Guidelines, families are allowed to form ‘Childcare Bubbles’ with friends or relatives to help them look after their children when needed.

What is a Childcare Bubble?

A childcare bubble is where someone in a household provides unpaid and unregistered childcare to a child from another household (aged 13 or under). As this is a ‘Bubble’ the care must always be between the same two households.

In October, the Government introduced a Three Tier system in order to simplify local lockdowns in coronavirus hotspots – but what does this mean for childcare?

The Three Tier Rules Explained for Childcare…

Tier 1 (Medium)

  • Registered childcare settings (this includes supervised activities for children) and schools are exempt from the ‘rule of six’.
  • You can continue to use childminders, after-school clubs and nannies in Tier 1.
  • Family and friends can continue to provide informal childcare (as long as groups from different households don’t exceed six people).

Tier 2 (High)

  • Registered childcare settings and schools are still exempt from the ‘rule of six’.
  • The following people are allowed to provide childcare support in private homes and gardens:
    • Registered childcare providers, including nannies.
    • People in your support bubble.
    • People in your childcare bubble.
  • Friends or family who do not live with you and are not part of a support or childcare bubble must not visit your home to help with childcare.

Tier 3 (Very High)

  • At the moment, the rules for childcare are the same for tier 3 as they are for tier 2. This could mean that decisions on any restrictions necessary could be taken on a case by case basis.

Can I form a Childcare Bubble between Tiers?

It is encouraged to form a Childcare Bubble with a household that is close to home, however, this isn’t always the case. Therefore, Childcare Bubbles can be formed across tiers.

The most important thing is to look after yourselves, your families and everyone else in society. Remember these measures have been put into place to save lives, so don’t take unnecessary risks.

Contact our expert team today to arrange a no-obligation chat at any of our offices, in Newcastle, Cramlington, Ashington and Sunderland, or alternatively telephone our team directly on  0191 691 3418 to discuss your particular requirements.

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