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Alexandra Baggallay discusses Child Arrangements and Coronavirus

  • March 17, 2020
  • By Alexandra Baggallay, Senior Associate

The Coronavirus pandemic poses huge challenges for all of us. Separated parents working out how best to co-parent their children during this time will have particularly complex arrangements to manage.

Where children move between homes, they could have to go into isolation in either home, if either they or their parent develops symptoms whilst the child or children are with them. The current NHS advice (as at 17th March) is that if a person starts showing symptoms, they should stay at home for seven days, and anyone they live with should stay at home for 14 days from the day the person first showed symptoms.

For children with two homes, this means that if they start showing symptoms, both their households may need to stay home for 14 days. It may also mean that the child(ren) will not be able to move between their homes as they normally would. There will also be other reasons why living arrangements may need to be changed, for example if one of the homes includes vulnerable household members, such as grandparents.

The issues which may arise should be considered now, so that decisions can be made in advance, and any necessary preparation undertaken.

Every family arrangement is different, but these are some of the issues which will be worth considering:

  • Is each parent’s home equipped to have the children live there for long periods, in terms of clothing, toys, IT facilities and other needs? What changes need to be made to prepare for this? Should more belongings be moving with the children when they switch homes for the time being?
  • Is either parent particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, for example due to underlying health conditions? If so, should the other parent be taking on more of the caring responsibilities for the children during this time?
  • Is contact putting the physical health of either the parents or the children at risk, and if so what adjustments could be made to minimise this? It’s important to weigh up the risk of physical harm to the children from catching the virus (considered to be low for most children) as against the emotional damage to children of having contact with a parent restricted, potentially for many months. How can safe contact best be facilitated in the current circumstances?
  • What care arrangements will be put in place if schools shut down? If children need to go into isolation, or if the schools shut down, then parents may need to assist with home-schooling. Is one parent likely to be better placed to manage this?
  • How can online contact best be facilitated if there’s a shutdown, or if the children need to spend reduced time with one of their parents?
  • For parents having supervised or supported contact with their children, contact centres may close, and independent social workers may be unwilling to work. If safe face-to-face contact is not possible, then online alternatives may need to be explored.
  • If a parent has any safeguarding concerns about a child spending long periods with one parent, then contact arrangements may need to be adjusted to minimise or extinguish the possibility of a child having to go into self-isolation in that parent’s home.

If parents are having difficulty agreeing arrangements to put in place, then mediation is an option worth considering for talking these issues through. A mediator will not make decisions for you, but will facilitate dialogue and help you reach consensus. Many mediators will be willing to work through video-calls over the coming months.

Finally, this will be an unnerving time for children, as it is for adults. The British Psychological Society have produced guidance on how to talk to children about Coronavirus, accessible here. The Children’s Commissioner has recommended a series of videos which Newsround has produced about the virus, available here.

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