Novel issues in child care proceedings raised by Covid crisis

The restrictions on contact and movement between people arising from the Covid crisis is having an unanticipated impact on children in care, or requiring protection and support for the Child and Family Agency (CFA). It often impacts on access between parents and children in care, but can also have serious implications for children whose parents are directly affected by the pandemic, as the two cases below illustrate.

Access restrictions

Restrictions on access arising from the Covid 19 crisis were raised during a renewal of an interim care order for two children where a full care order hearing is pending.

The court heard the CFA insists that the father wear a face mask during access. The barrister for the father told the court that the father has asthma, anxiety and ADHD and that he cannot wear a face mask as he fears it could cause a panic attack. She told the court that the parents were very stressed, in particular, the father who had not had access with his child since March.

The father told the court that it had been suggested he could watch his child play at a playground. The father rejected this proposal because he said he would not want a grown man standing outside of a playground watching his child play and that it was not right for him to have to do that in order to see his child.

The father’s barrister told the court that the father understands what physical distancing means and knows how far apart two metres is. She told the court the father proposed having access with his daughter at a park close to his grandmother’s house.

The social worker gave evidence that due to Covid-19 the father had not been able to have access with his daughter since the restrictions were put in place. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the CFA prepared a risk assessment outlining how families could have access in line with government guidelines to help reduce the risk for households and vulnerable people. She told the court that the assessment plan included requiring all parties to wear face masks, that distancing be maintained and that the parents have access on separate visits. She said that there are vulnerable people who are at a greater risk such as the mother, who is pregnant and the foster mother, who has asthma.

The solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker to outline the risks identified. The social worker said that safety was compromised and that visits needed to be supervised. She said that both the father and the mother had made threats against the social workers and the access workers. The social worker said visits could go ahead in line with the risk assessment, including the father wearing a mask, as long as there were no threats made against the social workers and the access staff.

The ICO was extended to the end of June.

Covid-19 restrictions prevent child in care from returning home

In another case an interim care order was extended for a child whose mother was in hospital and whose father was not in a position to care for her as he was an essential worker and had to reside in his place of work. The child says she wanted to return home.

The child had made allegations of physical abuse against the mother but had since said that she wanted to return home. The mother had engaged with family supports but was currently in hospital. The mother and child have access by telephone and Skype.

The father was deemed an essential worker. He was employed in a private care home and was working when the lockdown was put in place. He had been required to live in the home and had not been able to leave due to the pandemic, therefore he was not able to care for the child.

The judge asked the social worker if a supervision order had been considered. The social worker told the court it had been, but it was difficult with the current circumstances due to Covid-19.

The matter was adjourned to a date in June.