Coronavirus and the family justice system

Managing family contact during the coronavirus crisis

In a crisis, everyone recognises the need to stay in touch with the people they care about. Keeping connected with loved ones is particularly important for children who have already experienced disrupted relationships – their feelings of loss and rejection are already likely to be heightened.  

However, social distancing measures introduced in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak present urgent challenges in managing contact between children and their family members. Children living in foster families, with kinship carers or in residential settings are unlikely to have supervised face-to-face contact with their birth parents or siblings during the crisis.

And there may be pressure to stop contact – even digital contact – altogether, because social workers and others are so stretched dealing with other issues. Where digital contact is being explored, social workers, foster carers, special guardians and others do not have ready access to support and advice to ensure that digital contact arrangements are safe. In addition, while children in divorced or separated families are permitted to visit parents, there is a need to ensure that such contact arrangements during this period are informed by what benefits children.

To respond to this challenge the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory will be supporting professionals to maintain children’s contact with family members during this crisis. We will be doing that by:

•    Sharing research evidence about what is most critical to supporting children’s wellbeing and development. We have recently announced a research review of the latest evidence on the impact that contact with family members has on children’s well-being and development in cases where children are no longer able to live with a member of their birth family.

•    Connecting professionals by bringing together children’s social care, legal professionals, members of the judiciary, digital experts, foster carers, kinship carers, families and others to explore ways to ensure that contact arrangements are safe and practical during this time.

•    Sharing innovative examples of how individuals and organisations are responding to this challenge from around the country.

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