The government has introduced an exemption to the new Covid regulations to allow a child, who cannot remain safely at home, to meet with relatives, such as grandparents or a family friend, who have put themselves forward to raise the child on a temporary or permanent basis.
Following a threat of legal action by the charity Family Rights Group, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 which come into force on 2nd December 2020 now allow in all Tiers gatherings that are “reasonably necessary for the purposes of placing children, or facilitating children being placed, in the care of another person by social services, whether on a temporary or permanent basis”.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said: “This is an important amendment to regulations especially at a time when the number of children in care is at the highest level since 1985. Many children will have experienced trauma and tragedy during the pandemic, and it is vital that if they cannot live with their parents, where possible, they are able to have the opportunity to be safely raised within their family network, for example by a grandparent or aunt or uncle.”
During lockdown two, the Covid regulations stated that in England and those that previously applied to areas that were in Tier 2 and Tier 3 included exemptions that allowed a child who couldn’t live at home to be introduced to a potential adopter.
However, no similar exemption was made for potential kinship carers such as family and friends raising a child who cannot live at home.
This means that a baby who was subject to care proceedings could be introduced to a potential adopter but not to their own grandparents who wished to be assessed by the local authority to raise their grandchild. This could later impact on decisions made by the family court about the child and thus have lifelong consequences, directly affecting whether a child was able to be raised within their family or instead be permanently separated from them.
The Family Rights Group considered the failure to provide parity between potential kinship carers and adopters to be discriminatory and unlawful. The charity issued a pre-action letter in November requesting that the Department for Health and Social Care urgently amend the arrangements made for lockdown two regulations and address this in any subsequent Covid restrictions.
Failure to do so by the government would have resulted in the charity taking legal action.
However, the government has issued Covid Regulations which specifically address the FRG’S concerns and enable children to meet with relatives for the purpose of the child potentially being placed in their care.
Cathy Ashley added: “That we had to highlight the need for this change and threaten legal action is an example of how too often kinship care is an afterthought amongst decision makers rather than their first thought. Nevertheless we appreciate that the government has listened and has made these regulatory changes.”