In what may be the first case of its kind, a decision by a judge to deny a mother’s request for contact with her children while in care during lockdown has been set aside by the Court of Appeal.
The children, aged 7, 3 and 1, had been taken into care and were living with their grandmother temporarily, after the youngest child had sustained a leg injury which was suspected to have been non accidental, while in the care of their mother.
Before lockdown, which began in March, the children had face to face contact with their mother three times a week for two hours. The local authority then decided to shut its contact centres, leading to the family having indirect telephone and video contact.
Two of the children were noted to have found these forms of contact distressing.
When the mother asked for face to face contact to resume, the local authority refused, citing government guidance as the reason, and so the mother made an application to the family court for contact.
The judge dismissed the application during a telephone hearing, which had been enabled during lockdown to allow some cases to be heard, also citing government guidance on the issue.
The mother appealed.
By the time the case was heard in the Court of Appeal, face to face contact for the family had resumed, as lockdown measures had eased during the life of the case, but the mother’s counsel asked the Appeal Court judges to hear the case as it held wider significance for the child protection sector.
The judges agreed to hear the appeal, and took the view that the lower court judge had made several mistakes in his judgment, including not assessing whether the contact offered had been reasonable and not making the children’s best interests the paramount consideration.
The judgment goes on to explain that courts must look at the children’s circumstances, resources available to local authorities and have a proper grasp of current government guidelines.
Researching Reform predicted cases of this nature would be filed during lockdown after the child protection sector expressed wide-spread confusion over what local authorities were required to do while COVID-19 safety measures were in place.
We urge parents to read the guidance, and to be aware of their rights.
- Are Children In Care Being Denied Access To Their Birth Parents During the COVID-19 Outbreak? (Podcast)
- Pioneering Research on Contact with Children in Care During the COVID-19 Outbreak
- Face to Face Contact For Children and Birth Parents Allowed Under Lockdown Regulations