The government has announced that children in care are exempt from a rule which limits the number of people that can meet up during a Covid-19 outbreak, enabling children to have contact with their parents and siblings.

The ‘rule of six’ law, which was enacted in September, prohibits social gatherings of more than six people, but the latest update from the House of Commons library’s “Coronavirus and Separated Families and Contact with Children in Care” briefing says children in care are exempt from the rule when spending time with immediate family.

The exemption allows social workers to arrange such meetings, as individuals living in separate households from children in care, their siblings and their parents. However, the ‘rule of six’ will apply where a child wishes to have contact with additional members of his or her family.

The briefing says, “Under the current provisions for social distancing, there are exemptions from the 6-person limit for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents.”

“However, the 6-person limit will apply to meetings with other relatives. Therefore, it may be necessary for children and other friends and family to make alternative arrangements.”

The government has also confirmed that contact centres are expected to remain open and appropriate measures taken to make them safe for families and children to visit.

The briefing goes on to say that Regulation 22(1) (contact and access to communications) of the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015 has been amended in relation to children meeting friends, parents and relatives.

The amendment states that children’s homes must ensure there are suitable facilities to allow meetings to take place. Where meetings are not possible, children need to be told why a face-to-face meeting has been cancelled and informed of their right to be represented by an independent advocate.

The briefing re-iterates that virtual contact must be the exception rather than the rule, and that any decision to implement virtual contact must be recorded. The reason face-to-face contact was stopped must also be explained.

The guidance says, “The use of virtual visits should be the exception and can be used as a result of public health advice or when it is not reasonably practicable to have a face-to-face visit otherwise for a reason relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19). This could include in the event of local restrictions, self-isolation or social distancing advice due to coronavirus (COVID-19).”

“All uses of this temporary flexibility must be recorded, for example in individual case records, and those records should include the reasons why a virtual visit was necessary. Providers may also find it helpful to keep a separate collated record in which cases the flexibility has been used.”

Additionally, the briefing covers the current rules for children of separated parents; what to do in the case of a child who is self isolating with Covid-19 symptoms; complying with contact orders; the impact of the outbreak on child maintenance and contact details of organisations offering support and advice.