One size does not fit all.... Hello again and welcome back to our blog! How are you all doing? The Children’s Team had a virtual meeting this morning and we reflected on some of the information we have shared with you. We took some time to think about what life must be like for our children at the moment – especially those that are living with domestic abuse – and hope you can make use of some of our suggestions. We know that teachers and schools continue to keep in touch with their pupils and will be doing their very best to ensure children stay on track academically despite the pandemic but what about all the other things that a school provides? One of the things that we know schools assist with is the exchange of children between parents for contact. An agreement that is fairly common is that children will see the parent they don’t live with permanently every other weekend – and school acts as a safe way for this exchange to take place. But what happens now that schools are closed? Who can facilitate a safe handover? Earlier in lockdown, the Government confirmed that travelling between separated parents for the purposes of contact handover is permitted for children under the age of 18. They stated ‘Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’. This, I believe, is a clear statement. But what happens if making changes to contact arrangements puts you and your children at risk? The current circumstances mean we have to re-think everything that we previously put in place – including our own safety and that of our children. For many of you, child contact arrangements are tough to manage at the best of times let alone now and unfortunately coronavirus may be used by perpetrators as a way of seeking power and control – so what protective measures can be put in place beforehand? We have found this document really useful and our practitioners are using it often – it gives advice on what to do if you cannot agree on safe contact arrangements. https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/ It may be that you have had to make changes for your children also – if you have a Domestic Abuse Practitioner then make sure you talk through those changes just to ensure your own safety. Sometimes when we feel under pressure we panic and make knee-jerk decisions – but you don’t have to share personal details like your address or contact number with the perpetrator. You could instead set up a new email address for the purposes of contact during Covid-19. Remember – the guidance from Family Court makes it clear that ‘contact orders may be broken if it safeguards the health of the child or vulnerable adult in the household’ - if necessary please seek expert advice before breaking an order. As ever, in an emergency call 999 Here at Next Chapter, we know every child is different, every family is different and every case is different – we know that one size does not fit all, and our Practitioners are skilled in responding to your risk and your need. We can work with you to look at alternative ways of contact should you be unable to agree – it may be that you can consider other methods of communication such as Skype or Facetime until the restrictions have been lifted. Have you heard of CAFCASS? It stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They make sure the wishes, needs and feelings of children are at the heart of any dispute going through Family Court. You may find their guidance useful also and can find it here:- https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/ But we do know each case is different and it is important that your reasons for changing contact are clear – seek advice beforehand, contact your Domestic Abuse Practitioner or seek legal advice. So I’ll be back on Friday with a bit about our young people – we’ll look at what challenges they may have, what’s out there for them and what you can do to help. See you then!