COVID-19 effect on parents involved in care proceedings
The number of urgent Care Proceedings cases in the family courts have remained stable, and even seen a slight rise since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Care proceedings are still being issued, in these already difficult times and are affecting families across the country.
The pressure on parents, who may already have a number of issues to deal with, including mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as money worries are now faced with even more challenging times. School closures means that a lot of parents are now faced with caring for their children twenty-four seven, some whilst trying to undertake their usual working day. Other parents may have been furloughed which means that they have taken a dramatic reduction in wage, causing financial difficulties and also uncertainty about their future employment.
In a recent article Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection stated “Schools are closing. Parents are struggling to care for their children and make ends meet.”
Another factor is that due to the Covid -19 there are limitations on what hearings the court has been able to allow, including face to face hearings. This has meant a delay in some final hearings taking place if witnesses are required to give evidence. This resulting in further delay to parents who are already anxious for the proceedings to conclude and an outcome to be known.
The other major factor since the Covid-19 pandemic is that many solicitors are taking the view that due to the hearings taking place remotely that their clients do not need to attend, however, the court have been very clear that solicitors should “ensure that you provide encouragement and reassurance to your clients to participate in remote hearings, whether phone or video” and also commented that they have “heard a number of cases where lawyers have said that they advised the client there was no reason to attend because they had instructions and would call them afterwards. This is bad practice because the client does not have the opportunity to hear or see very important discussions about their case and the process lacks the transparency and access to justice which is vital in family work”. In fact, interestingly it was also commented “A mother in one of my cases who was listening by phone confirmed she regularly Facetimes/WhatsApp videos and had no issue with being joined on a video hearing. Another parent was enabled to attend a hearing for the first time by using Skype because she had previously felt unable to face the court.”
Nicki Butterworth of Ridley & Hall Solicitors stated that “Just because our office door is closed does not mean we are unable to assist you. We want to assure all current and any new clients that we are open for business and that if they require any assistance that they should contact us via phone on 0800 8 60 62 65”
Other issues which have been caused due to the pandemic is contact. Many parents have been worrying about contact with their children who are either in foster care or staying with family due to ongoing proceedings. We have found that, like the courts, contact has moved online and is via Skype or another form of video link. However, the question remains as to how effective contact can be, especially in particular in relation to babies or very young children, who aren’t able to understand that their parents are now on a screen. This also often means that parents are seeing their children less, are experiencing technology issues which disrupt contact, as well as not being able to maintain the emotional bond they have through face to face contact where affection can be shown. If you are involved in Care Proceedings and feel that your contact is suffering due to the current Covid-19 pandemic and would like to obtain some advice, please contact us.
If you are a parent experiencing Social Services involvement, especially proceedings taking place in court, it is vital that you seek independent legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that you are fully represented. Please call us on 0800 8 60 62 65 or email Nicki Butterworth for further information.