Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): child contact services guidance

Published: 5 Mar 2021
Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 - see all updates

Guidance to help child contact centres safely re-open their premises and resume face-to-face services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): child contact services guidance
General principles

General principles 

General

Providers should consider developing and implementing their own policies regarding how child contact services can be carried out as safely as possible.

All individuals accessing the child contact centre, including staff, volunteers, children and parents, child welfare reporters, delivery persons and contractors, should be signposted to the guidance on staying safe and protecting others and advised that they or members of their household should not come to the child contact centre if they are unwell with symptoms of COVID-19.

If the child and parent have an arranged contact session or handover and they have symptoms of COVID-19 the arranged session should not take place at the child contact centre.

We have published further guidance on returning to work safely and further guidance for early learning and childcare services and guidance on school age childcare services, which may be of assistance to providers.

Capacity

Providers should only open for the provision of face-to-face contact services and handovers where they are content that services can take place safely and that appropriate consideration has been given to reducing and avoiding the risk of transmission.

We are not advising a maximum limit on the number of persons that are permitted in child contact centres at any one time, as the size and capacity of individual child contact centres will vary across the sector. However, providers must ensure that the number of persons they allow in their contact centres at one time can be safely accommodated with the appropriate physical distancing in place. This should include users, carers, staff, volunteers and any other visitors, such as child welfare reporters, delivery persons or contractors.

Determination of capacity should take into account total floor space and likely ‘pinch points’ and busy areas, the building design and layout, and the availability of staff and volunteers to help manage the facilitation of services. Providers should decide upon the number of staff and volunteers that can reasonably follow current guidelines for physical distancing within the premises.

The number of visitors should be limited at any one time and access should be restricted to required visitors only.

Providers should consider whether schedules for contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people.

The risk assessment carried out by the provider should identify any points of high risk in the building and any mitigating action.

Physical distancing

The Health Protection (Coronavirus)(Restrictions and Requirements)(Local Levels)(Scotland) Regulations 2020 require a person responsible for providing a service to to ensure, where reasonably practicable, that physical distancing is maintained within their premises. Where the person responsible for the premises contravenes the Regulations, that person commits an offence.

Physical distancing measures will be slowly eased to enable us to operate in a less restricted way.

When areas move down to Level 0, the following changes will apply:

  • physical distancing of 1m in outdoor settings
  • physical distancing of 1m in indoor settings

Physical distancing requirements will be removed when all areas in Scotland move beyond Level 0.

The Regulations also require a person responsible for providing a service to take measures to  minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus on their premises, for example measures which limit close face- to-face interaction and maintain hygiene. 

Child contact centre providers must take action to minimise the potential for spreading COVID-19 and physical distancing measures should be followed by users, staff, volunteers, delivery persons, contractors or other visitors, such as child welfare reporters, within the centre and any outdoor spaces. Physical distancing measures should be in line with latest government advice on Coronavirus in Scotland.

Providers should ensure that, unless they are members of the same household, all adults (including staff, volunteer and parents) and children aged 12 and over should remain one metre apart in the child contact centre. 

Parents and children aged under 12 who are attending the child contact centre to have contact are not required to maintain physical distancing between one another either during their session, or during a handover.

There may be situations where it is not reasonably practicable for staff to maintain the required distance, e.g. where close contact with parent is necessary to facilitate a handover, or provide other support, for a very young child or baby.

Providers should consider the following measures to help ensure physical distancing can be maintained:

  • changing the layout of contact centre rooms, offices and open plan areas, adapting the length of supported and supervised sessions, and staggering start/end times of sessions and handovers
  • staggering any break times for staff or volunteers and making use of any outdoor space for breaks, where possible
  • avoiding the sharing of equipment between staff and allocating staff to a fixed area of the building where possible.  Cleaning desks, equipment and shared spaces between uses by different shifts or groups of staff or by different users of the premises.
  • whether restricting access to certain areas would help to minimise risk
  • implementing one-way systems where possible at entry and exit points (if there is more than one access point) and on walkways around the premises, paying particular attention to pinch points or narrow corridors where physical distancing might be difficult
  • reviewing entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors to maintain physical distancing
  • identifying high risk areas such as ‘pinch-points’ like entrances or stairs where close physical contact is likely and/or obstructions force close physical contact. Taking measures to reduce risk, such as removing obstructions where possible
  • putting in place pick-up and drop-off collection points for deliveries of equipment etc. where possible
  • restricting non-business deliveries such as, for example, personal deliveries to staff or employees
  • providing clear guidance on physical distancing and hygiene expectations to visitors on arrival via signage and visual aids, and before arrival by prior communication. Considering the particular needs of those with protected characteristics, such as those who are visually impaired
  • giving information to regular visitors (e.g. child welfare reporters) on how the centre is operating.  It may be helpful to give a member of staff or volunteer specific responsibility for ensuring that any visitors comply with this guidance 
  • ensuring measures are in place to keep families a minimum of 1 metre apart, where more than one family would usually use a contact room or area, e.g. the use of physical barriers and screens
  • using baffle boards or screens at the front of reception desks
  • ensuring physical barriers, baffle boards or screens provide adequate coverage and are cleaned regularly
  • marking areas using floor tape or paint to help people maintain physical distance, e.g. using floor markings for common areas such as toilets
  • ensuring signage does not cause any unintended impacts on disabled people or people with caring responsibilities. Signage should be clear and easy to understand, using visual material to reinforce messages
  • ensuring any physical distancing measures still allow for hygiene measures to be implemented
  • ensuring any lifts are  only used by disabled people; for essential purposes; or on a one person per lift basis where possible. Providers must make sure that disabled people are able to access lifts
  • ensuring staff and children wash hands where handover involves very young children and it has not been possible to maintain physical distancing
  • whether to permit parents into the building for handover. If a handover is taking place indoors, time indoors should be kept to a minimum. At Level 4 handovers should be facilitated outdoors wherever possible, unless for reasons of safety it is necessary for it to take place indoors.
  • ensuring that supervised contact takes place in a room or area that is sufficient in size to maintain physical distancing between users and the member of staff who is supervising, and any child welfare reporter who is observing
  • meeting the individual needs of families where children have complex needs or disabilities when considering physical distancing measures
  • whether alternatives to face-to-face services (e.g. online contact or conducting intake meetings and assessments online or by telephone) can be used for particularly vulnerable users
  • revising visitor arrangements to ensure physical distancing and hygiene:  for example, avoid using the same pen for visitors to use when signing in at reception areas

Gatherings

The Health Protection (Coronavirus)(Restrictions and Requirements)(Local Levels)(Scotland) Regulations 2020 restrict public gatherings outdoors and indoors (including child contact centres) at all protection levels, subject to limited exemptions.

One of the exemptions is where the purpose of the gathering is to facilitate shared parenting arrangements. This would include child contact arrangements. 

There is also an exemption for the purpose of work or providing voluntary or charitable services.

Find out more about the protection levels and restrictions.

Home working

Providers should consider if it is possible for some tasks (e.g. some preparatory work) to be carried out from home.  Across the protection levels people are advised to work from home where that is practicable.

To work or provide voluntary or charitable services is one of the examples of an exception under the protection level  restrictions, where it is not possible for the person to do so from home. Work should only therefore be carried out within the child contact centres in Level 4 areas where it is not possible to do so remotely, for example, when facilitating an essential in person contact session.

Meetings

If staff and volunteers hold meetings (eg to discuss the operation of the child contact centre when users are not present or where services are being provided remotely to people who cannot physically attend the centre):

  • use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings or interactions wherever possible
  • only essential participants should physically attend meetings and must maintain physical distancing throughout
  • hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms wherever possible
  • provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms and discourage use of shared equipment such as pens, whiteboards, etc.

Using outdoor spaces

Evidence suggests that outdoor environments can limit transmission, as well as more easily allowing for appropriate physical distancing.  Providers should consider how they can safely maximise the use of outdoor space if this is available.

Where providers have access to an outdoor area or garden, they should try to use this space as much as possible, but only where it is safe for contact services to take place outdoors. If outdoor equipment is being used, providers should ensure that appropriate cleaning measures are in place.

At Level 4 handovers should be facilitated outdoors wherever possible, provided it is safe to do so.

Face coverings

Face coverings should be used in line with our guidance on the use of face coverings, but do not require to be worn by children aged under 5.

The  Health Protection (Coronavirus)(Restrictions and Requirements)(Local Levels)(Scotland) Regulations 2020 do not specifically make it mandatory to use a face covering in child contact centres (although they are mandatory in community centres), but do require use in indoor communal areas where there are no measures in place to keep persons separated.

Providers should advise parents and children aged 5 or over, who are not otherwise exempt, to wear a face covering inside the contact centre at times when there is a risk of close contact with people who are not members of the same household , e.g. when entering and leaving the centre and when in communal areas.  

However, during a contact session the parent and child (of any age) are not required to wear a face covering, unless they wish to do so.

Providers should inform users and visitors that they should be prepared to remove any face coverings if asked to do so for the purposes of identification.

Maintaining good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective things we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.


Contact

Any suggestions for improvements to this guidance should be sent to: family.law@gov.scot

First published: 5 Mar 2021 Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 -