Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): child contact services guidance

Published: 5 Mar 2021
Last updated: 5 Mar 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.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): child contact services guidance
Overview and purpose

Overview and purpose

On 2 November 2020 Scotland moved to a system of 5 protection levels. These set out measures that can be applied nationally or locally depending on the prevalence of the virus across Scotland. This approach is set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s strategic framework. Find out the protection level for your area.

On 5 January 2021 areas of Scotland within Level 4 moved to enhanced restrictions, akin to a lockdown, with guidance to stay at home except for essential purposes. Child contact centres in Level 4 areas, except for those provided by local authorities, were required to close with  an exception for handovers to be able to continue.

As part of the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions child contact centres in Level 4 areas are not required to remain closed. However, in order to help suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, providers are advised to provide only essential contact services in person at Level 4. During this time providers should offer their contact services online where possible, or by telephone.  Handover services can be provided at Level 4, but should be facilitated outdoors wherever possible.

This guidance is for child contact centre providers who are providing face-to-face services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions. This guidance is also for those providers who are preparing to reopen.

Child contact centres are safe venues for parents, and other people in the child’s life, to establish or maintain conflict-free relationships with their children. For the avoidance of any doubt, this guidance is not about centres designed specifically for contact tracing in relation to children in the context of COVID-19. This guidance is for child contact centres that deal primarily with separated parents and families who are referred in private law cases. 

Child contact centres offer a mixture of supported and supervised contact. Supported contact is where centres only provide the facilities for the contact and record that the contact took place and not details of how it went. Supervised contact is where contact takes place in the constant presence of an independent person who observes and ensures the safety of those involved.

Child contact centres also provide a handover service where one parent brings the child to be collected by the other parent. This means that the parents do not have to see each other during the handover.

The guidance is not an instruction to any child contact centre to reopen at a particular time, since this will very much depend on the individual requirements of each centre. 

This guidance will be kept under review and updated as necessary taking account of any further scientific or medical advice. It does not constitute legal advice. Please ensure that you are reviewing the latest version of this guidance and other covid guidance.

Purpose of this guidance

The aim of this guidance is to provide clarity on what is expected with regard to practical approaches to reopening of child contact centres and continuing to provide services during the pandemic. It is intended to assist child contact service providers, staff and volunteers, and their users, where they provide face-to-face contact services in their centres.

The guidance will provide key principles for consideration and is not intended to promote a checklist approach. Providers should exercise their judgement to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of their staff, children and families is paramount, taking account of local circumstances and the overall recommendation to reduce to a minimum the overall number of direct contacts to continue suppression of the coronavirus.

The key aim of this guidance is to ensure that for all child contact centre users the risk of exposure is minimised, including for those who are employed or volunteer at the centre; for children and parents using the centre; and for other visitors such as, for example, child welfare reporters and delivery persons or contractors.

This guidance does not set out how child contact services should be provided, as this will be a decision for individual providers and will vary between providers.  The relevant child contact centre provider should be contacted for further information on the specific services offered at their centre.

This guidance applies to those child contact centres that deal primarily with separated parents and families who are referred in private law cases, for example, where contact is ordered at a contact centre by the courts or where a referral is made to a contact centre by a solicitor on their client’s behalf. The guidance is not intended to apply to other types of child contact centre, for example, those run by local authorities for use in public law cases involving looked after children. There is separate guidance for family contact for looked after children and young people.

Child contact centre services are distinct from early learning or childcare services. There is separate guidance that should be followed on reopening of early learning and childcare services.

This guidance is not exhaustive and providers must continue to operate within the relevant legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure the health and wellbeing of children and parents while they are using their service. Measures put in place to comply with this guidance must not contravene health and safety or other legislation: for example, fire doors must not be left ajar to increase ventilation.

Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of providers with regard to health and safety and public health advice. Providers must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance.

Definitions

Child contact centre

Child contact centres are safe venues for parents, and other people in the child’s life, to establish or maintain conflict-free relationships with their children. A child contact centre is any premises in Scotland at which face to face child contact services are provided. For the purpose of this guidance a child contact centre is a place that deals primarily with separated parents and families who are referred in private law cases. 

Child contact services

Child contact services are provided by child contact centre providers. These services include supervised contact, supported contact and handover services. Providers may as necessary also provide services that are not face to face, for example, online contact sessions or “letterbox” services.

Child contact service providers

The person or persons responsible for the provision of child contact services and management and operation of a child contact centre for the purpose of providing such services.

The provider will have discretion over when they consider it appropriate to open the child contact centre. The provider should decide to remain closed for the purpose of providing child contact services if they consider they are not yet able to adhere to the guidelines outlined below.

Contact centre user

Individuals, including children, parents and other adults who use child contact centres to participate in child contact services.

Parent

Where this guidance refers to parents, this includes carers or family members who may be involved with children attending the child contact centre. 

Where this guidance states that providers: 

  • “must” do something, there is an expectation that it is done
  • “should” do something, this is strongly advised
  • “may” or “may wish” to do something, this is optional

Other guidance

This guidance has been published alongside sector specific and other guidance, which should be used together to ensure public safety. These include:

Child contact centre providers, their staff and volunteers must make themselves familiar with COVID-19 advice available from Health Protection Scotland (HPS). It is important that the most up-to-date guidance is used and that managers, staff and volunteers are knowledgeable about current guidance. Always access guidance online wherever possible and check regularly for any updated advice.

This guidance remains under review and may be updated.


Contact

Any suggestions for improvements to this guidance should be sent to: Family_Law_{Justice}@gov.scot

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