I have to appear at court for care and protection matters. What’s happening with court appearances in New South Wales Children’s Courts?
My children are in care. How does Covid-19 affect me and my kids?
There are some questions below that parents have asked FISH and other family advocates about Covid-19. They come from parents, family, and children in New South Wales but they may help families in other states.
Last update: 20 January 2022
The most important thing is always your child’s safety and well being.
Read statements from the Family Inclusion Network of Australia (FIN A) to advocate for the rights of children in care and their families during COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 make it unsafe or against the rules for me to see my children face-to-face?
How do I reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19?
There are some simple steps we can all take to protect ourselves. Practice this yourself and talk to your children about doing this.
- regularly clean our hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol.
- cough or sneeze into our elbow, or cover with a tissue
- avoid close contact with people who are ill
- avoid touching our eyes, nose and mouth
- stay home if we are sick.
My children are in long term care and the agency worker says face-to-face visits with my children must stop. I think it’s important for the children to keep seeing family and they want to see us. What can I do?
Ask for the reasons why and listen carefully. If you still feel that face-to-face time should happen, suggest ways it could happen (see ideas below and the safe practices promoted by the NSW government).
It may help to ask for a meeting to talk through how to make face-to-face time as safe as possible.
When you are talking to others about seeing your children, always use words and language that are “child focused” – this means your questions and concerns are about what children need and want, not what you or other adults need and want. Maybe ask the worker, ‘please explain how your decision is the best thing for my child?’ – ask them to include examples and evidence specific to your child.
Being child-focused also means pointing out things like:
- Continuing family time is important, especially in a crisis like this and when there is heightened anxiety.
- It can be traumatic for children if we stop or interrupt family time and parent-child contact.
- Everyone in a child’s life should be committed to continuing meaningful and frequent family time.
The agency and the carer just insist there be no face-to-face contact during COVID-19. They don’t explain why. What can I do?
It is reasonable to expect an agency to explain their reasons to you. It doesn’t mean you will agree with them. Check with them that it is a decision specific to your children, not a blanket decision across all children and families.
Point out that carers are encouraged by DCJ (FACS) to consider face-to-face visits and ways they can happen and be managed. Outline your ideas for making face-to-face visits safe (see ideas below).
Suggest a meeting (over the phone or by video call is most likely) and be ready to negotiate. You might not get everything you want but you might get some of it. Always be child-focused.
If you don’t make progress, seek legal advice. If you don’t have your own lawyer, call the Law Access Line on 1300 888 529.
I want to keep seeing my kids face-to-face. What can I do to increase my chances of continuing face-to-face visits?
There is a lot you can do. Make sure the agency and the carer know that you are willing to follow the NSW Government rules, such as, social distancing and hygiene.
We also suggest you offer to do the following:
- Ask: What can I do to help make it safe for my kids to see family face-to-face during COVID-19?
- Describe how you will make sure hygiene rules are followed before, during, and after face-to-face time with your child.
- Provide details of the activities you will do during the visit. Try to include exercise and other physical activities in your plans to show how you can support your child’s health and physical development. Check out this link for ideas on keeping kids active – face-to-face and online.
- Offer to limit the number of people spending face-to-face time with your child to only those people who are most important to your child and keep those numbers as low as possible. To do this, you may need to ask for assistance with travel to meet your child in a location away form home if there are a more people there.
- If you don’t normally have a supervisor present, think about suggesting this to help reassure the agency that you will be as careful as possible. Think about asking if a family member can supervise and support you during the visit to help with agency resources. If this happens make sure you agree on an end date for the supervised arrangements so they are limited to COVID-19 restrictions.
- Suggest face-to-face time happen at a safe venue that the agency can choose or have the visit in the outdoors somewhere where fresh air makes things safer.
- Tell them you are happy to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before face-to-face time happens, such as, having your temperature taken. Symptoms and testing (NSW Health)
- If you normally take toys, food, and other things to visits, you could suggest that you won’t do this if there are safety concerns.
Again, be child-focused – ask and consider – What does my child person need? How do restrictions help and support them? What are ways of managing the spread of infection that also keep my child connected to their family and community?
My children are coming home soon. Can I still see them face-to-face?
If your children are coming home soon (restoration/reunification), face-to-face contact should continue unless there are strong reasons not to (see above). Seeing your children in person is likely to be part of the court order and/or the care plan before the court.
If the agency says you can’t see your children and none of the circumstances in question 1 apply, talk to your lawyer about this as soon as you can, and negotiate ways of staying in touch with your children.
Also, talk to the caseworker about other court-ordered or DCJ-required services and programs that are in plans related to your child’s return, e.g., your child’s case plan, the care plan, your family action plan, any restoration transition plans. They may not be available because providers and agencies have changed or stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that this is viewed as entirely about COVID-19 and not as your choice not to meet expectations which could be used to interrupt plans for your child’s return.
Point out the importance of the agency, caseworker, and carer making every effort to reunify you and your children.
If I can’t see my kids face-to-face how can I keep in touch with them?
There is a lot you can do to keep your relationship strong when your children are not allowed to see you.
- You can talk on the phone, use social media, FaceTime, or other forms of technology.
- You can write letters and cards.
- Your children can share artwork with you.
If you usually talk to your children by phone or video, ask the carer if you can contact your children more often.
If you are usually limited in how often you can contact your children, negotiate with the carer or caseworker to increase how much you can contact your children.
Here are some links to examples of things you can do to stay in touch with your children:
Tips for using video chats for family time (Research Centre for Children and Families, Sydney Uni)
Virtual trekking (virtual tours of places, e.g., national parks)
Talks to watch with kids (TED talks)
If you don’t have enough mobile data or internet access to stay in touch with your children,
ask your children’s caseworker to help out.
I’m worried about my children and they are worried about their family. How can I be sure they are safe?
Keep in touch with your children as much as you can. Reassure them you are okay and that everything will be okay, and that COVID-19 pandemic will pass, and things will get better. The good news is that children are unlikely to get very sick from COVID-19.
Ask the carer and caseworker how they are keeping your children safe. Ask them for regular updates about how your children are going. Keep the agency and carer updated about you and others in the child’s network and any health concerns linked to COVID-19.
Tell the agency and the carer about resources for your children to help them cope with stress and anxiety. See inks below for supporting and talking to children.
How can I support my children during the COVID-19 crisis?
Always stay calm when talking to your children about COVID-19 and reassure them. You can still be worried about it yourself but need to be calm for them.
If your children are not allowed to see you face-to-face ask your children what they understand about the reasons. This helps make sure they are clear that it is about COVID-19 and not your choice not to see them. It also helps to start a conversation to reassure them about COVID-19, what they think about it. You can also talk to them about what their life is like for the moment – like how their activities have changed, what their friends are doing, how they are catching up with friends.
These links have a range of ideas for you and other adults to support and talk to your children:
Coronavirus: Talking with children and young people (NSW DCJ/FACS)
Supporting children during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (Emerging Minds)
Staying Connected With Our Children (Australian Childhood Foundation)
Talking with children about physical distancing and self-isolation (Raisingchildren.net.au)
Where can I get support?
Check out different supports and services on our page: Help for Parents
If you live in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, you can:
Call our peer support line on 1300 942 598
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Send us a Facebook message at https://www.facebook.com/familyinclusionhunter/
Financial support: see NSW Government
Domestic violence support:
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is a confidential information, counselling and support service
- NSW Domestic Violence Line (1800 65 64 63) is a statewide telephone crisis counselling and referral service for women
- Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) provide telephone counselling, information and referrals for men
- Link2Home (1800 152 152) can help refer women experiencing domestic violence to crisis accommodation
- Lifeline (13 11 14) is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Mental Health and Safety (NSW Health)
What’s being said by courts and government departments I might be involved with?
We have listed some information and links about the main agencies you and your children might be involved with. There is a lot of information from different places – if you are unsure contact your caseworker/case manager or someone else at the agency.
What the NSW Government is saying
What the Children’s Court is saying
You should not attend court in-person. You may be able to participate with your lawyer remotely – via phone or video – ask your lawyer about this.
The Children’s Court remains open, it is just operating differently. While most hearings will not go ahead, directions lists and urgent applications will continue to be dealt with.
Judicial officers are dealing with cases by phone or video conference where possible.
NSW Children’s Court COVID-19 information
NSW Children’s Court Care and Protection jurisdiction
Other court information from NSW Government
What DCJ (FACS) is saying
Child and Family Services (scroll through the page for different groups)
Section: Information for birth families
Includes DCJ answers to questions about family visits (contact) with your child.
Section: Information for carers This may be helpful to see what your children’s carers are being told and to check that they are doing what is expected. There is more COVID-19 information for carers via this link, including, ‘What do I do about family time (contact)?’
What NSW Health is saying
Main page for COVID-19 information