Considering Child Safety During COVID19

Despite a shaky and uncertain start for many parents on how shared parenting would take place during COVID19, there is now a clear and concise message from the Government and the Family Court. Co-parenting in the vast majority of cases continues as it has always done. This applies to both court orders and those families who have not attended court but whose children routinely move between homes. 

Court orders are considered ‘essential’ thus facilitating travel for parents. This is particularly important for parents traveling between States where they may be required to show parenting orders to police on the border. Isolation requirements will need to be met by each parent, just as they were doing anyway. 

Child safety is considered to be the primary consideration under Australian family law. As we have never before had to navigate safety regarding a global pandemic, this is new and unchartered territory. However it also gives an opportunity to discuss the broader context of child safety. 

Issues of immediate safety are: 

  1. ensuring a child is not subject to family violence from either parent; and 
  2. long term safety in which a child’s mental health and overall wellbeing is demonstrated to be improved by continuing, ongoing relationships with both their parents. 

During COVID19 given that immediate safety has already been addressed, it is the long term impacts that parents must consider. 

The primary concern many parents have had regarding a child traveling between homes has been a distrust in the other parent to comply with social isolation requirements, including those who may be quarantined after crossing State borders. 

Given the now high priority police and military are placing on monitoring social isolation, noncompliance by any person is becoming a risk in and of itself. The vast majority of people are doing the right thing and abiding by requirements. Those who are not are being issued warnings or infringement notices. This makes the likelihood of noncompliance almost zero, thus removing any level of real risk. 

The Chief Justice of the Family Court, Will Alstergren, issued a media statement clarifying issues around orders.  In an article published by The Australian, Alstergren further implored parents to act sensibly and reasonably.   “Each parent should always consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent … This includes understanding that family members are important to children and the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered.” he said. 

These most certainly are difficult and conflicting times for all Australians and it’s normal that we have elevated fears and concerns during this time. For all of us, being restrained from normal travel and daily interactions with our family and friends is emotionally debilitating. 

For parents who can take a wider perspective in this time,  they will see that children of separated families have an opportunity to move between homes, thus giving them that vital contact they are craving, and which sustains them at a deeper level. These children will have some variety that the rest of us do not. A change of home, minor change in routine, different meals being cooked for them and, most importantly, the company of their other parents and perhaps step families. 

In normal times we take these small things for granted. During the pandemic we are now living, these are big issues that will go a long way towards helping children cope. Their likelihood of suffering long term mental health issues will be reduced and their recovery time improved by having at least some variety. 

In weighing up safety we must consider the long term impacts on a child’s wellbeing. This is demonstrably improved by a meaningful relationship with both their parents. I implore all parents to see this as an opportunity to help their children during this difficult time. Shared care is best for children, even more during this COVID crisis.

Activities for engaging your children online

Often the non-resident parent (be that for a week, or extended period) will report having difficulty in engaging children online. Phone calls, Skype and Facetime are all wonderful ways to interact. But how do you keep them interested?

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that online engagement can be both necessary and sometimes the only means of contact for a long period. This not only applies to separated parents but also Defence personnel on deployment, FIFO parents, etc. It’s hard, but it’s survivable.

Many parents of young children report their children are disinterested or seem distracted. They may have 20 minutes allocated but it’s hard to keep the attention of a small child for that long unless you’re doing an activity with them.

Here are some tips and suggestions I give often to parents of young children. Remember that some activities may be trial and error.

Read a storybook

Just as you used to do at bedtime, children still love for you to read stories to them. Pick a few books and have them nearby. You can turn the pages to face the screen and read as you go. They will probably remember some of the sounds, or words and might even join in.

Make them a gift

Get yourself some craft supplies and while on your Skype call, ask your child for input into what you are making for them. For instance, if you’re making a stick figure doll (paddle pop sticks, glue, coloured cotton wool, buttons) – then invite them to choose the colours, fabric or tools you use to create it. These can all be purchased cheaply at a $2 shop or similar.

When it’s done and if possible, send it to them. Or tell them you’ll keep it in a safe place for when you next see them.

Draw a picture

Using an A4 notepad, ask them a topic of something they like. It might be an animal, a farm, a house – whatever comes to their mind. Invite them to give you feedback as you draw. Which colour green? Where should I put the sun? What’s goes on top of the hill? Are there clouds?

PS. You don’t have to be Picasso! Remember, this is not a test – it’s fun for you and your children.

Play a song

Bring out the smiles with a favourite song from one of their favourite characters, kids bands, or movies. Yeah, you’ll be singing along to Frozen in no time!

If you’re musical, play or sing them something yourself. Just aim to choose a song that is a favourite of theirs.

Play a memory game

Okay, so this isn’t like the cards memory game (although if you’re clever you could try that too. Here’s what I mean:

You start by saying, let’s play a memory game! “I remember the time we went to the Gold Coast on holidays”. Then it’s their turn. “Oh yeah, I remember when we went to movie world!” Your next turn “I remember the day you were born and we were at the hospital” Now, they aren’t going to remember that so prompt them with “What is your next favourite memory” and on it goes.

Write yourself some prompters and have them nearby. It’s okay to talk about the past when you were a family. It’s very positive for them to remember happy times.

Remember….

Children learn through repetition – and they enjoy it! So don’t be afraid to repeat the ones that work the best. You don’t need to reinvent yourself coming up with ideas for every time.

You’re doing your best and that’s fantastic. Every step forward is one less you have to take!

Co-parenting and the COVID19 Crisis

During times of crisis, we tend to react from a base of fear. However, we all react or respond to fear in slightly different ways. And that’s okay.

The important thing in co-parenting during this time is that you recognise there is more than one way to get through this. It’s also likely that you may have different approaches as to what’s best.

The biggest concern of co-parenting through this current coronavirus crisis is if the children can move between homes safely during any future quarantines. And if not, what will happen to existing court orders or parenting agreements. I know some parents are concerned about breaches or being accused of withholding children.

In short, you should follow the government advice or specific advice of your health care professional. If you or your children are diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then the government health advice is that you will be required to stay in isolation.  This may affect your normal co-parenting routine. 

It’s better to be prepared and have this conversation in advance.

Work out what you will do, how you will both manage and you what you will do if the children are disadvantaged in time with the other parent. 

It’s best if you can be flexible, considerate and accomodating. Most of all, be child-focused. 

If being in quarantine is a contravention of existing orders then I recommend the following. 

  1. If you normally communicate directly, email or phone your co-parent and advise them of the current situation. Talk rationally, calmly and sensitively about the situation at hand. Be considerate that this may disrupt their routine and may require a short adjustment period for them to consider. It can be a good idea to flag a conversation with an initial message that says “we might have some disruptions due to the coronavirus. I was wondering if we could talk this through?. Can I call at (time)?”
  2. If you have, or feel you need a lawyer, contact them and ask them to communicate with your co-parents lawyer about the current health status and any anticipated changes in parenting time. 

If you are the parent who is not with your children and the children can not be safely returned to you for your scheduled time, remain calm. These are exceptional circumstances and eventually, life will be returned to normal. 

These are my recommendations

  1. Communicate calmly, openly and with a child-focused approach. 
  2. If quarantined, facilitate FaceTime calls for the children with their other parent.  
  3. Act on specific medical or government advice only.  Do not listen to advice from well-meaning friends or social media. 
  4. Keep each other openly and honestly informed in relation to the health status of yourselves and people the children may have come into contact with. 
  5. Some people who have compromised immunity disorders may be on specific advice to remain in social isolation at this time. This may be extended family such as grandparents.
  6. If you or the children are NOT diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then shared parenting should continue as normal. 

Please remember, we are ALL going through something unusual. Keep calm and keep communication open, honest and sensitive to the fact that we are all dealing with something a little unknown. However, there is no reason to panic. Calm communication is your best tool.

See our parenting after separation course for more tips on improved communication.