Childcare during lockdown

Childcare during lockdown continues to be an issue for many parents who are doing their best to juggle government guidance with their family circumstances. The recent news stories surrounding Dominic Cummings, one of the senior advisors to the government during this COVID-19 crisis, has raised a number of questions regarding what parents can or cannot do during lockdown with their child.

Dominic Cummings is accused of breaking the government guidance by not isolating at home when his wife displayed symptoms of coronavirus but instead taking the family including his 4 year old son 260 miles across the country so the family could isolate near his parents. His most recent statement on Monday 25 May clarified his decision by saying he did this in order to ensure that should he or his wife become too sick to care for their son he could be cared for by his grandparents or other family members. He made it clear he did not physically interact with his family during the lockdown period.

There are a lot of parents and families up and down the country who are angry over this story, as many have suffered with COVID-19 and still had to care for children without assistance from family because they have adhered to the government guidance.

The official guidance published by the government in March says “it is very important that individuals with symptoms that may be due to coronavirus and their household members stay at home”. This still applies and has not changed despite the easing of lockdown measures.

Parents are still being encouraged to follow this and self isolate at home with their children if anyone in the household is displaying symptoms.

However, the guidance does recognise that if parents become ill and cannot look after children they may need help. The deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, clarified who could look after a child if both parents or carers were incapacitated.

She said: “Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance and if the individuals do not have access to care support – formal care support – or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs.”

The government says that those with no one to help with getting food, prescriptions or other essentials, could get support from NHS volunteers, or should contact their local council.

Whether or not Dominic Cummings should now resign from his post for breaking lockdown rules is a debate which will no doubt rage on. The important message for parents is that the safety and well-being of children is paramount and if there is a risk of a parent becoming incapacitated, help should be sought from an appropriate source.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

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