The government has outlined strict instructions for all residents in Northern Ireland. It has made clear that everyone should stay at home as best they are able. For many families, this will be logistically simple. However, what is the advice for parents who are co-parenting? Are you allowed to bring a child to their other parent’s home? Even if it is legal, is it advisable?
This short fact sheet will look at the government’s own advice, as well as academic studies on the importance of seeing both parents.
Firstly, the government has specifically answered the question regarding seeing children in co-parenting arrangements during the crisis.
In short, yes, your child should keep any normal contact arrangements they had before in terms of visiting houses. However, children should not:
- Visit with other family members except where those individuals live with their parent
- Have visitation outside of the home.
Some parents are concerned that they may be doing more harm than good during the pandemic by moving children from house to house. This is understandable, and should a more stringent Wuhan or Italy style lockdown come into place this advice will need to be reviewed. However, it is important for parents to remember that being unable to see a parent has negative outcomes for social and emotional development.
This is a more long-term impact, but even short term absences can cause trauma. A study looking at children of refugees who were separated from their parents cause children to have feelings of anguish, despair, guilt, blame and depression – negative emotions that disrupt how they learn life skills. While you as an adult may understand the logic of changing routines, children may struggle to cope.
A break in the parent-child relationship can cause difficulties in later life. We do not yet know how long the changes to social distancing and isolation will remain. As such, we should strive to maintain parent-child relationships as much as possible during this time of stress. A poor parent-child relationship has a direct connection to the likelihood of later life depression and anxiety.
Remember that this is an extraordinary time, and your child is already likely to experience heighten levels of stress. A disruption to their normal routine – not being able to see their other parent – may be more impactful now than under normal circumstances. Being able to see and spend time with their mother or father can reassure them that they are not in danger. Parents should make extra effort where possible to communicate directly in the current circumstances. Some advice for separated parents during this pandemic are:
- Stay healthy. Limit your own social contact and wash your hands regularly. Your own contact with your child is at risk if you are unwell.
- Be present. Your child will have many questions, and some will be uncomfortable. Listen to their concerns and answer honestly as best you can in an age-appropriate way.
- Meet your obligations. Do not assume that the crisis means normal contact rules do not apply. There is no reason to create extra toxic conflict at the worst possible time.
- Adapt. There will have to be reasonable adjustments and compromises. Try to meet these and remember – this is temporary.
If you are struggling, remember that you can contact Parenting NI on 0808 8010 722.