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Can a child be screened and assessed for Coronavirus without reference to a parent?

Children’s Commissioner receives clarification from DfE and DHSC

When the Coronavirus Act 2020 was published, the Children's Commissioner for England wrote to the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to seek clarity on a number of points related to the safeguarding of children. One of the questions sought clarity on Schedule 21 of the Act and the nature and range of the powers given to Public Health Officers to deal with an "infectious person"; specifically could they remove a child to a place to be tested and assessed without reference to a parent for 14 days.

On 9 August 2020 the Children's Commissioner became aware of social media posts surrounding this issue quoting the CC's letter of four months ago. For that letter, click here.

In light of the social media posts that appeared in August 2020 the CC sought further clarification on the nature of the question posed in many of those posts. The DfE and DHSC has now confirmed that a parent, carer or legal guardian has to be present for a screening to take place under these powers. They also stated that:

"It is not true that Public Health Officers have the power to screen and assess without a parent or carer present. This power can only be exercised in the presence of an individual with responsibility for the child. The responsible adult under Schedule 21 is a person with parental responsibility for the child within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 or a person who has custody or charge of the child for the time being.

"In the extremely rare case that 1) these powers are being used and 2) the even rarer case that a child does not have a parent, carer or legal guardian, a Public Health Officer can decide who is the most appropriate adult to be present for a screening. At no point will a child be screened without the most appropriate adult present.

"Public Health Officers will make the appropriate assessment and restrictions will be placed accordingly. Under these powers they could be asked to self-isolate with their families at home for up to 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus if they are not voluntarily complying with the public health advice. If the individual is unable to self-isolate at home this will need to be discussed with the Public Health Officer and alternatives discussed.

"If the guardian/parent feels that restrictions imposed on the child is unfair, he or she will be able to proceed with the right to appeal to the magistrates' court."

The Children's Commissioner has also provided publicly available guidance to Public Health Officers, written after clarifications were sought in March 2020, on the exercising of these powers under the Act.

For more details, click here and scroll to the update of 12 August 2020.

16/8/20