Service Update Covid-19
During the Covid-19 pandemic NIGALA is continuing to provide a service to children and young people in Northern Ireland.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected how public services are operating during these challenging times. At NIGALA we are following updated guidance from the NI Executive Public Health Agency and the HSC Board and complying with the Covid-19 legislation to prevent the spread of the virus. https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/
Guardians unlike Social Workers do not have a statutory safeguarding role. Guardians role in Court proceedings is to ensure that children and young people have their voices heard, their wishes and feelings reflected, their best interests promoted, an accurate assessment of their circumstances reported and recommendations made to the Court.
During the Covid-19 pandemic in order to comply with public health guidance, Guardians have been engaging with children remotely using technology such as zoom, whatsapp and mobile phone.
As the easement process has progressed, working remotely remains the starting point. In exceptional cases guardians are engaging with children and young people and their parents and carers directly where all technological options have been tried or are not suitable and where there is an imminent court hearing. The criteria for direct engagement with children and young people and their parents and carers are reviewed on an ongoing basis by operational managers.
The Office of the Lord Chief Justice has issued information about the latest phase of the gradual and incremental recovery of court business. The courts are continuing to work with NICTS on the re-opening of courthouses whilst complying with the Executive and Public Health Agency guidance. Information can be accessed on Office of the Lord Chief Justice Update
Family Proceedings Courts have issued a Covid-19 Recovery plan dated 7th August which can be accessed on FPC Recovery Plan
FPC and Domestic courts will recommence (remotely unless otherwise notified), as per the court schedules which are available at https://judiciaryni.uk/coronavirus-covid-19
Courts Normalisation Agenda
Peter Reynolds CEO NIGALA attended a meeting hosted by the Office of the Lord Chief Justice, involving the full range of stakeholders covering family, civil and criminal law. The Lord Chief Justice continues to move on the normalisation agenda with more courts being prepared for face to face hearing . That said, the over-riding priority remains abiding by Health and Safety guidance to ensure everyone’s safety and mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Court activity remains at approximately 40% of what it was pre-covid. The hybrid approach remains in place for the foreseeable future, although as more courts open up, extra days for hearings will be introduced.
The position of NIGALA during the pandemic has been that Guardians participate in court proceedings remotely using technology.
At this stage of the easement process Courts are operating a hybrid approach where some participants in court proceedings attend in person whilst others attend remotely to ensure compliance with social distancing. The current position for guardians is that in those instances where there is an emergency hearing, or a hearing where the outcome will have an impact on decision making for a child/young person , guardians are attending court and giving evidence in person to ensure the child/young person has their voice heard.
These have been very challenging times where we have had to balance maintaining a service to children, young people and their families and not spreading the virus.
We will provide updates should there be any changes to our Covid-19 operations.