Coronavirus Act: can children be detained without parental consent?
Concerns have been raised about children being forced out of school under the Coronavirus Act. The Reuters Fact Check team digs into the detail and gives their verdict.
Over 80,000 social media users have been sharing social media posts directed at parents that claim children can be taken out of school to be tested for the new coronavirus and detained for 14 days without parental consent or knowledge. This claim is false. The UK government has confirmed to the Children’s Commissioner that the Public Health Officer’s power to screen, assess, isolate or detain under the Coronavirus Act 2020 can only be exercised in the presence of a parent, carer or legal guardian.
Coronavirus Act 2020: fact checking social media posts
The first post is addressed to parents (here , here) and presents a hypothetical scenario the users say is possible under the Coronavirus Act 2020: “Headteacher: sorry we have had to take your child to a testing centre as they were showing symptoms of corona (that means they could have a cold, a temperature, a cough) [...] I can assure you your child is in safe hands in the mean time [sic] you need to self isolate with your family for 14 days [...] I’m sorry but under the new covid act we have the power to remove your child without your consent if we feel the [sic] have symptoms.”
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The second set of posts (here , here), also addressed to parents, say that children can be taken out of school, tested and detained for 14 days without parents’ or carers’ knowledge or consent. These posts are accompanied by a screenshot of a real letter written in March 2020 by the Children’s Commissioner to the Department for Education about the Coronavirus Act (here).
In response to the letter, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “Public Health Official’s power to screen and assess (under Paragraph 10) and isolate/detain (under Paragraph 14) can only be exercised in the presence of an individual with responsibility for the child or, if no such individual is present, in the presence of an adult that a Public Health Official considers to be appropriate having regard to the views of the child” (here).
Following the appearance of posts on social media, such as those referenced in this article, the office of the Children’s Commissioner said it had sought further clarification.
The office said: “We have had confirmation from the DfE and DHSC that a parent, carer or legal guardian has to be present for a screening to take place under these powers.”
The Children’s Commissioner said the government departments contacted had explained further who could constitute a responsible adult.
“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.”
The departments said public health officers could decide restrictions were necessary and ask for children to self-isolate with their families at home for up to 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus. If self-isolation at home is not possible, the public health officer would need to seek alternatives.
The government departments also said parents or guardians who feel any restrictions imposed on a child are unfair would have the right to appeal to a magistrate’s court.
The full Coronavirus Act 2020, including Schedule 21 Paragraph 18, where the rules regarding children are described out can be seen (here).
False. The government has confirmed that a parent, carer or legal guardian must be present for a public health officer to screen, assess, isolate or detain a child.
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