Estranged parents often attempt to see their child(ren) in school, bring Christmas or birthday presents or otherwise try to gain access to a child. Schools are not obliged to allow this and should always encourage parents to resolve contact issues elsewhere.
The following general guidance may be helpful:
• The interests of the child should always be paramount when deciding whether to accommodate a request from an estranged parent. This includes assessing the risk of damaging the school’s relationship with the primary carer.
• A school should never feel pressurised into making an instant decision and should take the time to seek advice, if in doubt.
• A school should not assume that a court order exists mandating or preventing contact with a child unless it has been provided with a copy – and should be aware that orders can expire or be replaced.
• A school is only obliged to comply with an order if it is properly notified and has received a copy for its files, and only to the extent that it relates to the school. The school has no responsibility for enforcing any court order.
• A school should not release a child before the end of the day to anyone other than a “parent” of the child, without express consent. However, a school cannot be responsible beyond the end of the day once the child leaves the school gates.
• Schools should encourage parents via their prospectus and website to notify them of any changes in marital circumstances, care or collection arrangements or court orders. Periodic reminders via routine newsletters may also be useful.
What to do if:
A parent approaches school, requesting to see a child and / or bearing a gift.
• Direct the parent to the head teacher or a senior member of staff.
• The senior teacher should request proof of ID; if the parent refuses, they should be asked to leave the premises immediately.
• If the parent proves their identity, the senior teacher should nonetheless explain that school is not the appropriate place for contact visits, or the exchange of letters, gifts etc. and advise them to proceed through the primary carer or solicitor.
A parent approaches a child on the way to or from school.
• The school should take full details from the person disclosing the approach.
• The class teacher or other suitable school employee should seek verification from the child involved.
• The school should inform the primary carer and the relevant School Support Services who will follow up the situation, if required.
A parent approaches a child during school hours on school premises.
• If a member of staff sees this happening, they should direct the parent to the head teacher or senior member of staff immediately.
• If the child has been visibly upset by the approach, or if the parent refuses to cooperate, it may be necessary to separate the child and adult and contact a senior member of staff immediately. The adult may then be required to leave the premises, with assistance from the police, if necessary.
• All relevant staff should be aware of children where there may be contact issues.
• Staff should be particularly aware of who can and cannot collect a child from school.
This advice is taken from NAHT's "Pupil and Parent Matters" publication.
Page Published: 01/11/2012