LEGAL EAGLE: Separated parents and how to decide on child’s Covid jab
Today we offer advice to separated parents to come to the best conclusions for their children over medical debates, such as taking the Covid-19 vaccination.
Tilly Bailey & Irvine’s Family Law Solicitors in Hartlepool offer advice to separated parents to come to the best conclusions for your children over medical debates, such as taking the Covid-19 vaccination.
Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 defines Parental Responsibility as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. Parental responsibility generally allows all persons with parental responsibility to make day-to-day decisions for their child without the need to consult the other parent. This may include, for example, what the child will have for lunch, clothing the child, activities for the day and the list goes on.
However, there are certain decisions in respect of a child which should not be made without consulting all other persons with parental responsibility (this is generally just the other parent) such as decisions relating to education, changing the child’s name, decisions pertaining to religion and, most poignantly for the purposes of this post, whether the child should or should not receive medical treatment.
At today’s date, almost 30 million UK citizens have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Whilst the government are yet to provide a date as to when they anticipate to make the vaccine available to children, some parents may be starting to feel uneasy as to what their position would be if they do not feel the vaccine is appropriate for their child, particularly where the other parent is keen for the child to be vaccinated. A vaccine is medical treatment and persons with parental responsibility for the child must, therefore, consult and discuss the vaccination with one another.
Naturally, if parents are of opposing views, it is always best to be open and honest with one another and voice any concerns in hope that the matter can be resolved swiftly and amicably.
If parents cannot reach an agreement as to the best course of action, the dispute can be resolved by way of an application for a Specific Issue Order, pursuant to section 8 of the Children Act 1989, which requires the family court to determine the issue in dispute i.e. whether the child should be vaccinated. When considering the application, the court must always treat the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration and, to enable them to do so, will bear reference to factors such as the needs of the child, age, sex, background of the child, any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering among other factors found within the welfare checklist in the Children Act 1989.
Given that Covid-19 vaccinations are still relatively new and the research in respect of the vaccination in children is extremely limited, it is uncertain as to how the court will approach issues such as this. In the recent case of M v H (private law vaccination) , the father’s application was initially concerned with the MMR vaccine, however, as the case progressed the court considered other childhood vaccinations included on the NHS vaccination schedule and, ultimately, the Covid-19 vaccine.
Whilst the court was unable to determine the specific issue in respect of the Covid-19 vaccine, due to the limited information available as to the effect the vaccine would have on children, the Judge helpfully stated that ‘it is very difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in children would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child's best interests’ which will most likely set a direction for Covid-19 vaccination cases in future.