May 4, 2020

Family Reports during COVID-19


By Amy Bush and Jessica Saidel

What is a family report?

A family report is intended to provide an independent assessment of issues affecting families. They are often useful tools in assisting parties to negotiate appropriate parenting arrangements.

Parties engage in the family report process pursuant to a court order or by agreement. The family report writer usually has a background in social work, psychology or psychiatry, and may be engaged in private practice, or employed by the court. This article will focus on private family reports.

A typical family report involves the family report writer interviewing each of the parents or other persons involved in the children’s care and, depending on their age and maturity, the children. The family report writer may observe the parties interacting with each of the children and may, if appropriate, contact other professionals involved with the children, such as teachers and medical or allied health practitioners. A report is then prepared and provided to the court and considered in determining what parenting arrangements are in the best interests of the children.

COVID-19 has, inevitably, impacted upon the way in which family reports are prepared.

Family reports in the time of COVID-19

Many family report writers are still operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are continuing to conduct in person family reports, with the parties and children attending the family report writer’s office with appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

For those who are unable or uncomfortable to attend in person, a “virtual” family report may be an alternative, with some family report writers offering to conduct interviews by videoconferencing. Before you engage in the family report process, consideration should given as to whether a “virtual” family report is appropriate for you, and for your family.

Is a “virtual” family report for you?

Older children, particularly those in their teens, may be more responsive to the preparation of a family report involving the use of technology. If the family report writer wishes to speak to your children by video-link, it is important your child is given the space to do so in a quiet environment, without other people present.

At the other end of the spectrum, families with infants or toddlers up until the age of about 18 months may also be suitable candidates for virtual family reports. In these cases, the young age of the child and his/her inability to participate in the family report process may lead the family report writer to conclude that an observation with the child is unlikely to impact upon their assessment- often in these cases, it is a matter of assessing how to gradually build the child’s relationship with the non-resident parent, in a way that is sensitive to the physical and emotional needs of the young child and his/her dependency on the primary carer.

Young children, or children who have language difficulties or struggle to focus for extended periods of time, may be less suited to family reports conducted by videoconferencing.

Irrespective of the age of your children, if there are allegations of alienation and/or “coaching”, a family report conducted in person may be more appropriate to ensure your children are free from external influences. Family report writers are also more likely to be able to assess the dynamic between parent and child and identify non-verbal cues and behaviour when observing families in person. However, these concerns should also be considered in the context of the possible delay that may arise from waiting for the availability of an in person report, or for social distancing restrictions to be eased.

If you have any queries or concerns about family reports or your parenting arrangements, Kennedy Partners can assist you navigating your situation.