New guidance for residential care settings

The government has issued new guidance for residential care settings including education settings.

Who this guidance is for

This guidance is to support the management of children and young people living in:

  • children’s homes
  • residential special schools and colleges
  • other further education (FE) providers with residential accommodation
  • mainstream boarding schools
  • university halls of residence.

You will find advice on managing isolation for individuals or groups, in the event that a child, young person or staff member either shows symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), or is confirmed as having the disease.

Symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are a high temperature (37.8 degrees Celsius or above) or a new, continuous cough.

Public Health England (PHE) have provided a suite of guidance to support people in making decisions related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education announced on 18 March 2020 that educational settings are closing with effect from 20 March 2020, except for vulnerable children and the children of workers critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. Consequently, residential special schools, boarding schools and FE and higher education (HE) halls may need to remain open if that is possible.

General guidance for all residential educational settings

Residential children’s homes, special schools and colleges, other residential FE provision, and mainstream boarding schools, are usually considered households for the purposes of the household self-isolation policy. Meaning, the setting should self-isolate if a resident shows symptoms.

These households, in contrast with other households, will almost always need to have staff and other professionals arriving and leaving during the period of self-isolation. We also recognise that these households, some of which care for some of the most vulnerable children and young people, will also need to review visiting guidelines including appropriate risk assessments.

Careful infection control measures should be followed during and after visits, as any self-isolating household would do if they had unavoidable visitors.

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These infection control measures would apply to:

  • staff in the home, school or college
  • social workers
  • police investigating child protection
  • clinicians providing healthcare
  • any visiting professionals
  • any other visitors

The approach to self-isolation will depend on the physical layout of the residential educational setting and staffing arrangements.

It is important to decide whether the whole setting should be treated as a single household or as multiple households. For example, where residential provision is spread across several, separate buildings, you may wish to treat these as different households.

Staff ratios must be maintained at a safe level to protect children and young people.

Children’s homes, and special schools and colleges, should assess staffing levels on a daily basis and liaise with families and local authorities and commissioners where there is a risk of staffing shortages.

Staff who are non-resident, visiting, or partially-resident, and travel between an affected setting and their own home, will need to apply careful infection control. Staff who are well should avoid close contact with people showing symptoms wherever possible and should practise social distancing and ensure frequent hand washing.

Where possible, children’s homes, schools and FE providers should operate a consistent staff rota to minimise the risk of transmission. However, we acknowledge this will not be possible in all circumstances.

Supporting children and young people in children’s homes and residential special schools and colleges during self-isolation will be a complex task. Consideration should be given to the needs of the entire household and to individual children’s and young people’s needs, working closely with parents and carers where appropriate. Where the home, school or college is not located in the child’s or young person’s ‘home’ local authority, the two local authorities should liaise to ensure no child or young person is unsupported.

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Children's Residential Children's Homes Coronavirus Policy

How staff identified within the clinically vulnerable group should be managed if there is an outbreak

A typical settings are staffed by a wide range of people and some may be more vulnerable, for example, because they have an underlying health condition. The government has advised those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly careful in following social distancing measures.

Any staff member with symptoms of coronavirus should cease working immediately and self isolate.

Staff not in one of the more vulnerable health groups can continue to work as normal.

Staff whose health makes them extremely vulnerable should be advised not to attend. These people will have received a letter from the NHS warning them that their health makes them particularly at risk.

For staff with an underlying health condition, settings should make a risk assessment based on their personal circumstances and the roles they play within the setting. Many will be able to work normally. If someone in the setting is showing symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), staff with an underlying health condition should be redeployed to work in roles which mean that they are not in contact with potential coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

Staff with a serious (very high risk) underlying health condition should be advised not to attend. These people will shortly receive a letter from NHS England advising them that their health makes them particularly at risk and that they should be ‘shielded’ from infection.

All staff should ensure that they follow social distancing guidance, wash their hands frequently, sneeze or cough into a tissue and self-isolate if they or a member of their household becomes ill.

Children’s social care

If social workers or police need to visit and investigate child protection concerns, such professionals should be admitted to the home while observing appropriate infection control procedures.

If a child in a residential care home develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19):

  • staff can continue to enter and leave the home as required – however, consistent staff rotas should be used where possible and staff should follow infection control procedures
  • other residents in the home should remain in isolation and not attend any off-site school for 14 days, following the guidance for households

Special schools and special colleges

All residential special schools and colleges, jointly with local authorities, and taking into account parents’ views, should assess the risk, both for the individual institution and for the individual pupil/student, in deciding how to apply this guidance most effectively. This is likely to include working with the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team and the clinical commissioning group (CCG).

It is important to maintain safe staff ratios, particularly for those pupils or students whose needs mean they are safer remaining in the setting than returning home. If necessary, the setting should work with the local authority to draft in staff from other settings rather than close. This could include deploying staff from mainstream schools and colleges, or other special schools and colleges that are not remaining open. Staffing should be prioritised towards the most vulnerable pupils and students, particularly those in residential provision. Where settings cannot remain open safely, they should aim to make closures temporary and reopen once they have drafted in additional staff. Local authorities must help with these staff movements and should, as far as possible, disregard the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other institution type to move appropriate staff into priority settings.

Managers of residential settings should speak to parents and carers to establish views on whether the child or young person should return home for the period of self-isolation or should remain at their setting. They should do this pre-emptively, rather than waiting until someone shows symptoms. Where possible, the risk assessment should also include consideration of the impact on the pupil/student from the disruption of their usual staff relationships and routines.

The decision on whether a child or young person self-isolates at their residential educational setting, or at their family home, should be taken in light of each risk assessment, but it is expected that the majority of pupils and students will benefit more from self-isolating at their setting, so that their usual support can continue.

This could include when:

  • there is no suitable family home to return to
  • the health services they need cannot be supplied at home
  • the pupil or student would otherwise be significantly disadvantaged by the change

Some pupils and students will benefit more from self-isolating at their family home and should only return home if they are able to do so without using public transport. On returning home, the household should begin a period of whole household isolation for 14 days following PHE guidance.

Necessary health and therapy support (including access to medical supplies) should continue to be provided if the child or young person returns to their family home. The local authority will need to establish whether there are any safeguarding concerns if the child or young person returns to their family setting.

Residential educational settings must make sure that the local authority responsible for placing the child or young person is aware that they are returning to their family setting, to make sure there is continuity in necessary services.

The family households to which these children and young people return are more likely than other households to need contact with non-household members, for example clinicians providing health services to the child or young person, so should follow infection control guidelines particularly closely. Should a child or young person return to their family home, this should not be considered an unauthorised absence, assuming they return after the self-isolation ends.

Local authorities should maintain a register of all pupils and students with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, including any still under assessment for EHC plans, who have been sent home from their residential educational setting. The local authority should also contact the family frequently as part of its monitoring duties to ensure risks are being managed, and to establish whether additional support is necessary and how that will be delivered.

For term-time residential pupils and students deemed as high risk, for example those with a chronic condition, self-isolation may need to be at their residential educational setting during term time and in the family home during the holiday period. Moving between these locations in this way should be allowed. If children have returned home, for example over a holiday period, and they come into contact with someone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), or display symptoms themselves, then they must not return to the residential educational setting, and must self-isolate at home in line with PHE guidance.

Boarding schools, and mainstream FE college residential provision for students under the age of 18

If a pupil or student in a boarding school or FE residential college presents symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), the residential facility at the setting will need to remain open for the period of self-isolation. As far as possible, the setting should ensure pupils are looked after by residential staff.

Where this is not possible, and staff need to leave and enter the residential facility, the school or the manager of the accommodation should operate a consistent staff rota to minimise the risk of transmission. Settings will need to ensure that the arrangements for oversight of pupils in isolation protects the safety and welfare of children and staff.

If a pupil or student presents symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), the setting will need to identify the appropriate grouping to self-isolate, whether that is an individual in a single room or children in multi-occupancy dormitories. The setting should self-isolate all those pupils or students for 14 days in the grouping that shares a room and/or bathroom facilities, following the PHE guidance for households.

The setting will need to put in place arrangements to bring meals and other essential commodities to the areas where self-isolation is occurring.

In exceptional cases, some pupils or students may benefit more from self-isolating at their family home, although not all will be able to return home, for example international students with no family resident in the UK. Settings should discuss these arrangements with the relevant parent or carer.

If children have returned home, for example over a holiday period, and they come into contact with someone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), or display symptoms themselves, then they must not return to the residential educational setting, and must self-isolate at home in line with PHE guidance.

University or college halls of residence for students aged 18 or over

For students with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) in halls of residence

Students in halls of residence who develop symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should self-isolate in their current accommodation for 7 days, unless it is not possible to do so. Wherever possible, universities or colleges should offer their support to facilitate this. Students should discuss this with their university or college, and also with the manager of their halls if they are privately owned.

Staying at home for a prolonged period can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people. It can be particularly challenging if there is limited space or no access to a garden.

It is important to take care of mental as well as physical health and seek support if needed. Students can keep in touch with family and friends over the phone and on social media. There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as Every Mind Matters for adults, and Young Minds for young people.

Students should only return home if they are able to do so without using public transport. On returning home, the household should begin a period of whole household isolation for 14 days following PHE guidance.

Anyone who can return home should gain agreement from their university or college before doing this. Students living in privately owned halls should contact the manager of their accommodation to advise them of their plans.

For those without symptoms who may be infected (i.e. a close contact within a household setting)

For students who are living in hall of residence where someone has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), the institution will discuss the situation with the local PHE health protection team who will undertake a risk assessment and identify who is required to take part in whole household isolation for 14 days based on their likelihood of being infected.

Depending upon the circumstances, this would normally include those students living in the same cluster of flats or on the same floor who share cooking or washing facilities, or both.

Students identified as part of this potentially infected group should, as above, only return home if they are able to do so without using public transport. Upon returning home, their household should begin a period of whole household isolation for 14 days. Certain groups, such as international students, care leavers and estranged students, may be unable to return home and should remain in their halls of residence, ensuring the managers of, or wardens in, their halls are aware of their circumstances.

Anyone who can return home should gain agreement from their university or college before doing so, and inform their building manager of their plans if they are in privately owned accommodation.

Where accommodation is different from the format described above – for example longer corridors of single rooms – decisions on the whole household group to self-isolate for 14 days will need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. This decision will be informed by the catering and social areas shared by groups of students, in consultation with the local PHE health protection team.

Institutions, and building managers of private halls, will need to design procedures with their staff to ensure that self-isolating students can receive the food and medicines they need for the duration of their isolation. This is especially important for disabled students.

For those with no alternative residence

It is important that institutions operate a ‘non-eviction’ policy if students have no alternative residence, so that no student is required to leave halls if their contract is up, or if their rental agreement does not cover holiday periods. This applies whether students are self-isolating or not, and is particularly important in the case of international students, care leavers and estranged students.

Institutions will need to make clear to the manager of any privately owned halls of residence that such evictions would be unacceptable in the circumstances and the hall manager must – if they are unable to accommodate a student – work through local partnerships, such as with the local authority and lettings agents, in order to prevent students being made homeless.

This is particularly important for international students who may not be able to return home due to travel restrictions. If the university or college has a nomination agreement with the private halls provider, this relationship should be leveraged to avoid evictions. Where no relationship exists, universities or colleges should seek to ensure that the private halls provider has a solution in place to prevent any student being made homeless.

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