Looking after young people during COVID-19

Social distancing and self-isolation are the two main ways to keep children and young people in your care safe and well during this time.

What is social distancing?

COVID-19 is more likely to spread from person to person when we come into contact with one another. Social distancing is making sure there is as much physical space between you and someone else. It is one way to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Children and young people living in residential care and ITC should be encouraged and supported to practice social distancing. They:

  • must stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse, such as to go to work, school, medical care, or exercise.
  • should keep at least 1.5 metres between themselves and other people whenever possible
  • should minimise physical contact such as shaking hands. This is especially important for people at higher risk of developing serious symptoms, such as older people and people with existing health conditions.

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means staying at home for 14 days. A person must self-isolate if they have COVID-19, or if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

If a child or young person in your care has COVID-19 and has been advised to self-isolate, they must do so with your support. During this time they must stay in the home and not go out in public.

Staying at home can seem like a big demand for a child or young person. But it is important to remind them that they are part of a larger community and that these steps help protect all of us. It is also important to let them know that staying at home is a temporary measure that will not last forever.

Should young people still have contact with their family in the residential home?

It is important that young people stay connected with their families. However, consider phone or video calls instead of in-person visits.

Make sure you follow the advice about around preventing COVID-19. This includes washing hands with soap and/or using hand sanitiser for all residents, staff and visitors.

Screen family members before they visit:

  • Ask if they have recently been overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Postpone the visit for at least 14 days if they have.
  • Ask if they’re sick – do they have a fever, cough, or other respiratory symptoms. If they are sick, postpone the visit for at least 14 days.

You should limit the number of visitors in line with current government advice.

Can children and young people attend school?

For advice on whether children and young people should attend school visit the NSW Department of Education website. NSW schools are open however parents are encouraged to keep their children at home. No child will be turned away from school.

Anyone who has arrived in Australia from overseas should self-isolate for 14 days after they return.

Anyone who has been identified as a close contact of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 must also self-isolate for 14 days.

If a young person is sick, they should not attend school.

I’m concerned about a young person who is pregnant?

You can find useful information about COVID-19 and pregnancy on the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website.

What can I do to help young people living in the home who are feeling anxious and worried?

You can contact one of the services below for support or encourage them to talk to their general practitioner.

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800 or Kids Helpline
    A free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 years.
  • Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 or Lifeline Australia
    A crisis support service that provides short term support at any time for people who are having difficulty coping or staying safe.
  • NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
    Mental health crisis telephone service in NSW.

How can Legal Aid assist young people in your care with the COVID-19 rules?

Legal Aid NSW is also offering free legal advice to services provides who support vulnerable young people including residential care and ITC providers and Youth Homelessness Accommodation Services with the new COVID-19 rules. Legal Aid NSW is also available to help young people directly if they have been fined or need more information about how the COVID-19 rules may affect them. Young people can contact 1300 888 529 for free legal help.

What to do if a child or young person in your care develops symptoms?

If a child or young person in your care develops any of the COVID-19 symptoms, you need to:

  • Try to keep them apart from others as much as possible (for example, in a different room).
  • Call your GP, local public health unit on 1300 066 055, or the National Coronavirus Health Information line 1800 020 080. A clinician can then assess the risk and whether they are likely to require testing for COVID-19. The Information Line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a child or young person falls ill with COVID-19, they will work with you to provide advice on a case-by-case basis.
  • If a young person in your care is seriously unwell and it is an emergency, call 000 immediately.

What should I do if there is a young person suspected of having COVID-19?

In the first instance, call the National Coronavirus Health Information line on 1800 020 080opens in new window. Explain the situation including if the young person has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or travelled overseas recently.

If the young person is directed to go a medical centre, call ahead before going in. Make sure you know what advice must be followed in your area and have it ready for your clients if needed.

You can find out where testing is available in your local area, should a young person be symptomatic.

If a young person needs to self-isolate, should they be separated from other people in the home?

Yes. If the home is shared with others, the young person should stay in a different room or be separated as much as possible.

The young person should wear a surgical mask when they are in the same room as another person, and when seeking medical care.

A separate bathroom should be used, if available. They should avoid shared or communal areas and wear a surgical mask when moving through these areas.

Refer to the Australian Government Health website on the use of a surgical mask.

Visitors who do not have an essential need to be in the home should not visit while a young person is self-isolating.

: 'More information about self-isolating is available on the NSW Health website.

What should I do if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case of a young person?

If NSW Health confirms that a person has COVID-19, the local Public Health Unit will be in contact with any close contacts of the person to advise them on what action to take. If a staff member was infectious while at work, you must also notify SafeWork NSW. You can also make contact with the Public Health Unit directly to make sure that contact details are available in all units or facilities.

If the measures recommended by NSW Health will disrupt service provision, please urgently contact your Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) contract manager to discuss an appropriate response. An example of this may be if they recommend moving client/s or reconfiguring services.

What if a young person leaves the house without a reasonable excuse?

If a young person who is well and has not been directed to self-isolate leaves the house without a reasonable excuse, and/or breaches the public health orders, you do you not need to contact the Police. You should engage and educate the young person and support them to return to the house.

If Police engage the person while they are out of their placement and without a reasonable excuse, they will take appropriate action under the Joint Protocol (see below).

What if a young person refuses to comply with a direction to self-isolate?

If a young person has been directed to self-isolate, for example because they have been in contact with a confirmed case, they must remain at home, or another suitable residence as directed by a health practitioner, or in hospital for treatment.

If a young person refuses to comply with self-isolation, contact the National Coronavirus Health Information line on 1800 020 080 and follow instructions on reporting requirements. You should also contact your DCJ contract manager to discuss how the situation could be managed.

NSW Police have advised DCJ that reasonable attempts should be made to educate the child or young person in care on the importance of isolating, and to get them to return home, before law enforcement action is considered. However, if Police support is required, Police can be contacted through Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or an appropriate police officer, or police liaison officer.

If there is repeated non-compliance, a specific Public Health Order can be obtained that will enable Police to arrest a person in order to return them to their place of isolation.

The Joint Protocol ensures that Police are not used for discipline or behavioural management of young people living in out-of-home care. It aims to reduce contact and use early intervention strategies to positively influence behaviour. It can reduce reoffending and unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system.

Ensure that all staff are familiar with the Joint Protocol and with the procedures as described in Annexure A for care staff and Annexure B for local Police.

Last updated:

22 Aug 2022

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