Family Support

This page is regularly updated with the latest guidance and advice that aims to support children, young people and their families to continue to access services and education as we move through the current pandemic.

The country as now been put under national lockdown restrictions. Please visit out news story for the latest updated guidance on how this lockdown affects you and your families.

The Department for Education SEND division have also updated and refreshed their guidance for Special schools and other specialist settings to reflect the changing restrictions and provide current advice on settings and accessing education and services.

In the next section we highlight key changes and updates to get you on track now.

Latest announcements

Last updated: 5 January 2021

National lockdown announced

On Monday 4th January 2021 the Prime Minister announced that England will move into new national lockdown restrictions, in response to data on the increased transmissibility of the new variant of coronavirus, in order to bring the virus under control whilst the vaccine programme is rolled out. Read our news story for more details about how the restrictions impact schools, colleges, children and their families/carers.

Staggered return for secondary schools and colleges

On Wednesday 30 December, in response to rapidly rising case rates due to the new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus, the Government triggered the education contingency framework and has pushed back the staggered return for secondary schools and colleges by one week. We have the details set out in a new article you can access here based on the current guidance however, we are aware this is a rapidly changing situation and we will update this page as we receive further information.

London and South East moved to Tier 4

On 20th December, the Government announced that London and most of the South East will be moved into Tier 4 restrictions. These are the tightest restrictions in the tier system and will have an impact on what you can and can't do over the Xmas period. However guidance around childcare remains mostly the same. 

Schools and colleges are currently on Christmas break and in regards to childcare and Tier 4, we have extracted some of the guidance below for your easy reference.

There are several ways that parents and carers can continue to access childcare in Tier 4 areas:

  • early years settings and childminders remain open, and you can continue to use these settings as normal
  • you can access other childcare activities (including wraparound care) where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work, seek work, attend education or training, a medical appointment or respite care
  • nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home
  • parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under
  • some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble

Some youth services are able to continue, such as 1-1 youth work and support groups, but most youth clubs and groups will need to cease for this period.

You can find detailed information about all the restrictions here.

Test-to-return Covid 19 testing programme

The Government has announced that all secondary schools and colleges in England will be able to test their staff and students in a round of free coronvirus testing from the first week of January 2021. 

This means that all students aged 11 to 18 will be asked to stay at home for the first week of term and access their lessons remotely while they are tested and await a result. Secondary schools and colleges will operate a staggered return with face-to-face education for all starting on 11 January.

Schools and colleges will still be open for students in exam year groups, for vulnerable children and children of critical workers, as they will for all students in primary, special and alternative provision schools and colleges.

Testing will be optional but strongly encouraged, particularly in areas of higher prevalence of the virus. Consent will be required from the student or parent as appropriate.

Testing will also be available for young people up to age 25 if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan and are at college.

Students who receive positive test results will be required to self-isolate in line with existing guidance.

You can read guidance here.

What do the current restrictions mean for families?

For families the guidance says that across all tiers:

Support bubble eligibility has widened. Not everybody can form a support bubble. However, on 2 December the rules changed to widen eligibility for forming one.

You can form a support bubble with another household of any size if:

  • you live by yourself – even if carers visit you to provide support
  • you are the only adult in your household who does not need continuous care as a result of a disability
  • You should not form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.

  • your household includes a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • your household includes a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5, or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • you are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age and without any adults
  • you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under that age on 12 June 2020

​​From 2 December, childcare bubbles are allowed in all tiers. A childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to a child or children under 14. All adults in both households must agree to this arrangement. ‘Informal’ childcare means it is unpaid and unregistered. Members of either household can provide childcare in a home or public place. This includes overnight care. You can only have one childcare bubble with one other household. This means no household should be part of more than one childcare bubble. More detailed information can be found here.

  • you must wear a face covering in most indoor public settings, unless you have an exemption

  • you should follow the rules on meeting others safely

  • you should attend school or college as normal, unless you are self-isolating. Schools, universities, colleges and early years settings remain open in all tiers (apart from during normal school holidays and in relation to the Test-to-return programme set out above)

  • you should walk or cycle where possible, plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes when travelling

  • you must follow the gathering limits at their tier except for in specific settings and circumstances

There are some exemptions from gathering limits and these include:

  • for childcare, education or training – meaning education and training provided as part of a formal curriculum

  • for supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care (before and after-school childcare), groups and activities for under 18s, and children’s playgroups

  • for formal support groups, and parent and child groups – up to 15 people aged 5 and older

Special school guidance - what happens if my child can't attend school because of Coronvirus?

The DfE have updated the details on the expectations for the provision of remote education for those children and young people who are unable to attend their setting due to coronavirus (COVID-19). There may be additional challenges that some children and young people with SEND will experience in accessing remote education. Specialist settings should work with parent /families/ carers to support children and young people with complex needs to access appropriate remote learning and support where they are not able to be in school or college. 

The updated guidance states:

'Where a pupil has provision specified within their EHC plan, it remains the duty of the local authority and any health bodies to secure or arrange the delivery of this in the setting that the plan names. However, there may be times when it becomes very difficult to do so, for example, if they are self-isolating. In this situation, decisions on how provision can be delivered should be informed by relevant considerations including, for example, the types of services that the pupil can access remotely, such as online teaching and remote sessions with different types of therapists. These decisions should be considered on a case-by-case basis, avoiding a one size fits all approach'

Read more details here.

What does it mean for local authorities and short break providers?

Overall the guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings has been updated and refreshed to reflect the expectation that all children and young people, in all year groups and setting types, should remain in education settings full time where possible.

The important change to note is that SEND legislation, which was changed during the lockdown, has now ceased.

We have covered the changes in more detail in our news story, which you can read here.

Positive communications and ongoing risk assesements remain key to delivering effective provision and the introduction to the guidance says:


This guidance does not create any new legal obligations. There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach where the system of controls describes every scenario. Education setting leaders are best placed to understand the needs of their settings and communities, and to make informed judgements about how to balance delivering a broad and balanced curriculum with the measures needed to manage risk. The system of controls provides a set of principles to help them do this and, if they follow this advice, they will effectively minimise risks.

We expect special settings, trusts and local authorities to work closely with parents, staff and unions, as they normally would when agreeing the best approaches for their circumstances and to discuss any concerns. We want children, young people and staff to be back in settings, and believe the conditions are right for this, but some people will understandably have worries that should be heard and addressed.

Wraparound and extra curricular support providers should resume operations as before. Settings should also read the local restriction tier their area is in and the additional restrictions that apply. Currently, supervised activities, training and education for children can continue to operate at all restriction tiers both inside and outdoors.

Parents or carers of disabled children may continue to access respite care to support them in caring for their disabled child. Further information on this is available at guidance for children’s social care services.

As a variety of provision resumes, we continue to refer you to our useful resources and learning examples on short breaks.

You can download our briefing for local authorities Short Breaks for Disabled Children: A Legal Guide which sets out the relevant legal duties which remain relevant outside of the previous restrictions.

We also present our series of learning examples on short break provision during lockdown periods, which provide some useful advice and creative practice. You can read those here:

A key message from all providers that we heard from in relation to the learning examples was that risk assessments should be used as an enabler to providing support rather than a barrier. This message is still as relevant in this new tier period as it is in national restrictions.

“Risk assessment which supports effective risk management and creative thinking led to different approaches to face-to-face support rather than support being withdrawn especially for children, young people and families who were particularly vulnerable or at high risk of going into crisis during the pandemic.”

Further information


Minister Ford publishes letter to children, families and their carers

As we previously reported, Vicky Ford, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, published an open letter to all children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their parents/carers and families, and others who support them as we went into national restrictions.

We will keep this letter available as it gives some useful information and details the new winter package to provide support for children and young people and their families. 

You can read the letter below.