Children Self-Isolating At Home: ‘It’s Tough Mentally As You Don’t Get Any Escape Time’

Hundreds of families are again balancing childcare and working as children are sent home to self-isolate. But what are the rules?

child self-isolating rules

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

Seven months since coronavirus lockdown began and you’d think we’d know the rules by now. But unfortunately, parents in the UK are still finding themselves confused about who needs to isolate if your child is sent home from school or nursery because of a covid case in their bubble.

In fact, from speaking to parents and social media, it appears lots of schools have different rules around when children should get sent home – whether it’s because there’s a case in their bubble (and bubbles can range from small groups, whole classes, whole years or whole schools btw), or a class or a year group.

It can also be incredibly stressful if your child is sent home more than once to self-isolate, or if you have children sent home at different times. Of course, as happened during the earlier lockdowns, working parents are given little support if they suddenly have to absorb full-time childcare into their working day, and are at the mercy of understanding workplaces and catching up outside of hours.

But, while a lot of parents seem confused or unaware, the rules on who has to isolate if a child is sent home from school because of covid, are clear from the government.

Do I need to self-isolate if my child is sent home from school?

Google searches about whether you need to self-isolate if your child is sent home from school have increased over recent days and weeks, proving that messaging from schools and the government isn’t cutting through.

The answer is no – only the person who is in close contact with a confirmed positive covid test has to isolate. The rest of the family and parents are able to leave the house. A look at some comments on social media show that lots of families are isolating as a whole unnecessarily. Though, of course, if a young child is isolating, childcare restrictions may make it hard for anyone to leave the house regardless.

However, if that person (or any person in the household) starts to have symptoms of covid and is then tested and found to have coronavirus, the usual restrictions around the whole household isolating for 14 days then applies.

As such, if a child were to get ill at the end of the 14 day period, the family could then potentially have to start another 14-day period where they are all in isolation.

Can I get a coronavirus test for my child if they’re sent home from school to self-isolate?

No, you should only seek a test if you have the symptoms of coronavirus. The government advice clarifies: ‘If you do not have symptoms, you must not seek a test, as the scientific evidence shows that the test may not be able to detect whether you have the virus.’

What if my child is sent home to isolate, then later tested for coronavirus and receives a negative result?

The child would still have to stay at home for 14 days. Even if they are tested in that time (perhaps if they develop symptoms and can legitimately ask for a test) the 14-day period is non-negotiable. A government site about Test and Trace explains: ‘It is crucial that you complete your 14-day self-isolation period if you’ve been identified as a contact, even if you get a negative test result. This is because you may have the virus, but it cannot yet be detected by a test, so you could unknowingly spread the virus if you leave the house. Other members of your household, however, do not need to remain in self-isolation.’

What is the fine for not self-isolating?

There doesn’t seem to be specific rules and fines around fines for children. But the government’s test and trace website says the fine for not self-isolating starts at £1,000.

‘It is a legal requirement to self-isolate if you are identified as a contact and told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace,’ it says. ‘Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000.’

What are the rules around self-isolation for children?

Self-isolation means staying at home and not going outside at any time. If you live with other people, they do not need to self-isolate, but they should avoid contact with you as far as possible and follow advice on hygiene.

How many children are being sent home to self-isolate from school and nursery?

A report earlier this month (October 14) from the Department of Education showed that number of secondary schools not fully open in England had more than doubled over the month.

One in five (21%) secondary schools were counted as not fully open. In primary schools less than one in ten aren't fully open - around 7% of primary schools have had to send home pupils that week. Only 0.2% of schools were closed completely.

What’s it like having children at home self-isolating?

Elizabeth has two children at home currently self-isolating: ‘We are four days into 14 days and the days just seem so long,’ she said. ‘The clock change doesn’t help! As a working parent (both of us working) you just feel constant guilt. Guilty that your kids are having to watch tv or that you don’t have the time to spend playing with them, engaging with them or having fun as you are working. But you also feel guilty that you are not giving work the best you can as you are splitting your time.

‘It’s tough mentally for sure as you don’t get any escape time. The downtime we have is when they get into bed at about 7.30pm, but we normally cook and then do more work.

‘In our case it seems like a bit of a mess up in both a parent and the nursery. A parent had tested their child twice and got one result back saying negative, so sent them to nursery but failed to let them know that they were awaiting a second test, which then came back positive. Then the nursery were to blame for mixing ‘bubbles’. So if my youngest had not mixed in with the older group then she could have gone into nursery which would have helped as it would have only been one isolating! But I think the nurseries are doing as best they can given the situation.

‘14 days feels like a long bloody time and reading the news that so few people actually isolate the full 14 days it’s frustrating for the people that do. Hopefully this will be reduced but guess they will be lead by the science

‘At least we are able to go out, although we don’t really feel comfortable going out to busy places like into the office. But we can at least pop to the local shop to grab supplies

‘All in all a shit time but hey, not much we can do about it, so we just have to suffer it and get on. When they go back to nursery, I will be there at 7:30am and will be skipping back to my car with delight!’

Lucy, whose child was also sent home agreed it was tough going. She said: ‘When working from home is combined with full-time childcare, self-care, healthy eating and toilet breaks are thrown out the window. A good day is getting to 7pm and thinking, at least no one died.

‘Obviously halting the spread of the virus is crucial, but I feel sorry for both nursery staff and parents and caregivers over the amount of confusion around what to do when there is a confirmed case at a childcare setting. We were emailed to say there was a confirmed case, but no risk was posed earlier this week. Then a few days later the nursery was asked to close, and all children and staff had to self isolate. This notice of closure came with little advanced warning, and there is a lot of confusion over whether we as parents have to self-isolate or simply social distance.

Are workplaces understanding if children have to self-isolate at home?

‘I am very lucky to work at a company that is supportive of working parents,’ says Lucy. ‘After an initial panic, I proposed a plan to my team and everyone was so helpful and accommodating. However it is much tougher this time round - despite being in this situation before. It feels like for most people it is business as usual, email traffic is insane, and so having to cram your work hours into naptime, early mornings and evenings is more noticeable than when everyone was forced to do the juggle. However, you forget how quickly you can adapt to change. One day in and already the next two weeks feel a little easier - we got through this before and we will get through it again. Though I can’t wait to have a cup of tea when that nursery reopens.’

Elizabeth is also, fortunately, able to work from home: ‘I think I’m quite boss totally gets the position and is quite relaxed about things as there isn’t anything we can do about it. However, the work doesn’t stop and most of the time I still need to respond to demanding clients who want responses quickly. Not so easy with two small kiddos under four who essentially want everything now! Or who say mummy 200 times every five minutes…’

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