In BC, parents must consider the child’s best interests when making decisions about health care. If they disagree, parents can ask a court to decide. Courts consider the child’s health and emotional well-being when determining the best interests of the child. Courts also consider the facts and evidence in each case, including:
- each parent's reasons for or against vaccination,
- the child’s age and preference if appropriate,
- specific health risks to the child and within the family (for example, whether getting or not getting the vaccine puts the child or others at risk),
- school or activity requirements, and
- expert medical opinions.
Since May 2021, BC public health policies have supported and encouraged children aged 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of November 2021, this also applies to children 5 to 11 years of age. Medical evidence shows that children don’t have a high risk of developing negative reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine and that vaccines are effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Since the pros outweigh the cons, courts are likely to decide that a child should be vaccinated, unless a parent can prove that a COVID-19 vaccination wouldn’t be in their child’s best interests (for example, when a child has an underlying medical condition or a history of allergic reactions to previous vaccines).
If you and your partner can’t agree about having your child vaccinated, you can try contacting a family justice counsellor for free mediation help. If you have to go to court, see our information about getting a court order. Also see our page about the best interests of the child.
Your child is likely mature enough to have a legal right to make her own decision. (See Do you need your parents' permission to get medical care?)
You will want to listen carefully and respond to your child’s concerns. She may be hesitant to get the vaccine for the same reasons that some adults are, including fears about needles and possible side effects after the vaccination. You can let her know it’s understandable to have concerns. You can discuss them with her and:
- provide accurate information to help her make an informed choice
- explain the benefits of vaccination
- explain possible consequences of not being vaccinated (such as not being able to visit certain places or do certain activities)
- suggest she talk to her family doctor for advice
- suggest she talk to a friend or family member who has been vaccinated
Health Canada has said that children 12 and up can safely be given the same two-dose regimen of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as adults. For more information, see the Government of Canada website.
It’s normal to be concerned about how a return to school might affect your family’s health. But experts agree that the risk is low and children should go back to school if possible.
Understand the current information
Public health experts, including the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), say the following:
- Children are at low risk of catching and spreading the virus.
- Schools are important places for children to learn and connect with others. It’s good for their mental and emotional health to be together with their friends, peers, and teachers.
The BC Government’s detailed Back to School Plan focuses on keeping everyone safe. Schools can operate safely if everyone follows public health principles, such as:
- Staying home when sick
- Staying a safe physical distance apart from others
- Minimizing physical contact
- Washing hands and wearing a mask
- Frequent cleaning and disinfecting
Each school district also has a plan that addresses the specific needs of its community. Read your district’s plan, and discuss the options (including online and distributed learning and home schooling) with your child and the other parent.
If you still have concerns, discuss them with your child’s school.
Get help from a mediator
If you and the other parent still don’t agree about your child going back to school, consider working with a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who can help you resolve your conflict.
MediateBC’s Quarantine Conflict Resolution Service helps parents resolve many kinds of conflicts, including:
- Deciding if or how children go back to school, sports, or other activities
- Parent–teen disagreements about going back to school
- Child care plans
- Work-from-home challenges
- Adapting parenting time and contact plans
Mediation is faster, less expensive, and less stressful for you and your children than going to court. Courts expect parents to try to work things out before applying to the court for a decision.
If you’re not able to reach an agreement, you’ll need to make a court application and a judge will have to decide. The court will look at a variety of factors, all of which look at the best interests of the child.
If the risks of returning to school outweigh the benefits, the child may need to learn online from home. But this will be determined case by case and depend on each family’s unique situation. Parents should be practical and use common sense when making risk-related decisions. A child may receive significant benefit from interacting with their peers, but the courts consider the child’s health and safety as top priority.
A pandemic generally doesn’t prevent parents from following a parenting order or agreement. You must follow parenting court orders or agreements unless it would increase the risk of COVID-19 for the child, you, the other parent, household members, or the community.
You and the other parent may have to temporarily adjust your parenting arrangements, especially if the child or one of you is sick, has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, or has to self-isolate. Try to be reasonable and flexible, and confirm that changes you’ve made to your parenting schedule are temporary. For more information, see Parenting during COVID-19.
Source: BC Government website.
At this stage of the pandemic, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) has said in-person visits are permitted in some situations, including:
- If in-person visits happened before March 26, 2020, you can continue them as long as you follow public health principles to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- If in-person visits happened after March 26, 2020, you can continue them through regular case planning instead of by exception. These visits may increase depending on circumstances.
Social workers and the ministry have to review whether in-person visits are possible in some situations. MCFD has developed practice bulletins and interim guidelines in response to COVID-19. See the MCFD bulletin and companion document for more details.
Yes, you still need to send your child for scheduled parenting time unless there is an imminent risk of harm to the child. If there is a parenting agreement or court order, you must comply with it. You can’t deny the other parent’s parenting time because they’re not vaccinated. To make changes to parenting time, you’ll have to make a court application and let the court decide. See Change an order or set aside an agreement in BC.
Page last updated: January 31, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic affects every aspect of life. Things are difficult and stressful for everyone, but it's important to remember that this situation is temporary. Until life becomes more normal, these links and resources might help you and your children. (Some are PDFs that will download when you click the link.)