Legal action launched over out of area placements for children in care

A High Court challenge has been brought against the Education Secretary and five councils to stop the placement of children outside of their local area.

15/07/21

Legal action launched over out of area placements for children in care

The Good Law Project has launched legal action to prevent children being placed far away from where they grew up in out of area placements.

Councils have a legal duty to ensure that children in care are accommodated within their local area if that is in their best interests. They also have a duty to ensure there is enough provision in their area to allow that to happen.

The campaign is challenging five local authorities – Essex County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, West Sussex County Council, Surrey County Council and Derby City Council – for not complying with their duty.

It is also challenging the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, for “failing to exercise his power to step in”.

“We believe the Secretary of State’s failure to act, whilst children in care suffer, to be unlawful,” a statement from the Good Law Project read.

The not-for-profit campaign organisation says the practice of placing children “miles away” from the authorities with responsibility for them is putting children at risk by separating them from their support networks.

Children in distant placements are also more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, trafficking and ‘county lines’ gangs than those who remain in their home area. Ofsted’s recent thematic report concluded that distant placements contribute to the sexual exploitation of children because it makes it more difficult for agencies to work together to keep them safe.
Read more: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Local-authorities-to-help-schools-tackle-'normalised%E2%80%99-sexual-harassment

Speaking to the Good Law Project, children who had experienced out of area placements told of the effect it had on their mental wellbeing.

“As a result of my move, I have felt unwanted in various aspects of my life,” one said, while another said: “I was worried about my A Level exams, as getting into university was important to me. But I was placed very far away from my college.”

More than three quarters of children’s homes in England are run by the private sector, which are spread unevenly across the country. Last year the six largest private care providers made £219 million in profit, whilst local authorities struggled to balance their books.

Giving evidence to the Competitions and Markets Authority’s study into profiteering in children’s social care, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Ofsted and the Local Government Association (LGA) all criticised this geographical imbalance.

“Typically, the supply of homes hasn’t developed in response to need but rather providers have taken advantage of low-cost accommodation, often in areas with pre-existing challenges which are exactly the wrong areas to place vulnerable teenagers,” the ADCS said in its statement.

“Time and again local authorities are placing children in care in the cheapest accommodation, rather than the accommodation that best meets their needs. For more than 30,000 children last year, this meant being torn away from their schools, loved ones and support networks – placed miles outside of their local area, often with no warning,” a statement from the Good Law Project said, adding: “The state can and must do better for these children.”

The not-for-profit had an initial crowdfunding target of £30,000 for the case, with a second target of £50,000. At the time of writing, it had £31,708 contributed from 1,317 pledges.

View the progress of the crowdfunding campaign: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/children-in-care/

Read the pre-action protocol letter: https://glplive.org/2402-pap

Read the Statement of Facts and Grounds: https://glplive.org/1805-bundle

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