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Kinship Care case

by Ridley&Hall in News posted March 11, 2010.

COUNCIL ACCEPTS DEFEAT DAYS BEFORE HIGH COURT HEARING in Kinship Care case.

Oldham Council has accepted defeat over a legal challenge after permission was given to challenge its failure to properly support the placement of a “looked after” child.

The child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, went to live with a family member – his second cousin in May 2006. Social Services asked the family member to care for the child as the child’s mother was leading a chaotic lifestyle. His grandmother had stepped in to care for him however upon her death there was no one left to provide him with a home. Social Workers approached a member of the child’s family and asked if she would step in to care. As the child had previously spent time in care the social workers did not consider placing the child with strangers would be appropriate.

The family member was asked to care for the child until further decisions were made by the local authority regarding the child’s future.

Four months into the placement a meeting took place between the carer and Social Services. The meeting was requested by the carer who wanted answers from Social Services as to the future of the child. The carer was advised that social services were going to begin Court proceedings. She was asked if the child could remain with her in the meantime and she agreed.

When the carer asked if the local authority could provide the family with financial support the local authority asked what kind of amount she was looking for. A few weeks later after chasing the Local Authority the carer as awarded £25 per week. This was well below the authority’s base level of fostering allowance.

The Fostering Network’s recommended allowance for an 8 year old child is now £142.49 per week

When the carer sought legal advice she became aware of the responsibilities the local authority had towards the child and it was clear that the local authority had not complied with them.

Solicitor Shabana Jaffar from Ridley and Hall’s specialist Kinship care Unit who represents the carer commented:

“I was amazed by Oldham’s approach to this case. I wrote repeatedly to the Council and they simply ignored my letters!

“All too often children are placed with members of their extended family or sometimes even friends of the family when the parents cannot care and social services become involved. Sadly social services can view these types of placements as an opportunity to avoid any ongoing responsibility for the children involved. The placements typically come about as a result of an emergency situation and carers can face the ultimatum of taking the child on immediately or seeing them go into care. It is only after the dust has settled that they realise they need help. When social services are approached they routinely state that the placements are “private arrangements” and that as the children are with family they have no legal obligation to provide support.

The fact of the matter is that such situations are not so straightforward. Each case will depends on its own facts however if social services have been directing the terms of the placement then their failure to provide support could be open to legal challenge.

Although my client was not motivated by money, the fact is that the family have suffered financial hardship as a result of the local authority’s failure to support the placement – support to which they were entitled. They feel completely let down by the system which is supposed to protect vulnerable children.

The only way we could get Oldham to act was by starting Judicial review proceedings”

The child’s carers agree: “Social Services did not carry out any formal checks before we were asked to care. They had little or no background information on me or my family. They were happy enough to put the child with me – but then they just walked away from their responsibilities.

I have had to chase and struggle for every penny from the local authority. Even when they had agreed to provide £25 per week I had to chase them for it. I was left with no alternative but to get legal advice.”

His Honour Judge Pelling QC commented when giving permission for Judicial Review that this was a case “crying out for urgent attention.”

Ms Jaffar went on: “The local authority have now conceded that the child was “looked after” from the time the child came to live with his second cousin. Negotiations are ongoing regarding the sum of the financial settlement. This is a great result for my client – but she should never have had to go to court to get the payments and support which she was entitled to.”

For further information please contact:

Shabana Jaffar

Ridley & Hall LLP
Queen’s House
35 Market Street
Huddersfield
HD1 2HL

Tel: 01484 538421
Fax: 01484 533076
email shabana.jaffar@ridleyandhall.co.uk

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