Cases involving children and young people are amongst the most sensitive that we deal with. Community care issues can affect families, children, and young people from all different backgrounds and it is important that legal advice is sought when a child or young person needs assistance with a care issue.
Our team of solicitors have a wealth of experience in dealing with sensitive community care issues and have helped families and young people seek positive outcomes for a range of issues involving children and young people, this includes:
Community Care Provision For Children
Providing care for a child with difficulties or disabilities is a full-time job, with the families of disabled children often becoming primary care providers. In many cases families believe that they cannot gain support for care, however local councils do offer assistance to families of disabled children, and in many scenarios care provision can be made for children and families requiring additional care support.
If the child you care for is deemed to be a 'child in need' under the Children Act 1989 then your local authority has a duty to provide community care services that will ensure the best upbringing and brightest future for the young person in your care.
Community Care Assessments
The first step towards getting help as a parent or carer of a 'child in need' is to contact your local authority (LA) and ask them to carry out a community care assessment.
The local authority has seven working days from receiving the request to carry out an initial assessment, which will determine whether any provision needs to be put in place straight away. This initial support is designed to help you and your child while a full assessment is carried out.
During these crucial early assessment stages parents and carers of children requiring community care could benefit greatly from help and advice from experts on the subject.
Seeking legal advice at this stage will ensure that the correct provision is put in place at the earliest possible stage. Trying to navigate community care assessments independently could cause an incorrect provision to be awarded, thus requiring retrospective action.
Parents/Carers - What If You Cannot Cope?
We understand that looking after a child with complex needs is stressful and there are times when you feel that you simply cannot manage without support, especially when other family members and personal issues get in the way.
These pressures are the exact reason that community care is available for children with demanding requirements, and local authorities are required to provide care services for any child in need – so it is important that you do not despair during difficult spells and that you understand the full range of services available to you and your family.
When the stress of caring with a child with complex needs becomes too much local authorities can organise community care accommodation for the child, 'voluntary care'.
Voluntary care is a service that allows stressed parents and carers to re-evaluate their current set up, while placing a structured care plan in place moving forward.
In situations of voluntary care the child in question becomes a 'looked after child', however it is important to note that the voluntary care service is very different to 'taking a child into care', which is usually a term used to describe cases of local authorities taking action against parents or carers in the interest of a child's safety.
Voluntary care can seem like a big step for many families; however it can be a constructive temporary provision that can help ease stress while long term solutions are considered.
If you are unsure whether voluntary care is right for you it is recommended that you seek advice from a legal professional, who will be able to set out the positives and negatives of this community care provision.
Caring For A Child Of A Relative Or Friend?
Caring for a child of a friend or relative can be a difficult and carers have their own rights in this situation. This is a complex area of the law and it is important that anyone facing this scenario seek legal advice, as complications can arise when seeking support.
If you are a friend or relative and a local authority has asked you to take on a role as carer, you should definitely seek legal advice.
By effectively placing the child into your care, the LA has legal duties to meet, not least providing maintenance for the child.
If you are asked to look after a child for a friend or relative and you have not made a legally-binding agreement with the child's parent, the local authority may well argue that you have entered into a 'private fostering agreement', which means it may well refuse to provide community care support and/or maintenance for the child. It is for this reason that legal advice is crucial, as there are a number of legal agreements and processes that should be followed to ensure local authority support is provided.
Our team of experienced solicitors are specialists in providing support and advice on all aspects of community care that involve children in need and can support parents and carers through the process of community care assessments.
Age Assessment Disputes
Social services can dispute the age of children and young people if they believe that they are accessing care that they are not eligible for. Legal advice is highly recommended in age assessment disputes, as an appeals process is required if proper care is not provided where social services believe a child or young person to be over 18.
It is very common for those who are under 18 and who arrive in the UK seeking asylum to be subjected to an age assessment by social services. Unfortunately, it is very likely that social services will deem that a young person without proof of age is older than they are claiming, which could result in the provision of community care being unfairly withheld from a family.
Subject to the case having sufficient merit, we are able to assist young people who wish to challenge an age assessment conducted by social services.
Our expertise in acting for this vulnerable category of children and young people includes acting for those who have been detained and for victims of trafficking.
We accept age assessment dispute referrals from all sources and are happy to talk through any of the issues and barriers facing a young person, before taking the case and accepting a formal referral.
Chambers and Partners 2017
"Focuses on representing vulnerable claimants. Considerable experience representing children and young people, including care leavers, bringing claims against local authorities and other public bodies. Community care and accommodation claims are notable areas of expertise."
"Head of department Oliver Studdert receives praise for his 'knowledge, perseverance and commitment to clients.' He represents children, young adults and other vulnerable claimants in a range of public law cases, including challenges to community care decisions."
Support For Care Leavers
For most young people who have been in care, or have received some other form of community care provision, reaching 18 and leaving care can be a daunting process. It is important to be aware that local authorities have a responsibility to provide ongoing assistance to care leavers.
Local authorities have a responsibility to provide 'leaving care' support, and it is their duty to ensure that young people that have been in care have a smooth transition to a more independent environment.
Most importantly, the leaving care duties of a local authority will involve helping the young person to plan for the future, including important issues like:
- Further education
- Obtaining safe and stable accommodation
- Ensuring the young person has adequate financial support
Local Authority Assessments – Pathway Plan
Local authorities must carry out an assessment of the young person and their ability to leave care and live independently. Following an assessment they must clearly set out the young person’s plan for the future in a document called a 'pathway plan'.
The obligation of the local authority will usually start well before the young person turns 18 and will include duties to help the young person make the transition from being a child to an adult and any changes in their living arrangements that this may involve.
During the creation of pathway plan, the local authority must provide the young person with a personal adviser, who will support them throughout the assessment and planning process - this advisor must be different to and separate from the young person's social worker. The purpose of this advisor is to be there to support the young person, ensuring that their views are heard during the creation of the pathway plan.
In situations where a young person's welfare requires it, a local authority's leaving care duties can include providing accommodation and financial support to the young person. Some of the situations that may see a local authority providing accommodation and financial support to a care leaver include:
- A young person not being eligible for council housing
- A care leaver being unable to claim benefits
- A young person that is in full-time education
The local authority must continue to provide this support to all care leavers until they reach the age of 21 or, if they are being helped with education or training, to the end of the agreed programme of education or training – this could take some care leavers beyond their 25th birthday.
Seeking Advice For Care Leavers
We have found that local authorities are often very reluctant to fulfil their obligations to vulnerable young people in this category, so it is important that individuals know that they can receive advice from specialists who will be able to represent their best interests.
Our experienced team of lawyers ensure that care leavers receive the support that they need to make the important transition to adulthood, with the main focus in all cases the ability of the young adult to fulfil their goals in life.
Young People Who Are Homeless Or In Need Of Support
Homelessness amongst young people is a serious issue facing our society. This issue should be managed by a local authority and it is important that young people affected by homelessness understand the help and support available to them.
There are a number of scenarios that could result in a young person becoming homeless, with many cases that we've been involved in involving:
No matter the reason behind their homelessness, all young people going through these difficulties require support in their everyday lives, especially in areas such as:
- Financial and budgeting support
- Education/employment advice
- Help with moving towards independence
Essentially, they need the support that a child would normally expect from a parent.
Young People's (Under 18s) Rights
Social services have a duty to provide support and accommodation to young people under the age of 18, especially if they are in particular need of assistance to manage issues that affect their health or development.
The duty of care for unaccompanied asylum seeking children also falls to the social services, who must ensure that these vulnerable children are protected via community care provision.
Many young people have to struggle and fight for their right to accommodation, however it is the duty of social services to carry out an assessment of the young person to ensure that they are receiving the help and support they require. This assessment should evaluate whether the continuing duty of care falls with social services, if so then provision should be made to support the young person.
There has been a wealth of recent case law that clearly set outs when local authorities are required to act in situations of youth homelessness. It clearly states that a homeless young person under the age of 18 must almost always be accommodated by social services and not by the housing department.
The main two reasons for duty of care of homeless people under the age of 18 falling on social services are:
- Social services have the expertise to be able to identify the type of support package that a young person requires, as this will usually go beyond the provision of accommodation
- Social services will be able to identify the type of accommodation that is required for the young person, be that a children's home, foster care, supported accommodation or independent accommodation with visiting support
Support for Young People over the Age of 18
In cases where social services have arranged accommodation for a young person between the ages of 14 and 18, the young person will be entitled to a range of further services.
In cases such as these the legal aspects and protocols will be drawn from our 'care leavers' area, as those who have been provided accommodation up to the age of 18 will be eligible to assistance until they are 21, or up to 25 if they are enrolled in education and training courses.
Why Choose Us?
At Simpson Millar LLP, we have one of the most experienced and successful community care teams in the country. Our solicitors have assisted hundreds of families, children, and young people, with the end goal of receiving the care and support they require to live their everyday lives.
We can advise young people, parents, support groups, and charities of the rights of young people and ensure that local authorities meet their duties to many of the most vulnerable people in society.
William was autistic and was the younger brother of a child with cerebral palsy. Everyone in the family was beginning to suffer as the parents struggled to manage the needs of both children.
We negotiated with social services to get a proper care assessment, which assessed the needs of all family members.
We then arranged for respite care to enable the parents to have a proper holiday, as well as one weekend a month that could then be devoted to their older son. William also got time away with people his own age and staff who were able to meet his needs.
James had cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and visual impairment. He had been looked after by foster parents since early childhood and educated in an education authority special school. Unfortunately his local authority failed to address his needs on transition to adult life and no arrangements were made for his housing, care and further training once he reached the age of 18.
The foster parents were able to provide him with housing in a property adjoining their own home, but James needed a team of trained carers to look after him. Belatedly, the local authority offered James a place in one of its residential homes.
This was located some distance from the foster family, who believed the placement was in any event unsuitable for someone with James’ range of special needs.
We advised that James had strong grounds for action through the court, and represented him in negotiations with the local authority, engaging independent expert assistance in assessing how his needs should be met. A housing association and a specialist care agency became involved and we secured local authority funding for a tailored care package, to be delivered to James in the property adjoining his foster parents’ home.
That way his care needs could be met while he continued to live in the community where he had spent his childhood. We also ensured he obtained a place at a suitable local college, so that he could continue his education.
During a Special Educational Needs & Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) appeal for a residential school place for an autistic child, we threatened a local authority with legal action for failing to meet social care needs.
The social services team then applied to the family court for an order that Steph should go into care. The authority failed because there was no evidence that Steph was at risk. Under pressure from the court, the school place was agreed.
We then helped the family with a formal complaint about how the authority handled the case and particularly the unjustified family court application and lack of understanding of the needs of families living with autism.
The Local Government Ombudsman upheld the central complaints and asked the Authority to apologise, review procedures and make a nominal financial award for distress.
Contact us now to discuss how we can help you by completing our, no obligation, online enquiry form and we will call you back or you can call us directly on 0345 357 9850.