Charity Launches Legal Challenge to Protect Vulnerable Children
Children’s rights charity Article 39 is taking legal action to have removed from circulation a document published and distributed by the UK Department for Education’s innovation programme, amidst concerns that Local Authorities are being given advice that puts thousands of vulnerable children and young people at risk.
The application to launch Judicial Review proceedings comes after a document published by the department came to light which frames as ‘myths’ legal protections for children in care, care leavers, children who are in custody on remand, and children who run away and go missing.
The so-called ‘myth busting’ guide contains questions about different aspects of Local Authority duties towards vulnerable children and young people, with the charity raising concerns that much of the advice about councils’ legal obligations contradicts and undermines existing law and statutory guidance.
Today Public Law experts at Simpson Millar, acting on behalf of the charity, confirmed that legal action to have the document removed from circulation was underway due to fears it could lead to Local Authorities acting unlawfully and weaken the protections given to vulnerable children and young people.
Last year, 50 organisations and social work experts wrote to Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP urging him to withdraw inaccurate parts of the document but he refused stating there had been no change to the law or government guidance.
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow said, “It is deeply regrettable that the Minister did not withdraw the document after we clearly set out the inconsistencies with the current statutory framework. This document overwrites key obligations within our children’s social care system, which were crafted over many years and subject to detailed public consultations. The protections the guide presents as mythical exist in our legislation and statutory guidance because of the real needs of real children and young people.
“We are taking a risk financially with this legal challenge but it’s the right thing to do. It shouldn’t fall to vulnerable children and young people, many of whom are in the care of the state, to have to go to Court to defend the protections Parliament and successive governments have given them.”
Oliver Studdert, Public Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar said, “The ‘myth busting’ guide removes important statutory safeguards which were put in place to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society. In following this guide, Local Authorities will be denying fundamental support and protection, set out in law, to large numbers of children and young people in need.”
Article 39 is challenging parts of the guidance which claim:
- Social workers do not have to lead assessments of children who automatically gain ‘looked after’ status and protections when remanded to custody
- Councils do not have to offer a return home interview to children who have run away or gone missing
- Councils do not have to appoint separate social workers to foster carers and children in long-term placements
- Personal advisers appointed to advise and support young people leaving care can take on the local authority’s duties in respect of ‘Staying Put’ arrangements – where 18 to 21 year-olds can continue living with their foster carers
- Social workers only have to make one visit a year to foster carers looking after a child for more than a year
- Social workers can decide to visit children in long-term foster placements as little as twice a year.
1. The application was made to the High Court on 18 February 2019.
2. The Article 39 legal action is being represented by Oliver Studdert, Partner in Public Law at Simpson Millar, and Steve Broach and Khatija Hafesji from Monckton Chambers.
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