Stop sending children miles away

by Good Law Project

Stop sending children miles away

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.
Funded
on 13th July 2021
£44,400
pledged of £75,000 stretch target from 1,770 pledges
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.

Latest: April 13, 2022

We’re appealing at the Court of Appeal

Last month, the High Court ruled that our judicial review challenge to out-of-area placements for children in care should not proceed. We think that decision was flawed, and we believe this crucial c…

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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. 

The impact is devastating:

As a result of my move, I have felt unwanted in various aspects of my life” - Claudia

“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.” - Sedil

And there is a darker side. Children in distant placements are more vulnerable to criminal exploitation, trafficking and “county lines” than those who remain in their home area. Ofsted’s recent 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.

Councils have a legal duty to ensure that children in care are accommodated within their local area if that is in their best interests, which, for the vast majority of children, it will be. They also have a duty to ensure there is enough provision in their area to allow that to happen. Out of area placements are intended to be a last resort. Yet, thousands of children are being sent miles away from everything and everyone they know.

So why is this happening? Three quarters of children’s homes are now run by the private sector and these are disproportionately located in the North of England. Not because demand is higher there - but because property is cheaper.

Last year the six largest private care providers made £219 million in profit, whilst local authorities struggled to balance their books and outcomes for children in care remain dire.

Good Law Project has launched groundbreaking legal action to prevent children being put at risk by being separated from their support networks. We’re challenging five local authorities - Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City - for not complying with their duty.

We are 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.

The state can and must do better for these children. Please consider donating to this challenge.

 
The details: 
Good Law Project has instructed Stephen Broach of 39 Essex Chambers, and Michael Armitage and Khatija Hafesji of Monckton Chambers, to act as Counsel - and Bindmans LLP as solicitors. You can read the pre-action protocol letter here and Statement of Facts and Grounds here.

10% of the sums raised will go to Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. However, if there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring.



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Update 4

Good Law Project

April 13, 2022

We’re appealing at the Court of Appeal

Last month, the High Court ruled that our judicial review challenge to out-of-area placements for children in care should not proceed. We think that decision was flawed, and we believe this crucial claim should be considered in full by the Court. 

So, we have asked the Court of Appeal to overturn the High Court's refusal and order that the judicial review should proceed to a full hearing. The Court of Appeal could make that decision with or without a hearing. 

We will post a further update as soon as we know more. The crowdfunding page will remain closed in the meantime, but we are grateful for your ongoing support.

Update 3

Good Law Project

March 29, 2022

High Court refuses permission in our children in care case

Today, we asked the High Court to reconsider its decision not to allow our judicial review challenge to out-of-area placements for children in care to proceed. We are sorry to have to tell you that the refusal has been upheld.

Local authorities have a legal duty to provide accommodation locally for children in their care. We brought this claim against five local authorities who we thought were failing to meet that duty, and against the Secretary of State for Education for failing to make them. 

Permission was initially refused based on what all parties now agree was a misunderstanding of the relevant duty by the Judge.

But today a new Judge has ruled that, for different reasons, the claim should not proceed. He found that the Court can’t interfere unless a local authority’s actions meet the high threshold of being actions that no reasonable local authority could take, and here they did not. 

We are discussing with our lawyers whether to appeal the decision, but have closed the crowdfunding page in the meantime.

The Court found that Good Law Project would probably have had standing to bring the claim. It rejected the Secretary of State’s contention that the Runnymede case means we will never have standing. 

Last week, we pointed out that one local authority, Surrey, had taken seriously the failings highlighted by our claim and was taking steps to redress them. In the circumstances we had discontinued our claim against Surrey. All of the other authorities have, since we issued proceedings, taken some, albeit we continue to consider inadequate, steps to show that they are grappling with their policy failures.

We will continue to fight to protect the interests of looked after children. 

Update 2

Good Law Project

March 15, 2022

Surrey Council commits to changing its ways thanks to our legal challenge

Last summer, we launched this case to protect the rights and safety of children in care - some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In 2020, more than 30,000 children were placed in accommodation far away from their local area. 

Councils do this for a variety of reasons, often because it’s cheaper. But it can have devastating consequences for the children who are moved. Their social workers visit them less, and they become cut off from the places they know, at a time when their lives are already turbulent and uncertain. The evidence is clear that it places them at increased risk of sexual or criminal exploitation.

Councils have a duty to do everything they can to ensure children in care are accommodated within their local area. Out of area placements are supposed to be a last resort. But increasingly, they’re not.

Our case targeted the Department of Education and five of the worst offending councils: Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City. Surrey has now decided to take concrete steps - set out in its new Sufficiency Plan published in January - to improve its provisions for looked after children, primarily through creating more in-house accommodation. It now has plans to invest “£37 million in developing new in-area residential accommodation, including the development of up to 20 to 30 new in-house residential beds", as well as “the block-booking of up to 80 supported accommodation beds in-area, some of which will be available for older looked after children”, and increasing its network of foster carers. 

This is fantastic news. It shows strategic legal challenges can make a difference to people’s lives. In the circumstances, we have agreed to discontinue our claim against Surrey Council, with no order as to costs. We hope that Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex and Derby City do the right thing and follow suit but, until they do, we intend to continue with our action.

On Tuesday 29 March, the Court will hear the oral renewal of our application for permission to bring judicial review proceedings. We will update you after the hearing.

Update 1

Good Law Project

Dec. 6, 2021

We still want to protect children in care - we're asking the Court to reconsider

Back in July, we launched this legal challenge against five county councils and the former Education Secretary to put a stop to the increasingly common practice of housing vulnerable children far away from everything they know in for-profit care homes. 

Accommodating children out of area takes them away from their communities, friends and support networks; upending their lives, worsening the traumas they’ve already experienced and placing them in greater danger of abuse and exploitation.

But a High Court judge chose to interpret the current law surrounding this issue in a way that we consider is far too narrow, and refused permission for our judicial review.

So, we are now calling for their decision to be reconsidered.  

We think the councils are in breach of their legal duties to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, children in care are given accommodation within their local area, and to ensure there’s enough accommodation in their area for that to happen.

After we launched proceedings, many of the councils accepted that there were issues and started trying to address them. Surrey, for example, recently began the ‘Coming Home’ project to “increase the sufficiency of provision in Surrey for children and young people who are looked after and/or have SEND [special educational needs and disabilities]".

We are pleased to see that attitudes are starting to change, but county councils and the Government can and must do more to protect vulnerable children in their care. We think it’s right for the High Court to rule on it.

Tearing children away from their support networks must be the exception, never the rule. We’re going to carry on fighting for these children with everything we’ve got. 

If you are able to help us continue this important work, please consider supporting this appeal. 

You can read the High Court’s ruling here and our renewal application here

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