Category Archives: Child care

Ridley & Hall Review of the Care Leavers Charter

Many grandparent carers and family and friends carers will be caring for “looked after” children who are approaching 16 – or who may have already reached it. This briefing sets out the key responsibilities of local authorities for these children who will soon be leaving care.

What are the duties of Local Authorities?

Local authorities have a duty to support “looked after” children and provide services to enable them to live in a safe, loving environment. Children can be “looked after” until they reach the age of 16 and it is often a misconception that once a child turns 16, local authority involvement automatically ceases.

But in fact the local authorities duties extend further than this. There is support available for children who are leaving care at the age of 16 up to the age of 21, or 25 if they are in further education.

The Care Leavers Charter

In October 2012, the Department of Education launched the ‘Care Leavers Charter’, a contract between local authorities and young people leaving care setting out what support care leavers can expect.

A year later in October 2013 and over 120 local authorities have signed up to the charter, pledging to prioritise the needs of young people leaving care.

Around 10,000 young people aged 16-18 in England leave care each year. This is a vulnerable time as they transition into adulthood. Research shows that the quality of support offered to care leavers is often lacking and the transition to adulthood can often be an anxious time for young people. Many young people feel isolated and often struggle to find work which can lead to long term unemployment and involvement in crime.

The Care Leavers Charter aims to provide support and guidance to care leavers and for them to ‘expect the same level of care and support that other young people get from their parent’. The main areas which have been looked at are education, employment, financial support, health, housing, justice system and on-going support, for example;

Education

The Department of Education found that 34% of all care leavers aged 19 were not in education, employment or training compared to 15.5% of the general population of 18 year olds. In addition, only 6% of care leavers went on to higher education compared to 23% of their peers. 80% of non-looked after children obtained 5 A*-C GCSE’s compared with only 37% of looked after children.

The Department of Education has placed a duty on local authorities to provide a personal adviser to all care leavers up to the age of 25 who wish to continue with education/training. Local authorities are to encourage care leavers to remain in education, take up training opportunities and undertake activities aimed at improving employability.

2. Employment

The Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide 18-24 year olds access to additional advice, support, work experience and apprenticeships. Job Centre Plus advisers are also to provide this support to care leavers who face greater difficulties in finding work.

3. Financial Support

16-19 year olds attending a furthere education course are entitled to a bursary of £1,200. Care leavers attending university are entitled to a higher education bursary of £2,000.

DWP has ensured that dedicated Job Centre Plus advisers can support care leavers in making a claim for benefits in advance of leaving care to prevent hardship when they first leave.

97 Local Authorities to date have signed up to pay at least £2,000 to care leavers by way of a setting up home allowance (leaving care grant). In the future it is hoped that statutory guidance will be issued to encourage all local authorities to pay this allowance.

4. Health

The mental health strategy ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ published in February 2011 highlights the fact that looked after children and care leavers mental health needs are often greater than the general population. The Department of Health is investing £54 million in 2011-2015 to improve access to psychological therapies and CAMHS.

5. Housing

Around one quarter of those living on the streets have a background in care and it is often difficult for care leavers to find suitable accommodation.

The Department of Education has revised leaving care guidance to encourage local authorities to consider introducing the ‘staying put’ provision. Some local authorities are using ‘staying put’ arrangements to ensure that care leavers can continue to live with and get support from former foster carers.

6. Justice System

Care leavers are a group at risk of being drawn into crime and are equally particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.

In October 2013, new guidance was published where a range of providers not just prison and probation staff will have responsibility for supporting young adults to make the right choices and reduce the rates of re-offending.

The Youth Justice Board funds dedicated social worker’s in all under 18 young offender institutions to meet the needs of looked after children and care leavers.

7. On-going Support

The Department of Education has issued guidance ‘Transitions to Adulthood’ which places a duty on local authorities to stay in touch and support care leavers until 21, and beyond if in education.

The Department of Education has pledged to open a savings account for all care leavers who have been in care for a year or more with an initial £200 which they can access when they turn 18.

What’s next?

Data collection is to continue and a further report will be issued in October 2014 to measure progress and set out what more can be done to support care leavers and helping them to improve their lives.

Helen Jarvis is a member the Grandparents Legal Centre legal team. If you have any questions about the Care Leavers Charter, “looked after” children, grandparent carers or family and friends carers, please contact Helen by telephoning 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Tick Tock – The Time is Now for Family Members

“There is no time like the present” is an old saying but it could not be more appropriate for family and friends carers and the support groups that work with them.

Frequently when local authorities issue care proceedings, there has been reluctance by family members to put themselves forward as carers in the early stages of the case.

This can be for a variety of reasons. Often it is due to grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends not being aware of the seriousness of the situation. They don’t want to undermine the parents’ chances of resuming the care of the child. The impact has been that family members have come forward at the later  stages of a case when they realise that the child may be heading for adoption or long term fostering. This has led to final decisions in where a child should live being delayed.

However, from October 2013 the government’s Public Law Outline pilot scheme was implemented nationally. Cases will be expected to be completed within a strict 26 week time period.

The implications for family members is that by the 12th day after an application by a local authority for either a care or supervision order has been made,  parents must have nominated alternative family and friend carers so the case can be fully timetabled.  If family members are not nominated by this date then there is a real likelihood that they will not be considered, unless in the most exceptional of cases.

Grandparents and other family members must act quickly to make sure they are going to be considered as carers. Family members can no longer take a back seat and see how the parents do prior to coming forward as in doing so may mean they are not assessed and their grandchild, niece/nephew is placed outside the family.

Commenting, James Cook, Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors said “They urgently need expert legal advice. Family and friends carers play a significant role in the care of children. The Public Law Outline timetable is tough. And with courts making clear that every avenue of care must be explored before they will support a plan for adoption, it’s vital that kinship carers and those who work with them act quickly.”

For more information on the Public Law Outline, please phone 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Care department.

Huddersfield Law Firm Receives National Accreditation for Third Consecutive Year

Ridley & Hall is proud to be recognised as national experts by a legal publication for the third consecutive year.

The Legal 500, published for over twenty years provides the most comprehensive worldwide coverage currently available on legal services providers, in over 100 countries.

It is used as a yardstick to measure firms by commercial and private clients as well as professional advisers. The Legal 500 is widely regarded as offering the definitive judgement of law firm capabilities. The publication is updated every year and relies on reports not just from solicitors firms themselves but also interviews with clients.

Ridley & Hall has been particularly recommended for its expertise in family law and trusts and probate in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. The Family team headed up by partner Meena Kumari deals with divorce and financial issues as well as domestic violence and parents seeking contact with children and recently launched the FamlyFirst service earlier this year. The firm also has a specialist child care team which includes award-winning Partners Nigel Priestley and Michael George.

Jill Waddington who heads up the Wills, trusts and probate department said “We are really please to be acknowledged once again as one of the top Wills and probate legal service providers in the region. We attribute this to our experienced and friendly team as well as our involvement with a service for those nearing or at retirement age called Elderflower because we feel strongly that older clients need specialist advice. Membership of the Legal 500 provides further assurance of our expertise to offer this service.”

Managing Partner Adam Fletcher commented “I would like to thank our clients who were willing to recommend us; it is their recognition that really means a lot. For a small firm in West Yorkshire this is quite an achievement!”

For more information, please phone us on 01484 538421 or contact us by e-mail.

Liverpool City Council Fails to Give Adequate Support to 340 Carers

Around 340 carers in the Merseyside area will have their allowances backdated after an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) discovered Liverpool City Council had been underpaying them for years. For full story click here

After Separation Where Do Grandparents Stand With Their Grandchildren?

It is wildly recognised that due to the increase in child care fees, grandparents are coming out of retirement to care for their grandchildren so that the parents can go back to work and earn a living and provide for their family.  Unfortunately, when the relationship between the parents breaks down, the grandparents are forgotten and their contact all too frequently ceases despite the close relationship they have built up with their grandchildren.

Grandparents have always had a right to have contact with their grandchildren, however, due to court procedures, this may appear to be anything but the case.  This is due to the grandparents having to apply for permission to make an application for contact before the judge considers their substantive application.  When deciding whether to grant permission the court considers:-

  1. Whether they have a close link to the child
  2. Whether they are making the application for other purposes other than contact, and
  3. Whether the child will be at risk if the application is granted

Once they have jumped that hurdle they then have to convince the judge and the parents that it is in the best interest of the child that their application for contact is granted.

Will this Change?

Under the Family Justice Review, it is proposed that parents will be expected to draw up parenting agreements which will set out the role the grandparents will continue to play in their grandchildren’s lives.  This document could then be used as evidence if the parents cease offering the contact and an application to court is necessary.  It is hoped that this way children will grow up knowing their grandparents.

Some hoped that the review would look at removing the barrier of leave being granted before the grandparents can make their application but unfortunately that is not the case this time around but who knows what will happen in the future.

Samantha Sanders is a solicitor in the Care Proceedings and Adoption team.  She can be contacted by phone, 01484 538421, or by e-mail, samantha.sanders@ridleyandhall.co.uk.

Christmas Came Early for Grandparent

A London grandmother is delighted to find out that the local authority will pay her just under £23,000 for backdated special guardianship allowance.

The grandmother (TT) cannot be named for legal reasons.

TT had been requested by social services to care for her son’s ex-girlfriend’s child, C, from a different father.  This is because both of C’s parents had received long prison sentences after he was born.  At first he went into foster care while London Borough of Merton Council tried to find a more permanent placement for him.  Unfortunately his family were not willing to look after him, therefore the council approached TT.

When TT agreed to look after C the council asked her to get a court order which would give her parental responsibility for C, known as a special guardianship order (SGO). In certain circumstances when a SGO has been made the council can have a responsibility to provide support to the child and their carer, which can take the form of regular financial allowance (SGO allowance).

TT was also caring for her granddaughter who shared the same mother as C.  Both children had significant difficulties including post traumatic stress disorder and behavioural issues.  TT gave up her job to look after the children and was in receipt of benefits.  She had a very low income and was struggling to maintain the children and she asked the local authority to consider her for a SGO allowance for C.

The local authority’s policy for SGO allowances was based on paying two thirds the rate of the core fostering allowance.  This went to court in June 2012 where the policy was found to be unlawful.  The local authority was ordered to draft a new policy by December 2012 which they have recently completed.

Under the new policy the local authority have calculated that TT was due £22,978.08 as backdated pay.

TT said:
“This is the best Christmas present I could have wished for. I took the children on out of love and I wanted to give them a good start in life.  I brought the proceedings out of necessity as I could not afford to keep the children.  I have been living through a financial nightmare. I had to give up the car and went into debt, to the extent that I could not even use catalogues to buy things.

“I am absolutely delighted with the payout and I could not sleep when I first found out.  It will make a wonderful Christmas for the children.  I intend to wipe away the debt and buy a car and I will then be able to secure the children’s future with me”.

Rebecca Chapman of Ridley & Hall Solicitors, acting for TT, said:

“I am really pleased that TT has received the increased allowance and will be able to continue to look after the children without the financial worries which have existed since 2010.

“However, TT should have just been paid the right allowance from the beginning. It is unfortunate that she had to take the matter to court, which has meant that the council have had to pay legal fees, at a difficult financial time for councils.”

The court case is TT v London Borough of Merton [2012] EWHC 2055 (admin) and can be found at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2012/2055.html.

If you require anymore information please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Chapman on 01484 538421 or email rebecca.chapman@ridleyandhall.co.uk