William Eichler 05 July 2019

Council apologises for misinforming homeless teenager about their rights

Essex County Council has apologised for turning away homeless children from care following a judicial review and has committed to better train its social workers.

The court case was brought by Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) on behalf of a 16-year-old homeless child (“D”) who had been refused support by the Essex Young People’s Partnership (EYPP).

The EYPP is a housing gateway through which 16- and 17-year-old children and young adults who are at risk of homelessness can access accommodation and support. It was introduced in June 2017.

“D” presented herself to the council as homeless and asked for help developing independent living skills in a supported arrangement. She requested not to be placed in family-based foster care due to her difficult family background.

The court heard that Essex CC did not inform “D” of her entitlements to accommodation and on-going social care support and refused her social care input on the basis that she did not wish to be placed in foster care.

CCLC requested a judicial review, arguing that the ‘Looked After Child’ regime under the Children Act 1989 compels the council to provide any type of accommodation on the condition that it has proper regard to the child’s needs.

Essex CC has apologised for its failures and said that decisions as to the type of accommodation to be provided are now being made without any involvement of the EYPP.

It has also embarked on training of its social workers involved in assessing 16- and 17- year-old children to ensure they are aware of the range of accommodation and support that can be provided.

Commenting on the ruling, senior solicitor at Coram Children’s Legal Centre Kelly Everett said: ‘Since the inception of the EYPP in June 2017, we at Coram have represented a number of 16- and 17-year-old children who, like D, have not only needed accommodation but also emotional and material support from Essex children’s services but been diverted away from these protections based on misinformation about their entitlements.

‘This has meant that these children were without support at a crucial point in their adolescent years.

‘We are extremely pleased that Essex has accepted that it needs to amend its flawed practices and that it will train its social workers accordingly.

‘Although no audit will be carried out into the number of children affected by Essex’s practices, it is our hope that other children who were denied the protections under the Children Act 1989 will now be able to come forward and seek the support they are entitled to from Essex.’

A spokesperson for Essex County Council, said: 'The council has accepted that there was unfortunately a technical error in this case in how we responded to this young person’s needs as we assessed them. However, she was provided with accommodation at all times and did receive significant support from the county council. We do not accept that there was a general unlawful practice and there has been no court finding against the council.

'We are however improving the training of our staff to ensure that there is no repetition. In a case such as this we would always apologise. This occurred two years ago in 2017 and since then OFSTED has rated our children’s services ‘Outstanding’.'

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