Last summer, we launched a 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 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 and criminal exploitation.
Councils have a legal 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.
We brought our case against 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 Sufficiency Plan published in January – to improve its provisions for looked after children, primarily through creating more in-house accommodation. It 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.
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