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Good Law Project is calling on the High Court to reconsider its refusal to permit a judicial review of local authority policies that routinely house vulnerable children in for-profit care homes far from where they lived.
This practice takes children 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.
We think the councils are in breach of their legal duties to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, children in care are accommodated within their local area, and to ensure there’s enough accommodation in their area to allow that to happen.
In July, we launched an important legal action to compel Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City to do far more to house children in care in their local area. We also challenged the former Education Secretary for failing to act on behalf of children in care. He could have forced local authorities to do far more, but decided to pass the buck to Ofsted inspectors instead.
The High Court judge chose to interpret the current law surrounding this in a way that we consider is far too narrow. That’s why we are now calling for it to be reconsidered.
Councils, particularly those in southern England and the Midlands, are increasingly housing children many miles from where they live and their support networks. In 2020, a shocking 70 per cent of children in residential care were placed in housing outside their local authority.
Why? Poor planning and an abdication of responsibility by the local authorities. It’s as simple as that. Rather than build up local capacity, it appears they rely on private care homes that maximise profit by building housing in the north of England where property is cheaper.
We know of one child who arrived unaccompanied in the UK from Iran aged 12. He was taken into the care of Surrey council, before being moved over and over again to various placements as far away as Manchester. This caused severe mental health problems, including difficulties establishing relationships, struggles with his education, and an attempted suicide.
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 local authorities 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 our appeal.