Council loses appeal over responsibility for vulnerable baby

Children|May 12th 2016

Medway Council is responsible for the welfare of a vulnerable child, the High Court has ruled.

The case concerned an eight month-old baby girl born in Portsmouth. Referred to by the Judge as ‘W’, her mother had been in the city at the time to attend a drug detox programme arranged by social services in Dorset, the area in which the mother had previously lived. Following the birth, the baby spent time in intensive care.

After leaving hospital, they then moved to in a planned placement with W’s great grandmother in Kent.

Care proceedings were launched shortly after the birth. Kent County Council took issue with the hospital discharge plan which saw the mother and baby living at the great grandmother’s home in Medway, insisting that this was “not a safe or stable interim placement”.

They were then moved to a mother and baby placement in East Sussex. Subsequently, however, at a family court in Medway, a Judge ruled that the local authority responsible for W’s welfare under the ongoing care proceedings was Medway Council rather than Dorset or Kent.

Medway appealed, arguing that the family had in fact been placed by Kent. But in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Ryder was unconvinced. He noted that W and her mother had been placed with the great grandmother under a formal ‘working together’ agreement with Kent County Council, and said this had been clearly worded.

“In the absence of any other material, the plain language of the working together agreement presents a formidable obstacle to the submission that W was accommodated or placed by Kent CC with the extended family in Medway. The agreement is no more than an unenforceable child protection arrangement…”

It did not constitute a formal agreement under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, which places a duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for vulnerable children – nor was it an agreement that W should become a ‘looked after’ child. The Judge also proclaimed himself “wholly unpersuaded” that the baby’s time in Medway should be disregarded, under section 105(6) of the Children Act.

This states that:

“In determining the “ordinary residence” of a child for any purpose of this Act, there shall be disregarded any period in which he lives in any place—

(a)which is a school or other institution;

(b)in accordance with the requirements of a supervision order under this Act . . .

(ba)in accordance with the requirements of a youth rehabilitation order under Part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008; or

(c)while he is being provided with accommodation by or on behalf of a local authority.”

W had lived in Medway for the whole of time between her departure from the maternity hospital andtheir move to mother and baby placement in Kent. The mother had also never entertained any plans to return permanently to Dorset.

Mr Justice Ryder said the question of residence should be seen as a simple, factual matter and not subjected to overcomplication.

The earlier’s ruling had been “reasoned and clear and in all the circumstances unassailable.”

In the Matter of W (A Child) can be read here.

Photo by slimmer_jimmer via Flickr

Author: Stowe Family Law

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