Damages awarded to vulnerable teen in care system

Children|May 18th 2016

Kent County Council must pay a vulnerable 14 year-old girl £17,500, a High Court Judge has ruled, after lengthy delays in addressing her needs.

The girl in question, referred to as ‘K’ in the judgment, was taken into care not long before Christmas i2011. She had been living with her aunt as her mother has problems with her mental health and the two had developed a fraught relationship. Her father is not involved in her life, while her younger sister still lives with the mother.

But then, in December 2011, her aunt contacted Kent County Council and announced that she could no longer look after K. The girl’s mother then gave permission for her daughter to be taken into the care system.

She was placed with foster carers and social workers discussed the possibility of counselling and therapy for her. She displayed very troubled behaviour and eventually, in July 2012, her placement broke down after her foster family were forced to call the police on her. She was moved to a different family and her need for support and therapy was again discussed.

In the High Court, Mrs Justice Theis explained:

“The record repeats that K needs a referral for therapy/counselling and notes the concerns regarding K’s emotional well-being caused by her wish to live with her mother, why her sister lives with her mother and she can’t, and her mother’s inconsistent behaviour at contact.”

She eventually some treatment from the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS), but her new foster placement came to an abrupt end in July 2013 when K assaulted her foster carer and she again had to be moved.

At a later meeting, attended by K herself, social workers noted that she had still received little support or therapy, leaving her “confused and unclear why she could not remain in the care of her mother. This is further exacerbated by a younger half-sibling remaining in the care of [the mother].”

In addition, the local authority had failed to acquire parental responsibility and failed to find a permanent placement for her. Some therapeutic work continued and K’s behaviour at school gradually improved. But the long term uncertainty continued. A CAHMS psychotherapist wrote:

“…the uncertainty about her future is affecting [K’s] emotional well-being and since [the foster carer] is similarly unable to provide reassurance to [K] this is having an impact upon [K’s] attachment to the [foster carer] and the [foster carer’s] attachment to [K]. [the foster carer] must, by virtue of not knowing, withhold some aspects of ”normal’ family life as such as planning for the future. It could be that this is, in part, why [K] believes she may still return home, and why she has seemed confused in her thinking.”

Eventually, K’s case reached the High Court, almost four years after she first entered the care system. There Mrs Justice Theis addressed long-standing issues. She issued a full care order, stating that K should remain in long-term foster care but see her mother and younger sister on a regular basis.

“This order will enable the [local authority] to share parental responsibility and give K the security and stability that her welfare clearly demands.”

At the same hearing, the Judge addressed a claim brought on K’s behalf under the Human Rights Act 1998, with the full support of her mother. This alleged that Kent County Council had breached her rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which govern the right to fair legal proceedings and respect for family life.

The authority denied these suggestions but Mrs Justice Theis ruled against them. There had been lengthy delays in fully assessing the teen’s needs and in drawing up a suitable care plan, thereby depriving her of “a proper opportunity to secure a suitable long term placement and a settled and secure home life.”

K’s rights had been “seriously interfered with”, said the Judge, and so a damaged award was appropriate.

A spokesman for the Council acknowledged the judge’s criticisms.

“ We acknowledge and accept the findings of the court in relation to this case and the criticism of the delay in initiating care proceedings. We have worked hard over a number of years in supporting this child and her family though it is regrettable that she has experienced disruptions both in terms of placement and social worker.”

Read Kent County Council v M and K here.

Author: Stowe Family Law

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