A local authority unlawfully assumed parental responsibility for a brother and sister in the care system, the Family Court has declared.
In X, Y & Z, the two siblings are now aged 12 and 11 respectively. In 2006 the London Borough of Newham began care proceedings which continued until 2008. The authority was criticised for leaving the youngsters in temporary council accommodation for so long – specifically Section 20 accommodation, as defined by the Children Act 1989. Eventually the children were sent to live with their paternal aunt in Jamaica under a residence order.
But in 2013, the aunt announced that she could no longer care for them and the brother and sister were sent back to the UK, to live with a foster carer who had previously looked after them. They were given emergency police protection by West Sussex County Council.
In the Brighton Family Court, His Honour Judge Farquhar noted that:
“There was a telephone call between the paternal aunt and a social worker on 21st January 2013 in which it is said that the aunt stated that she could not manage the children, she may die soon, would agree to accommodation and was clear that she wanted the children to be cared by their previous foster carer, W.”
The brother and sister were placed back in the foster care system. When the mother discovered what had happened, she pressed for their return to her care, possibly under a special guardianship order. She still holds parental responsibility for her children.
But the pair confessed they had little recollection of their mother and weren’t sure they wanted to see her again.
Eventually the mother, referred to as ‘Z’, agreed to the children’s return to the foster carer W, with a programme of contact agreed.
The boy, ‘X’, later left W’s care following unspecified “allegations” against him, and was moved to a different placement: his fifth overall.
Finally, at the end of last year, fresh care proceedings concluded with the brother and sister sent into separate foster placements. Neither see the mother or each other. X, meanwhile, lives with foster carers who do “not match his cultural identity.”
Shortly afterwards, the mother and legal guardians of both children began legal proceedings against the council, seeking a declaration that West Sussex County Council had breached the human rights of the mother, X and his sister, ‘Y’.
The Council denied this, but Judge Farquhar agreed, declaring:
“West Sussex County Council acted unlawfully and in violation of the Convention Rights of X, Y and Z as follows:
a) Purported to exercise parental responsibility for X and Y for a period of almost two and a half years when they did not hold parental responsibility for the children.
b) Failed to promote contact between the children ,X and Y and their mother Z.
c) Failed to issue care proceedings for almost two and a half years causing the children to be without access to independent representation, failing to carry out adequate assessments and allowing the children’s permanence plan to drift.
d) The Independent Reviewing Officer failed to challenge the conduct of the Local Authority sufficiently robustly.”
The mother was awarded £5,000 in damages and the children considerably more. The Judge explained:
“As a result due to all of the issues which have been highlighted I am satisfied that the children should be awarded the sum of £20,000 each for all of the breaches of their Article 6 and 8 rights.”
Read the ruling here.