A referral was received by Sova from an independent reviewing officer on behalf of a young person Simon, age 12 yrs. 

Simon has been in the care of the local authority for some time, during that time he had been in residential care; which was not successful. Simon has a deep affection for his family and has regular contact with his grandparents.  Therefore, he was placed in the care of his mother’s ex-partner (Fred) who was paid a foster carers allowance under reg38; there was no blood relationship linking the two.  The arrangement had been in place for more than two years. 

However, unfortunately after a while Simon refused to engage with services and was not attending school.  Concerns were raised about Fred’s parenting capacity and it was felt that he was not able to meet Simon’s needs.  Therefore, the fostering panel removed their approval of Fred as a foster carer and Simon was removed from his care.

Simon was placed in a residential home 30 miles from his home town.  He was “delivered” by his social worker and told that he would remain there until he was 18.  He immediately became distressed and there followed almost unmanageable behaviours where he refused to wash, dress or attend school. He refused to unpack and caused significant damage to property (c.£6000) and assaulted staff. He reported feeling isolated and alienated having no contact with Fred or his family.  The location of the placement and the management of his care resulted in a restriction of his liberty which in the absence of relevant court orders would be unlawful.  A Sova advocate was deployed to visit, take instructions and seek his wishes and feelings. A plan was agreed with Simon and his advocate:

Advocacy Action Plan

  • Lodge formal complaint against the local authority regarding being moved from family member without proper notice and unhelpful comments of the social worker in regards to staying in placement for the next 6 years
  • Referral re safeguarding due to Simon's behaviour, risk of damage to self and others
  • Seek legal advice to challenge the local authority on the legality of the placement, deprivation of liberty and right to family life
  • Request a change of social worker
  • Liaise with Fred, suggesting he seek legal advice and his own advocate with a view to challenging the decision to cancel his foster carer status
  • Confirm all of the above with Simon by telephone – preferred method of communication

Outcome:

A complaint was lodged against the local authority and an urgent review of the placement was requested.  In the meantime, legal advice was obtained as follows:  

  1. Judicial review of the decision to remove Simon from the care of Fred

The scope of judicial review is to consider the lawfulness of the specific decision and how that was made.  Part of the issue would be whether the local authority were right to have removed Fred from their list of approved foster carers and query whether Fred is the best person to bring such a challenge.

  1. Proceedings in the High Court under the inherent jurisdiction

A care order does not of itself authorise arrangements that amount to a deprivation of liberty in the Article 5 sense.  It is likely that Simon is being deprived of his liberty and therefore that this would require authorisation from the court.  In deciding whether to authorise any deprivation of liberty, the court would have to scrutinise whether the arrangements are the least restrictive possible for Simon and in his best interests. 

  1. Litigation Friend

As Simon is under 18, he needs someone to act as a litigation friend to give a solicitor instructions on his behalf.  The rules state that any litigation friend must be able to fairly and competently conduct proceedings on the person’s behalf and have no interests adverse to the person.

Advocacy contacted Simon and informed him that a complaint had been made and also explained that the solicitor was willing to take the case on if an advocate helped with the proceedings. Simon said he just wanted to get home therefore anything that needed to be done should be done.  Sova therefore agreed to undertake the role of litigation friend in order that the solicitors could be instructed.

To ensure professional relationships were not harmed with the corporate parent, this information was communicated to them in advance of the agreement being undertaken, 

NB: Notifying the corporate parent was intended as a courteous action, not seeking their permission to act at litigation friendIt is important to realise, an advocate is sometimes called to bite the hand that feeds in order to ensure rights are protected!

Further Action

Sova advocates work closely with the local adult advocacy service. Fred was signposted to them and they supported Fred to appeal the decision regarding his foster care status; his appeal was ultimately successful.

Final Outcome

With all relevant agreements in place, the solicitor issued a letter before action – as a direct result, the local authority returned Simon to live with Fred and ultimately the foster panel appeal was successful. Simon now remains living in the care of Fred and a new social worker.