Social workers must review the care plans of all children leaving care, according to a landmark High Court judgement.
In a case this week, A v Lambeth, Mr Justice Parker ruled it unlawful that an 18-year-old, who had previously been looked after by the council, had his leaving care pathway plan reviewed by his personal adviser.
Personal advisers – employed to act as an intermediary between the young person and social services – may legitimately initiate a review, the judge said, but he ruled that a social worker must conduct it.
Criticising the council for failing to comply with its duties to care leavers, Parker ruled that a social worker must liaise with the child’s personal adviser to review the plan initially, and at least every six months thereafter.
Pathway plans set out contingency plans and specify who will provide identified support to the young person. They are valid until the young person turns 21, or 24 if they remain in education, and ensure the young person receives support and guidance, equivalent to that of a parent.
Oliver Studdert, who represented the claimant, said the judgement clarified that social services “cannot cease to be involved with children leaving care once they reach 18”.
“All too frequently a personal adviser also plays the role of social worker, resulting in clear conflicts arising to the detriment of the young person. This is yet another indication from the courts that social services departments cannot get away with side-stepping their duties to some of the most vulnerable people in society,” he said.
Nusha Mansuri, policy officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said she hoped the ruling would become a “landmark judgement for care leavers and their right to be supported by a social worker until they are 21, or in some cases 24.”
“While a personal adviser can play a valuable role in helping a young person with their career choices, they should never become a substitute for the child’s social worker – it is both an abdication of responsibility on the part of the local authority and blatantly disregards the views of care leavers themselves who have told us for many years how important it is to them to have a social worker supporting them at such a critical time in their lives,” Mansuri said.
She added that the rationing of resources in some children’s departments, even before the recession, had “relegated the service to children-in-care” which then “goes from bad to worse when they leave care.”