Greater access to independent advocates for adult placement users has been urged to prevent “deplorable” decisions such as the one in which Manchester Council removed a teenager from his family.
Alex Fox, chief executive of Naaps, which represents adult placement (known as Shared Lives) providers, said advocates would provide an independent view on the best interests of service users in cases where carers were being investigated for alleged abuse.
He spoke out after the High Court case of E, a 19-year-old with complex learning and physical disabilities. Manchester Council removed E to a residential unit from his placement with F, after it was alleged that he had been locked in a cupboard to manage his behaviour.
A council safeguarding investigation proved inconclusive and it is understood that E has returned to live with F, his foster carer since 1995.
Mr Justice Baker said the council had breached the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 by unlawfully depriving E of his liberty without using the deprivation of liberty safeguards. He found that the social worker involved in the case had requested training on the Mental Capacity Act but this had not been given.
Fox said the case illustrated the need for advocacy for service users “which is completely independent of their family and paid or unpaid carers”. He called for it to be installed from the start of a care package, not just at crisis points when the service user may lose their liberty.
This could involve peer support or volunteer organisations and need not be costly for the public purse, Fox added.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Baker said Manchester Council’s lack of consideration to the disruption that this removal caused to E’s family life was “deplorable”. He found that the council had also breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that requires public bodies to respect people’s right to a family life.
Fox added: “All social workers should recognise that the place where a person lives, particularly for any length of time, may be regarded as becoming their family life for the purposes of applying human rights legislation.”
Liz Bruce, Manchester Council’s director of adults’ services, said: “While we strongly believe we did the right thing, the judge has made it clear that we went about it the wrong way. We regret this and have now put in place measures so that in future similar cases we will follow the correct procedures.”
Fox said this kind of case was not uncommon. “The practice issues in this case are very complex and far from unique,” he said, adding that Naaps would work with Manchester Council and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to address them.
David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, said: “We have examples where councils have intimidated people into moving or used their power to move people on the basis that that person doesn’t have capacity.”
Congdon called for greater transparency so that practitioners can learn the lessons of cases such as the one in Manchester.