A High Court judge has criticised Enfield Council for making a “fundamentally flawed” section 17 child-in-need assessment where it reasoned that a 16-year-old girl was not homeless, and therefore not entitled to support, because her parents would have accepted her into the home.
Justice Hayden said “any reasonable decision maker” could see that the girl, who is now 18 years old, was a child in need as defined by section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and required to be accommodated under a section 20 voluntary care arrangement.
The girl, referred to as C, had a troubled relationship with her family and had been identified as being at risk of radicalisation. She had travelled to the Syrian border before and had undergone a ceremony preparing for a marriage with a man in his 30s, against the wishes of her parents.
C had been involved in the Channel programme, an early intervention strategy to safeguard vulnerable people from being drawn into violent extremism or terrorist behaviour, but “quickly drifted away” from the project.
C returned to England after leaving her parents’ home in August 2014. After a short period of time living with relatives, she travelled to Egypt alone.
She presented at Tower Hamlets children’s services in November 2014 as homeless and said she did not want to return home. Her father had previously asked children’s services if they would be able to provide her with a flat of her own, but they were informed that’s not something social care could provide.
However an assessment carried out by Enfield said C was not homeless because she was able to return to her parents who offered to accommodate her.
Justice Hayden called this “simplistic”, and said it stretched the reasoning further to say she “could not be ‘in need’ in the sense contemplated by [section] 17 Children Act 1989”.
A structured assessment of C then did not happen until June 2015. It was said in between this time C was in an “increasingly unsafe” situation, where she spent time living with the man she had undergone a pre-wedding ceremony with. He had been monitored by police because of “radicalised beliefs”.
Justice Hayden said that throughout this period, where she also likely stayed with friends and her parents from time to time, the risks presented through the “chaotic lifestyle” included ones to her physical, emotional and sexual security.
He said it was “strikingly clear” that Enfield children’s social care “did not truly analyse C’s case at all” within the framework of section 17.
“It would seem to me that the risks arising to C by virtue of her views and belief structure and the concerns that was within a spectrum of radicalisation, undoubtedly placed her securely within the contemplated reach of section 17,” Hayden said.
The older the child, the more weight which should have been given to their “wishes and feelings” under section 17, Hayden said.
He added how it is common for parents of children in need to still offer them a home, but this is “frequently irrelevant”.
“The [authority has] created a false logic: (i) the parents offer a home; (ii) the child is not homeless and therefore; (iii) the child is not ‘in need’,” he said. “The flaw in this reasoning, which I am satisfied was the false equation constructed by the defendants, is manifestly irrational.”
He concluded that the decision making was “fundamentally flawed” and “difficult to justify or defend”.
In light of this the judge ordered C to be regarded “a former relevant child”, giving her access to leaving care support and services, as she would have spent the required amount of time in care to be classified as such if the council had made a correct assessment.