A council has agreed to pay out £7,500 after a judge found it had ignored judicial guidance and breached the human rights of a child in a section 20 arrangement.
Judge Murfitt found Thurrock council breached the rights of the 10-year-old girl, referred to as BB, by failing to instigate care proceedings for 13 months while she was living with a foster carer under a section 20 arrangement.
Murfitt said the council’s legal department appeared to not consider recent judicial guidance on the proper use of section 20. This included a warning that councils using the arrangements for “other than temporary periods of care” effectively deprived children of an independent guardian to represent their interests.
Section 20 guidance
Social workers with a Community Care Inform Children subscription can access this guide on putting recent judicial guidance on section 20 into practice.
He added that the local authority failed “to have regard to the guidance provided by judicial authority as to the proper use of [section] 20, in the period prior to their issue of proceedings”.
The section 20 arrangement was made with appropriate consent but Thurrock’s delay in bringing proceedings denied the girl her right to a fair trial and to a family life, the judge found.
“I am satisfied that the local authority’s delay in issuing proceedings left BB in a drifting position of unacceptable uncertainty, and deprived her of a timely hearing as to her future placement and home,” Murfitt said.
“The absence of proceedings also deprived her of the benefit of having an independent children’s guardian to represent her wishes and safeguard her interests.”
The council accepted liability and agreed to pay £7,500 in damages, an award the judge accepted was appropriate. The judge also ordered the authority to pay BB’s legal costs in relation to both the care proceedings and the human rights claim.
BB was placed in the section 20 arrangement in November 2014 after living with her aunt broke down, and her mother and grandmother felt unable to care for her. Care proceedings were brought in December 2015, and a care order agreed.
On two occasions during BB’s 13 months in the section 20 arrangement, a case was presented to the local authority about starting care proceedings. Both times the decision was rejected.
“The decision makers took the view that a family group conference should be convened instead, notwithstanding that all family members with whom the local authority were in contact at the time, were saying they could not care for BB,” the judge said.
The council was also criticised for a failure to facilitate contact between BB and other important family members.
“The day after BB was first placed in foster care she requested to see her aunt J, yet the first record of this happening did not occur until 11 months later in October 2015.
“Social workers expressed the intention to set up contact between BB and her brothers J, C, and CN at a [looked after children] review…but those intentions did not translate into any actions, notwithstanding that BB’s express requests to see them were documented.”
The judge concluded that the local authority had failed to establish contact between BB and her mother, her siblings, her paternal family and arrange therapy for BB.