Essex Council has temporarily reversed its controversial decision to close all of its children's homes following a legal challenge by a teenager living in one of the affected homes.
The challenge – issued by the National Youth Advocacy Service on behalf of the 17-year-old, known only as B – had claimed that the closures, and the timing of the closures, were unlawful. Staff had originally been told that all children must move out by December 15, except B who had been protected until January 2012, so the homes could close.
Although it was not proven that the decision was unlawful, the judge said the authority was "foolish" to give a deadline for closure without properly communicating its intentions to the children affected or having clear plans in place for their transition. He ordered the council should pay all B's legal costs.
Essex Council agreed to issue a legally-binding undertaking last week that it would not close any of its children's homes as long as they are are needed by its "settled" looked-after children. B will continue to live in his children's home until a suitable alternative placement has been identified, while six other children, who NYAS is also representing, will live in their homes until their cases have been heard.
Julia Thomas, director of legal services, community care and public law at NYAS, said the outcome was "really positive", adding that the case has wider, important messages for local authorities.
"Any other local authority taking this action must not try to push forward closures by a specific date without taking proper regard of the individuals concerned by their decision. They must always retain that flexibility so that the welfare of individual children remains paramount," she said.
A spokesperson for Essex Council said the outcome was in fact consistent with the pledge councillors originally made when undertaking the decision.
"It is unfortunate that the courts had to become involved as we have always made it clear that our intention was to find placements according to the specific needs of the individual child and this is reflected in the agreement reached today," the spokesperson said.
Community Care first broke the news of the planned closures in June, also revealing that a teenager living in one of the affected homes had written to David Cameron to appeal for the prime minister's help.
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