Legal unease

Problem solving courts ‘future’ for children involved in justice system – Munby

A fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards “what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court” is “urgently required”, Sir James Munby, President of the family division told the audience at the annual Parmoor Lecture, hosted by the Howard League for Penal Reform this week.

The lecture, focusing this year on children in the justice system, marked the 15th anniversary of Sir James’ judgement in a landmark case brought by the Howard League, which successfully argued that the provisions and the protections of the 1989 Children’s Act should apply to all children, including those in prison.

Sir James outlined the problems for children in the current judicial system, which included, but went well beyond, an immensely complicated legal system with numerous different courts dealing with cases relating to children. The problem was compounded by the way consideration of children’s rights and needs were spread across government departments, and the failure by the UK to fully incorporate into domestic law the requirements in Articles 3(1) and 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said. Even issues around children in care fell across three different government departments Sir James noted. Any change in the system to favour the needs of children would take decades, he added, and was more likely to come from the third sector and the judiciary rather than government. “That much can be achieved largely without the initiative or intervention of Whitehall is demonstrated, I think, by the great success of FDAC, the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, the first, and triumphantly successful, example, and judicially driven, of problem-solving in the family court.”

But the concept of the problem-solving court surely “has to extend far further”, Sir James suggested – including into the processes of the criminal courts.  “This is particularly important in cases where the court… is struggling to deal with a disturbed teenager. In these uniquely complex cases, the children have themselves become part of the problem, so a problem-solving court must grapple with the underlying problems and difficulties not just of the parent but also of the child, in short, with the underlying problems and difficulties of the whole family.

“So what we need is a problem-solving court for the whole family. Can a criminal court, can the Youth Court, satisfactorily fulfil that role?” he asked the audience. “Is it not, in truth, a role better suited to a re-vamped family court with an enhanced jurisdiction?”

New government guidance and training to help care for migrant children

The government today announced that 1,000 foster carers and support workers will get specialist training to help them care for unaccompanied children seeking asylum.  The announcement was made alongside the publication of a safeguarding strategy and statutory guidance to support local authorities to care for migrant children. “Foster carers do an incredible job, but they must have tailored support to help them deal with the complex needs of these children,” said education minister Robert Goodwill.  In September a young person who had sought asylum and was in the care of two local authority foster carers in Surrey was arrested for the Parson Greens tube bombing.

Foster carers footing the bill for statutory school travel 

Foster carers from different local authority areas have been coming forward with examples of how they are required to transport foster children long distances to school without full reimbursement of their costs, despite a recent ruling stipulating the contrary. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman ruled last month that Warwickshire County Council was wrong to require a fostering couple to fund school transport out of their fostering budget (TWiF 19 October). The Ombudsman found that this placed the foster child at a disadvantage and contravened the 1996 Education Act. The Act states that where the local authority stipulates which school a child attends it must provide school transport when this school is beyond statutory walking distance. It has also emerged that at least one local authority is continuing to stipulate in its contract with independent fostering agencies that foster carers are expected to cover a significant portion of school transport costs, in spite of the Ombudsman’s findings.

Scotland tackling historical abuse in foster care

Celcis, the centre for excellence for looked after children in care in Scotland, is asking victims and survivors of abuse in the care system and representative organisations what they think of proposed options for a compensation scheme. Consultation on the scheme is just one element of Scotland’s ongoing inquiry into abuse in the care system including historical abuse in foster care. This appears to contrast with the approach in England and Wales where, until recently, the absence of an employment relationship between local authorities and foster carers was cited as an argument for non liability on the part of the local authority where foster carers were found to have abused the children in their care. In a landmark case last month the Supreme Court ruled that Nottinghamshire County Council was vicariously liable for abuse committed by its foster carers against their former foster child Natasha Armes.

Reporting on reporting restrictions over social worker falsifying records

Guardian journalist Louse Tickle was concerned with a health and care professions council hearing to consider whether Bristol social worker Linda Frazer should be struck off after a judge found last year that she had falsified records to “bolster” a case for removing a child from her mother. Tickle wrote an article that covered as much her inability to report on the hearing after being prevented from live Tweeting the hearing as about the case itself. Her article prompted a response from child protection consultant Joanna Nicolas also in the Guardian. “I believe few journalists write about children’s social care with integrity; few are interested in the truth or facts,” she wrote. “It seems the majority are only interested in shocking stories about inept social workers, and when they do check the facts, the local authority will not speak to them.”

Tower Hamlets publishes ‘narrative’ on Muslim fostering case

Remaining on the subject of journalistic reporting, Tower Hamlets Council has published a statement on what it describes as, “The outcome of the investigation” that “relates to the fostering case that was covered heavily in the media from late August, 2017”.  It concludes by saying that it does not accept the allegations made in the national press, adding, “The Local Authority remains concerned that the mother and contact workers were questioning the child repeatedly during contact about her foster carers. Enquiries into this are taking place.”

Child abuse and neglect – guidelines for everyone

Lisa Cherry drew our attention to the new National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on child abuse and neglect aimed at “all practitioners whose work brings them into contact with children and young people”. While not providing “a comprehensive manual for frontline practice with children and families” the guidance “focuses on areas where practice needs to improve, and where there is a paucity of guidance in existence”.

The 2017 Children and Social Work Act – and what councils should be doing

The government is consulting on how to deliver the requirements of the new Children and Social Work Act 2017, including on new corporate parenting principles, how local authorities should outline their “local offer” for care leavers and ensuring that councils make personal advisers available to all care leavers up to the age of 25. Responses are being sought by 27 November.

Keep up- to date with news and information related to fostering via This Week in Fostering on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Caleb Woods via Unsplash

One thought on “Legal unease

  1. Pingback: Looking for answers | This Week in Fostering

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