T(A Minor) (through his litigation friend CD) v A Local Authority [2003] EWHC 2515 (Admin) QBD

When a local authority make a decision under s17(1) and (2) and s22 Children Act 1989 it must have adequate information on which to base its decision and its approach to the provision of services must be a holistic one.

 

The Claimant was a 14 year old boy, identified as a ‘child in need’ under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 (the Act)  The Claimant had been sexually abused by his aunt and uncle when he was 4 and subsequently by a number of other adults.  The Claimant had also been the victim and perpetrator of many offences of violence, dishonesty and damage.  He had displayed highly sexualised behaviour and was suspected of sexually abusing his 3 year old sister.  A specialist report by the children’s charity Barnardos (commissioned by a Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service Team) assessed that there was a ‘significant likelihood’ that the Claimant presented ‘a significant risk of further sexual offending’ and that he was a danger not only to others but also himself.  The report concluded that the Claimant needed a specialist residential placement offering physical safety and emotional security.  It warned that if this were not to happen then his behaviour was unlikely to change and could even deteriorate.

 

However, in March 2003 the local authority (LA) Accommodation Management Group (AMG) rejected the Barnardos report and risk assessment and decided that the Claimant’s needs could be met by Education, Health and Social & Caring Services through mainstream provision.  At this time the Claimant did not have any ‘statement of educational needs’ (SEN) which would have properly assessed his educational needs and provided access to additional funding.  An educational psychologist was asked to give an opinion on whether the Claimant was suitable to be reintegrated into mainstream schooling.  His conclusion was that any mainstream placement should be accompanied by appropriate support and risk management The AMG pointed out that although Barnardos had recommended a resource, how the Claimant’s needs were actually met was up to the statutory agencies.  It stated that only if these agencies could not meet his needs from their own mainstream services, would the Barnardo’s recommendation be considered, and insisted that financial considerations were not at the forefront of its decision-making process.

 

S17(1)  & (2) of the Act sets out the duties of LAs in relation to children in need and their families.  One of its duties is “….providing a range of services appropriate to those children’s needs …..” (s17(1)(b))  Another obligation is “to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child …. his parents …. and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant” before making any decision in relation to such children(s22(4)).

 

The Claimant made a number of allegations in particular about the way in which the LA reached their decision not to pursue the Barnardo’s recommendation.  It was claimed that the LA did not take into consideration all the relevant factors when reaching its decision and therefore made a decision that no rational LA would make.  Also, it was claimed that the LA’s stance in relation to the Barnardo’s report was illogical, inconsistent and contradictory when it decided that the claimant’s needs could be met in a way fundamentally different from that recommended in the report.  Further, that there was a lack of information on which to base the decision and in fact some of the information presented was factually incorrect.  Most importantly there was no analysis of why the Barnardo’s report was rejected in the absence of any other viable alternative that could meet the Claimant’s complex needs.  Neither was there any evidence that the Claimant or his mother had been consulted about the proposed decision.   The Claimant asked the court to

 

(i)                 quash the LA’s decision and

 

(ii)               order the LA to fund the specialist placement recommended by Barnardo’s

 

The Court distinguished the statutory duty of the LA to meet the particular needs of a child by implementing a particular proposal, from a more general duty to give full and proper consideration before making any decision required of it under its statutory function.   It found that on the second point, there had been a failure of the statutory agencies involved to work together effectively in providing a holistic solution for the Claimant.     The court was also highly critical of Education for failing to assess the Claimant’s educational needs prior to the final decision on the AMG, and also for refusing to help fund the Barnado’s option.  The criticism was compounded by the absence of the educational psychologist’s report at the time the decision was made.  A comparison was made with the Laming Report into the death of Victoria Climbié, which criticised the ‘service-led’ (rather than ‘needs-led’) approach of LAs – the fact that ‘decisions about children’s services were often based upon limited resources, administrative convenience and the failure to make individual needs assessments to determine the service required.’

 

Two late suggestions were made by the LA in an effort to resolve the issues before the Court.  First, was an alternative specialist, non-residential placement proposed by a consultant clinical child psychologist.  The second was a new Complex Case Panel, created to overcome difficulties in co-ordinating difficult cases.

 

 

Despite these suggested alternatives the court found that the decision of the AMG in March 2003 was irrational and/or Wednesbury unreasonable and would be quashed.   However it was hoped that through the new Panel, a full reconsideration of the AMG’s decision would take place which would include the consideration of the wishes of the Claimant and his mother.  However, it did not find that the LA had a duty to follow the proposal put forward by Barnardo’s and could not direct it do so.  The limit of the court’s power was to quash an irrational or unreasonable decision and not to substitute it with its own decision.

 

Comment

 

This case illustrates a surprising, some would say shocking difference, on the law applying to the functions of LAs to children as opposed to adults.  Eg see Bromley, Gloucestershire, Sefton, Wigan cases in the cases database.

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