Good law project bid to change out of area care
Campaigners criticise councils’ child policies
Campaigners criticise councils’ child policies
A groundbreaking court case is being mounted in an attempt to stop high numbers of children in care being placed outside their local council area. Campaigners fear that the practice leaves those affected vulnerable to sexual exploitation, poor mental health and recruitment by county lines drugs gangs.
The legal challenge, launched by the Good Law Project, is in response to the gradual privatisation of children’s care homes. Three quarters are now run by the private sector, and they are disproportionately located in the north of England. In 2020 the six largest private care providers made a total of £219 million in profit.
Local authorities are under a legal obligation to ensure that children who enter the care system are accommodated in their own area so far as is reasonably practicable, if that is considered in the child’s best interests. But according to the Good Law Project, a not-for-profit legal campaign, many councils are failing to ensure enough placements are available locally. As a result, last year over 30,000 children taken into care were placed outside the area. Some were sent over 100 miles away.
The legal action challenges five local authorities – Essex, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Derby City – for not complying with their legal obligations. It also challenges education secretary Gavin Williamson for not using his statutory powers to ensure local authority compliance with child care duties.
The Good Law Project cites a report by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which quotes a teenage boy talking about the impact of being located far from his home area. He said: “I was worried about my A level exams, as getting into university was important to me, but I was placed very far away from my college.”
Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project, claims that often local councils are placing children in the cheapest accommodation far from home rather than where it best meets their needs. Despite the fact that children are taken into care to protect them from harm, she said, the impact of being ripped away from their school, friends and support network can be devastating.
“Gavin Williamson has the power to direct local authorities to comply with their legal obligations where he believes they are not doing so,” said Abbott. “But on his watch the placement of children out of area has become not an exception but a norm. We consider this failure to act is unlawful. The state can and must do better for these children.”
Last week the Good Law Project had crowdfunded over £47,000 for the legal challenge. It says its mission is to fight courtroom battles to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind. In practice, it has become a sharp thorn in the side of the government and organisations that have tried to ride roughshod over the rights and interests of ordinary people.
Since being established in 2016 the Good Law Project has been responsible for dishing out some painful punishment to powerful interests. It has launched a string of successful legal challenges, ranging from the government’s failings over Covid contracts and the provision of PPE to the legality of the government’s approach to Brexit, launching proceedings over so-called “pork barrel politics” where millions of pounds of Treasury money were siphoned to Tory target seats to help the party win elections, and fighting for the rights of parents to consent for their children to take puberty-delaying drugs during gender identity treatment without a judge’s consent.
Hardly a senior government figure has escaped being hauled in front of a court. Michael Gove was judged to have broken the law by handing a £560,000 contract to a communications agency run by long-time associate of his and his friend Dominic Cummings without considering other companies.
When he was health secretary Matt Hancock was also found to have acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the civil service’s transparency policy over the awarding of contracts.
The Good Law Project came to prominence in 2016 by crowdfunding the so-called People’s Challenge by Gina Miller, a Guyanese-British business owner and activist, who initiated a court case to stop the government from implementing Brexit without the approval of parliament. The High Court ruled in her favour and the Supreme Court later dismissed the government’s appeal. This legal victory set up a protracted series of votes at Westminster over the terms of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement.
When Boris Johnson won the Tory leadership in the summer of 2019 and attempted to stop MPs voting down a potential no deal withdrawal, the Good Law Project launched another crowdfunded legal challenge, arguing that the prime minister cannot lawfully advise the Queen to prorogate – or suspend – parliament in order to do this. It won the case.