Vulnerable Lancashire child placed in unregistered home by frustrated judge because there is "no appropriate secure placement" in whole of the UK

A High Court judge who has been forced to deprive a vulnerable Lancashire girl of her liberty in an unregulated care placement - because there is no safe alternative - has criticised the lack of provision for children with complex needs.

Monday, 23rd November 2020, 3:45 pm
Children are being failed

The Honourable Mr Justice MacDonald made his comments in his judgement in the case of 'G', a 16-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, and who is in urgent need of a suitable placement after being released from mental health care.

There are currently no appropriate secure placements or regulated non-secure placements anywhere in the UK where the girl could go, so the local authority, Lancashire County Council has had to seek the court's permission to continue to keep her in an unregistered care home, where she has to be "locked and guarded" with restrictions on her liberty.

The only other option - to release her into the community - could result in fatal harm to the child.

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Voicing "deep reservations" about his decision, the judge said: "As when this matter was last before me, and in the foregoing circumstances, G, a vulnerable young woman with multifaceted difficulties and at high risk of serious self-harm or suicide still has nowhere to go unless the court authorises the continued deprivation of her liberty at an unregulated placement that is not equipped fully to meet her complex welfare needs, that will not seek registration and which the Children’s Guardian remains unable to endorse as being in her best interests.

"Once again, the stark choice thus faced by the court is to refuse the continued authorisation of the deprivation of G’s liberty in an unregulated placement, which will result in her discharge into the community where she will almost certainly cause herself possibly fatal harm, or to authorise the deprivation of G’s liberty in an unregulated placement that all parties agree is sub-optimal from the perspective of her welfare because that unregulated placement remains the only option available."

The judge ordered a copy of his judgement and comments to be sent to the Children’s Commissioner for England, Secretary of State for Education, the Chair of the Residential Care Leadership Board, the Minister for Children, the Chief Social Worker and Ofsted.

He pointed out there was no work being done to forecast provision and to co-ordinate provision of secure accommodation and regulated placements in order to match need, and revealed the lack of adequate provision for secure accommodation and regulated provision for children has led, in this single case, to the expenditure to date of £17,000 of public money without any appropriate result for her.

The judgment outlayed the financial and wider resource consequences to the public purse of "placing the High Court in what is, essentially, a regulatory role as a result of the acute shortage of clinical provision for placement of children and adolescents requiring assessment and treatment for mental health issues within a restrictive clinical environment, of secure placements and of regulated placements."

Proceedings involving the girl have been before a Deputy High Court Judge twice, before a Judge of the Division four times - with no costs yet revealed.

However, the cost to the local authority of instructing counsel for the hearings is £2,130 so far.

The costs incurred as a result of the time spent on the case by the authority's solicitor is £6,191, the cost to the Legal Aid fund of instructing solicitor and counsel to attend the six court hearings on behalf of the girl totals approximately £5,400.

The local authority’s Access to Resources Team has spent a total of 141 hours endeavouring to locate a suitable placement for her, at a total cost of £1,993 and the time spent by CAFCASS employees on this one case totals 52 hours - a cost of some £1,350.

In addition, the cost to the local authority of the youngster's unregulated placement is £15,212 per week.

The case comes as a Children's Commissioner report called "The children who no-one knows what to do with" showed youngsters are being left at huge risk waiting for suitable accommodation.

Generally, children’s homes care for the most vulnerable children in England; with complex mental and physical health issues, or who have been subject to appalling sexual and physical abuse, or are at risk of serious harm from criminal gangs.

The courts have repeatedly castigated the Government for a failure to plan and provide for the UK's most desperately vulnerable children.

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